Nature-based solutions as catalysts for achieving the SDGs

HLPF Side Event organized by UNDP, UN Environment and the Convention on Biological Diversity - Monday, 16 July, 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm, Delegate’s Dining Room, UNHQ

July 16, 2018

As prepared for delivery.

Your excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen – on behalf of UNDP, I welcome you to this event, to celebrate 25 years of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and to reflect on the essential role of nature in our lives.

Three years ago, the world achieved something we had never achieved in the history of humankind. We came together to agree on a common set of universal goals that will define our future into this century and beyond.

The Sustainable Development Goals portray a vision of hope for humanity – a world with no hunger or extreme poverty, and a world of good health, quality education, gender equality, clean water, affordable clean energy and decent work for all. To achieve these goals, we recognized that we needed to transform our cities, our societies, our economies, our consumption patterns, and most of all, our relationship with nature, both below water and on land.

Time is short - we have about 4,500 days until the end of 2030. But in fact, time is much shorter than we realize. Climate scientists tell us that the window to stop runaway climate change starts closing in 2020  and biologists tell us that we are on track to lose 2/3 of all wild animals by 2020 – a tipping point for mass extinction.  Moreover, by 2030, 8.5 billion of us will increase demand for food by 35%, for water by 40%, and for energy by 50% , making our job all the harder. Add to this the dual challenge that we must learn to live within our planetary boundaries while leaving no one behind – a central tenant of the 2030 Agenda.

Overall, we must transform our relationship with nature in profound ways. Tonight I offer seven pathways to do just that – pathways that we must collectively and immediately take, if we are to achieve the ambitious 2030 agenda:

#1: We must safeguard the ecosystems that sustain billions of livelihoods

•    Nature is key to human economic wellbeing, especially for the 70% of humanity who lives on less than $10 a day.  Forests sustain 1.6 billion livelihoods,  oceans sustain 1.7 billion livelihoods,   and agriculture sustains 2.5 billion livelihoods.  In all, more than 5.8 billion people - 3 out of every 4 people on earth - directly depend on nature for their livelihoods.
•    Yet 2017 was the second highest year on record for deforestation, and 30% of global forests are degraded, 35% are fragmented, and 20% are already cleared.  90% of all fisheries are fully exploited, over-exploited or have collapsed altogether.  A third of all agricultural land on earth is degraded, even more in sub-Saharan Africa where poverty is highest. 

#2: We must include nature as a core strategy for tackling climate change

•    Nature can provide us with almost 40% of our climate solution,   through forest restoration and sustainable management, and through carbon-positive agriculture.
•    Yet nature is largely overlooked as a climate strategy – it receives only 2% of all climate finance, and is only 1% of global climate discourse,  but it provides the highest co-benefits of any mitigation strategy, aimed squarely at improving the lives of the poorest.

#3: We must recognize the link between healthy ecosystems and peaceful societies

•    In January, the World Economic Forum issued its annual report of global risks. The top risks – the loss of biodiversity, the collapse of ecosystems, and climate change - painted a bleak picture of increasing risk to nations around the world.
•    But this is only half the story. The second set of the most significant risks – water crises, food crises and large-scale involuntary migration – are direct consequences from the loss of natural capital and climate change, and the third set of risks – interstate conflict, failure of national governance and spread of infectious diseases – are often indirect consequences of these changes.
•    In other words, 11 of the top 12 global risks are directly or indirectly related to the dual challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change. Furthermore, all 15 of the world’s most war-torn countries are facing moderate to severe drought.
•    Yet we often fail to draw these connections. For example, the most recent 100-page Global Peace Index  mentions biodiversity and climate change only once, and does not include any reference to either as a precondition for peace.

#4: We must transform our food production and consumption patterns to become more sustainable   

•    Food production now accounts for more than a third of the earth’s arable land,  and irrigation accounts for more than 70% of all freshwater used for human use.  Furthermore, agricultural expansion continues to account for 70% of tropical deforestation around the world, mostly for beef, soy and palm oil.  With a rising middle class, global demand for meat will increase by 45% by 2030.  
•    Yet one out of every 10 people are hungry, and we currently waste 1/3 of all food produced,  enough to fill the food gap entirely. And despite the more than 400 companies who have committed to deforestation-free commodities, we have made little progress in transforming how we produce food.

#5: We must put forests at the center of our water security efforts

•    Each of you tonight will drink what has been called the ‘champagne of municipal drinking water’.  Thanks to the foresight of city planners, New York’s protection of the forests of the Catskill mountains supplies drinking water to more than 9 million people every day. The cost of protection: $1.5 billion. The avoided cost of a filtration plant? More than $10 billion.  New York is not alone - forests supply the drinking water for more than three fourths of all people on earth.  
•    Yet 40% of the world’s urban watersheds for drinking water are degraded, and more than 3200 cities around the world could significantly improve their water security through forest action.  The total cost of taking action? Less than $2 per person a year.  

#6: We must get ahead of the plastic pollution catastrophe

•    Many of you know that at current rates by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish biomass.  
•    The eventual by-product of plastic is microplastics and microfibers, and we still have an enormous mountain of plastic on our land and in our oceans, quietly turning into a multi-generational catastrophe. 83% of tap water worldwide, for example, already contains plastic microfibers,  and microplastics have been found in fish, shellfish and sea salt all over the world.  
•    Fortunately, the recent global response to plastic litter has been overwhelming – people are taking action to clean up plastic all over the world.  And it shouldn’t be that challenging - 94% of all microplastics come from just 4 sources (synthetic clothing, car tires, city dust and road paint),  and 95% of all marine litter comes from just 10 rivers . Nevertheless we are still long way from adequately tackling the most pervasive pollution of our time.

#7: We must transform finance, the invisible driver of biodiversity loss and climate change

•    The SDGs are fast becoming a universal global framework for investment – not only of impact investors,  but also of traditional investors, banks and pension fund holders, among others  with the intention and the ability to finance the SDGs to the tune of trillions of dollars. Never before has there been such momentum for using private sector finance for positive change.
•    Yet finance decisions made in board rooms in New York and Geneva and Sao Paulo continue to drive actions all over the world, many of which are against these best intentions. For example, public sector finance drives deforestation over sustainable forest management by a factor of 40:1, and private sector finance by a factor of 140:1.  

Three years ago, the world achieved something remarkable – we committed to an ambitious global agenda for people, planet and prosperity. Time is running short. We must transform our commitment into action, and for this we urgently need innovations and solutions. Tonight I’ve suggested seven pathways we must take if we are to transform our world, and I encourage you to share your own solutions and innovations with your colleagues tonight.

These solutions may include frontier technologies – artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced robotics, new forms of automation, sensors and the Internet of Things, high resolution satellite imagery, blockchain and distributed ledgers, drones, and cultured meat. If managed properly, these technologies have tremendous potential to help us better manage biodiversity and ecosystems, tackle pervasive problems such as illegal trade in wildlife, and decouple economic growth from environmental destruction.

These solutions may include new models of private sector finance, such as an insurance scheme by Swiss Re that rebuilds coral reefs along the coast of Mexico,  provide new sources of revenue for natural ecosystems while strengthening climate resilience. Or green bonds, allowing investors to align their values and their portfolios.

And these solutions may include new models of governance and management, which ensure that the 375 million indigenous peoples, whose lands account for 80% of terrestrial biodiversity and a quarter of above ground carbon stocks, have secure rights and protection.

And we must ensure that these innovations, models and solutions are just and equitable, and do not exacerbate the inequalities we see around the world.

Tonight I hope you will join me – both in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and in redoubling your own commitments and actions to put nature at the forefront of sustainable development.