Mau Forest Complex, 15 January 2010 -His Excellency Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya, members of the Kenyan diplomatic missions; distinguished guests; friends, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
Today is a special day in a special year.
These first saplings, planted in the soils of Kenya, speak of new shoots and new beginnings.
New beginnings for a critical ecosystem: new beginnings for the people of Kenya who depend inextricably on the services that the Mau forest complex generates.
2010 is the UN's International Year of Biodiversity launched this week by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
What is happening here in the Mau today sends a strong and vibrant signal that this can be a year of fundamental change.
Change in terms of humanity's relationship with biodiversity and the economically-important ecosystems which underpin the economic lives and livelihoods of Kenyans-of billions of people across the world.
UNEP's relationship with Kenya dates back to the 1970s. UNEP's interest in the Mau goes back a decade or more.
Our contribution to the national debate that has surrounded the Mau has been the science and the economics.
In partnership with the government and other stakeholders including Kenyan NGOs, we have assisted in chronicling and raising awareness surrounding the damage and the degradation of East Africa's largest close canopy forest.
In partnership, UNEP has put some of the hard economic facts on the table.
Those figures tell us that to lose the Mau imperils services to industries such as tea, agriculture, hydro-power and tourism worth a conservative $320 million a year.
Kenya is not unique in this respect to the challenge.
The international community has singularly failed to reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity. Economies everywhere continue to dismantle the productive life-support systems of planet Earth.
It has been going on for centuries.
In the past and in response to dwindling natural resources, people could move on to pastures anew or source timber and other key products abroad either via trade or by conquest.
That was perhaps possible on a planet of a few hundred million or even one or two billion.
It is not possible in a world of six billion, climbing to nine billion by 2050.
We have to get smarter about how we manage what we have and recognize that nature is not limitless, nor is it capable of renewing itself if systematically damaged and degraded.
Only now is the world waking up to the losses.
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study, which my institution hosts, estimates that up to $5 trillion-worth of natural or nature-based capital is being lost annually.
Yet there are other facts: An investment of just $45 billion a year might secure these assets for current and future generations-a handsome return of roughly 100:1.
Ladies and gentlemen, the return on restoring the Mau could also be high.
The UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen, only some weeks ago, was not the spell-binding breakthrough so many of us had hoped for.
But nor was it the breakdown that had seemed possible in the final hours and days.
One bright light that did emerge was a formal recognition that paying tropically-forested countries to conserve forests represents a smart investment in terms of combating climate change.
Up to 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are currently coming from deforestation.
The Copenhagen Accord includes plans to pay countries like Kenya under the initiative Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation or REDD.
Today's events-the beginning of the rehabilitation and restoration of the Mau-are thus also an investment in a newly arriving carbon market that may pay dividends to the country and the local communities over the coming years and decades.
Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Nothing that is worth anything comes easy. The debate surrounding the Mau, and the other important water towers of Kenya, has been often intense and heated.
But tough choices have been made and will continue to have to be made in favour of the interests and the future of the many, rather the vested interests of the rich and the few.
Let us be clear, there will be little or no future for anyone, including those currently affected by the forest recovery process if the forest and its ecological services are gone.
Restored there is a chance for a healthy environment for all in support of human well-being.
These social issues are the responsibility of leaders and of an elected government-it is not UNEP's job.
However, in the spirit of partnership we stand ready to assist in this next stage, bringing the science and assessments to bear on the best and most successful ways of rehabilitating this special ecosystem.
It remains a work in progress-much has been achieved. More is left to do.
But today and together we are rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty in the name of environmental justice and in the cause of lives, livelihoods and overcoming poverty.
If Kenya can achieve the Mau's restoration, I have no doubt that leaders and experts from many parts of the world will be beating a path to your door Honorable Prime Minister.
Beating a path to learn how it was achieved and the challenges you faced and overcome.
Keen and eager to take the restoration and the rehabilitation blueprint back to their home countries in order to turn their national tide in favour of biodiversity and the sustainable management of this one and only planet Earth.