Speech of the UNEP Executive Director at the Opening Session of Paris Biodiversity Conference, 24-28 January 2005

The Opening of the Paris International Scientific Conference on "Biodiversity, Science and Governance", under patronage of French President, Mr. Jacques Chirac, UNESCO, 24-28 January 2005.

Introductory greetings :

M. Jacques Chirac, President of France

M Marc Ravalomanana, President of Madagascar

Mr Abdullah Badawi, Prime Minister of Malaysia

M Lepeltier, Minister for Ecology & Sustainable Development

M d’Aubert, Minister for Research

Mr Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO

Mr Hamdallah Zedan, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity

Mrs Wangari Maathai

Your Excellencies, Friends, Ladies & Gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me to join you today at the opening of this conference on “Biodiversity: Science and Governance”. This is a very important topic and I congratulate President Chirac in his initiative. My thanks also go to Mr Matsuura for hosting this event in the wonderful buildings of UNESCO.

Ladies and gentlemen, we know that our planet is facing a massive loss of living resources. Time after time we have been told by scientists that we face an extinction crisis not seen since the dinosaurs. And we are losing the productivity of forests, agricultural systems and of the seas through degradation and breakdown of biological systems.

For the last quarter of a century it has become increasingly clear that this loss of diversity and productivity will have a major impact on the development of humankind. Our children and their children will ask why we have allowed this to happen.

The Millennium Development Goals call for halving of poverty, eradication of hunger, control of diseases, provision of clean water and many other basic human needs. The recent report of the Millennium Project has shown that we have a long way to go in achieving these goals. What is becoming increasingly clear is that these goals will not be achieved without the basic biological and ecosystem functions that create soils, manage watersheds and provide the diversity of species of medicinal and nutritional value to us.

We should not under-estimate the impact that the loss of biodiversity will have on humanity.

There is growing evidence from the recent tsunami disaster that coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangrove forests can help to reduce the impact of such terrible events. When we strip away these natural forms of protection we place ourselves and our people in harm’s way.

Since the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992` and its near-universal ratification, the international community has agreed programmes of action. The Convention has had its successes, particularly in tackling complex issues in international relations and regulations, such as the management of biotechnology, and the agreement of guidelines for access and benefit-sharing.

But the fundamental problem of biodiversity loss has not been resolved. At the same time as we have agreed on how to control cross-boundary movement of biodiversity, and how to share the wealth that can arise from biological resources, the basic resource itself has continued to decline.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development nations committed to 2010 as the target date for a significant reduction in the rate of loss of biological diversity. This political target must be translated into practical and achievable objectives backed up by strong science and effective governance mechanisms.

If we fail to demonstrate measurable success by 2010, political commitment will be undermined; public interest will be lost; investment in biodiversity research and management will be reduced, environmental institutions will be further weakened.

This is why we should not under-estimate the importance of this conference in charting the way forward.

In UNEP we are ready to play our part.

Since UNEP was created in 1972 we have focused on preparation of international instruments to bring all nations together in addressing shared environmental problems in our seas, on land and in the atmosphere. But, with some notable exceptions such as the Montreal Protocol, these instruments all share the same problem of weak implementation.

UNEP’s Governing Council has debated this problem in recent years and concluded that environmental progress is hampered by the weak science base and fragmented institutional structures for international environmental governance. You should not be surprised that the problem we are addressing at this meeting on biodiversity applies in other sectors too, for example in water management, pollution, fisheries and forest management.

This is why we must identify and understand the many complex interlinkages between environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and desertification. In all these sectors there is a need for greater investment in policy-relevant science and in strengthening the ability of institutions to act coherently and in partnership.

In UNEP we have invested in the Millennium Assessment, to identify the cost of ecosystem loss and promote political action. The results will soon be available to guide our actions and identify knowledge gaps.

UNEP’s Science Initiative will strengthen the science base for environmental assessments by engaging with expert organisations worldwide and enabling us to launch a new series of “Environment Watch” reports.

Partnerships across governments and including NGOs are an essential way forward to achieve success. In the UNEP/UNESCO Great Apes Survival Project we are engaging with all the range states of the great apes to develop conservation plans. On the ground activities are largely undertaken by NGOs with experience in successful field projects.

We have also recognised that successful implementation depends on capacity at the national level – and many nations find it increasingly difficult to cope with the growing array of environmental problems. Recently at a meeting in Bali UNEP has agreed a strategy for capacity building in the environment sector, and we are reaching out to colleagues in UNDP and across the UN family to work with us in achieving this. We need new resources to help us in this work, without which progress will be impossible.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is work to be done, and time is short. I wish you every success in your important deliberations.


 © United Nations Environment Programme | privacy policy | terms and conditions |contacts