Remarks by Angela Cropper, UNEP Deputy Executive Director at the 17th Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean

Panama City, 26 April 2010- Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Ministers and Delegates, guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

I am delighted to be able to participate in this 17th meeting of the Forum of Ministers of Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean and to make these opening remarks. And I thank the government and citizens of Panama for hosting this meeting.

It is very timely, given the important processes that are in train during this year, which offer the opportunity to make 2010 a historic year in international policy making for the Environment's contribution to Sustainable Development.

As the Secretariat for the United Nations Environment Programme, my colleagues and I are pleased to see that many of the issues you discussed at global level in Bali in February at the 11th Special Session of UNEP's Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum, are also reflected in this regional meeting. We hope that we might help bridge the gap between the global dialogue and the issues and interests of countries of this region. Though we recognize that a good many of you also attended the Bali meeting and could do so as well. So that is a very good start.

Your meeting this week is taking place during a tumultuous environmental period:

  • there has been a significant increase in knowledge and understanding about environmental issues and the relationship between the natural world and human well-being, although concomitant action still lags behind;

  • there is increasing value being placed on natural resources, even though it is still notional not yet actual;

  • creativity in all quarters abounds: leading to less waste, reuse and recycling of materials, new products, getting more from less, though there is much more potential here;

  • there is widespread citizen involvement facilitated by mind-boggling communications technology, even though these people movements are still lacking in effectiveness.

This general trend is reflected in the Business and Industry sector, where big businesses are going green, recognizing positive contributions to their bottom line, in which:

  • they are reducing the extent of green washing as a public relations gimmick of the past;

  • they are making environmentally sensitive choices increasingly available;

  • renewable energy industries are seen as growth, not just green, industries;

  • zero waste, three Rs, reducing ecological footprint are now no longer nuisances but elevated to corporate objectives.

Everywhere, there is evidence that Environment is now being mainstreamed, including efforts within the Public Sector to do so.

Clearly some things are going in the right direction. Though, given the trends we still see from the scientific literature, not going far or fast enough, nor with the critical mass required, to comprise adequate, timely and effective responses towards sustainability.

Honourable Ministers, delegates, since last you met as this LAC Forum some game-changing developments in the global geo-political order are emergent.

Some twenty years ago the Alliance of Small Island States came together in preparation for the negotiations of the Climate Change Convention, cutting across settled regional blocs because of its shared sense of vulnerability.

Now, the increasing complexity and inter-linking of the world including issues of Environment, have seen new groupings and positioning of countries emerge around shared interests. (G20, BRICS, BASIC, etc. now join the ranks of acronyms.)

The recent Spring Meeting of the World Bank, in making a little more Space at its table for some of their client blocs, is the latest contribution to these dynamics. A form of geo-political adaptation!

Such developments suggest an increasing importance to deepening and consolidating positions with regard to regional issues and interests in order to effectively participate in global discourse. At the same time, intra-regional differences are increasingly cutting across such established bases for operating in a global context; though they could also help to bridge historical divides.

All of these developments will make discussion, debate, conclusions and unified action more complex to navigate and more exacting for you as a regional group, as you seek to adapt to such geo-political dynamics while setting a regional course.

At the same time it is imperative that a regional forum of this kind rises above the particularities of its region and takes the opportunity to raise its Voice about the global issues that affect the entire world.

So it is gratifying to note that the draft decisions before you for consideration have sought to do exactly that. Of course you are required to put your regional house in order, and you have over time sought to do so through your Initiative for Sustainable Development (ILAC). Sure it may need fine-tuning and especially more concerted efforts at implementation - and that realization I am pleased to note is also reflected in the proposed Panama Declaration.

I began by noting that global issues that have been addressed by this year's meeting of the UNEP Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum are on your agenda and are the subject of draft decisions for the Forum.

You as Member States of UNEP participating in the Bali meeting have given direction to these issues in your Nusa Dua Declaration. It remains for these directions to be taken up and carried forward collectively and individually in the opportunities that are available.

You as Member States of UNEP have sought to position the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development - Rio + 20 - as an opportunity to decisively go beyond the Environment/Development divide that has characterized positions on environmental sustainability to date. This reflects the greater understanding that the world now has about the environment/development relationship, which UNCED in 1992 inscribed in the paradigm of sustainable development. Rio +20 will be an opportunity for Environment to be centred within Development, and therefore solidify what UNCED had presaged.

The Nusa Dua Declaration recognizes that we can and must respond to this centrality of Environment by 'greening' our economies - not through limiting development possibilities but by designing new pathways to economic development. And what is more, this understanding is now being manifested in various ways in all geographical regions: north and south, developed and developing, and not so developing.

Across the world we are now seeing efforts to apply better than we have done to date, the economics of sustainability. UNEP's work to harness the work or organisations and individuals relating to the need and the possibilities for greening economies, alongside the study on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity (TEEB ), have been contributing, we believe, to new understanding and new commitment in this direction.

Through this green economy approach we might decisively alter the historical approach to economic development, the source of much of the problem, as well as to create new patterns of and mechanisms for international cooperation.

But progress in this direction needs to be accelerated, if we are to make the fundamental changes that are required in order to live within planetary boundaries, while eradicating persistent poverty and redressing inequity, and to prepare for survival in a planet of nine billion people by 2050. Again, your proposed Panama Declaration includes a recognition of the value of natural capital and environmental protection in achieving such goals.

International Environmental Governance (IEG)

The Nusa Dua Declaration also moved discussions forward on improving international environmental governance (IEG), a subject that is not irrelevant to sustainability issues that are at the heart of Green Economy work. Hopefully Rio + 20 would be an opportunity for governments to tie these together, and put in place institutional arrangements with the competencies and capacities to better facilitate and support Member States, in their global and national roles, in all that is required to move to sustainability.

At the Regional level, it is essential that the environmental governance topic be taken to the regional integration processes (MERCOSUR, CARICOM, CCAD, among others) as well as to the financial institutions of the region, such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Caribbean Development Bank and the Organization of American States (OAS).

At the National level, it is essential that the diverse national agencies or ministries articulate, complement and harmonize their work in managing environmental issues in such a manner that the implementation of national policies on sustainability is truly efficient and effective. This is the heartland of synergy.

The Nusa Dua Declaration also highlights other processes underway that could, if decided, make significant contributions to such institutional arrangements for better environmental governance, globally, regionally and nationally:

  • the long awaited legal arrangements to govern access to genetic resources and to share benefits from their use comes up for decision later this year at the 10th COP of the CBD;

  • so too would a decision to seek more reliable, coherent and up to date policy relevant scientific information and analysis relating to ecosystems and biodiversity. Otherwise known as IPBES.

These may appear as isolated efforts, but they are all part of a larger whole that seeks to elevate and enhance arrangements which are vital for moving towards sustainability.

Biodiversity

Five years have passed since the release of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report. And yet, the world has continued to witness continuing losses in biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Although there exists a wide range of assessments on biodiversity and ecosystem services, the rigour with which science is used in policymaking and implementing biodiversity conservation actions is still being questioned. There is no regular periodic multi-level assessment process that provides cohesive and authoritative scientific information for policy-makers on the changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services. These are the foundations of environmental sustainability and Life on Earth.

If our approach to analyzing and understanding that interface remains fractured, we can expect that our responses will continue to lag behind the trends in biodiversity loss for want of being concerted, coherent and comprehensive. Meanwhile, the driving forces that contribute to biodiversity loss and undervaluing of ecosystems services continue unabated.

At the final meeting on an intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services (IPBES) to be held in the Republic of Korea in June this year, it is necessary to reach agreement on whether or not a new science-policy initiative for biodiversity and ecosystems should be created, if the world is to more adequately respond to the long term trends and to achievement of the post-2010 biodiversity targets under discussion.

UNEP colleagues involved in this are also at your service at this meeting to facilitate your discussion on this.

Access and Benefit sharing

We also cannot avoid the issue of the so far elusive 3rd pillar of the CBD relating to access and benefit sharing from the use of genetic resources.

This region can speak here with a credible voice, given early pioneering policy put in place by Costa Rica so many years ago. I note that there is a draft decision for this Forum to lend its voice to a satisfactory conclusion on this draft Protocol later this year at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

If agreed, it will be an important recognition of sovereignty, of custodianship, of stewardship, and of equity in relation to conservation and use of biological resources, and it would be a notable element of international environmental governance.

Policy leadership

Indeed, this region has been active in many ways in policy leadership at the national level:

  • there are strong examples of Green Economy initiatives to increase green investments, the quantity and quality of jobs, and increase the contribution of green sectors to GDP, whilst decreasing energy and resource use, CO2 emissions and wasteful consumption;

  • Costa Rica's leadership by aiming to become carbon neutral by 2021, already with 99% of all its electrical energy coming from clean sources (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2019.htm ); with more than 30 per cent of its land area under national parks;

  • Barbados with its ambition and political commitment to be the first green economy in the region;

  • Mexico with its strong commitment to low carbon growth;

  • extensive areas of land under organic cultivation in Argentina and Brazil (http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.Print.asp-DocumentID=620&ArticleID=6528&l=en);

  • Ecuador's Yasuni Initiative (a concept to create 'carbon bonds' to preserve a tract of Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest and keep its large holdings of oil reserves in the ground) - an innovative and laudable idea, with important dimensions of conserving biological and cultural diversity - we hope that it will become a reality.

Many many more examples can be cited. These are all contributory to the global emergent positive trends which I recalled at the outset.

The Region can now seek to extend and exercise such leadership at the global level. And, as I have cited for Access and Benefit Sharing, and for IPBES, there are imminent opportunities to do so. So too is the opportunity of hosting in this region the next meeting of the Climate Change Convention which will also be discussed later on your agenda.

Global progress on these issues would also be instrumental in addressing the remaining work to be done in this region. While the regional examples I have cited are encouraging, there is much more work to be done within the region, because:

  • this region boasts 23.4 per cent of the world's forest cover, but it is losing very large tracts of forests daily, with one of the highest rates of habitat loss in the world (Source GEO4 and FAO, 2006 and the upcoming Environment Outlook of Latin America and Caribbean);

  • it continues to lose its precious biodiversity because of unsustainable tourism development, aquaculture farms, coastal urbanization, overfishing, deforestation and habitat fragmentation;

  • almost two thirds of the Caribbean coral reefs are threatened, undermining tourism based economies (http://archive.wri.org/news.cfm-id=322);

  • demand for fresh water in Latin America and the Caribbean has gone up by 76% between 1990 and 2004, calling into question use of scarce resources and sustainability of its agriculture (Source: Upcoming State of the Environment report of Latin America and the Caribbean summary for decision makers Chapter 1).

There is so much at stake for this region in the outcomes of the global negotiations underway, because:

  • it accounts for 32% of carbon stored in forests for the entire planet;

  • the Andes contain up to 90 per cent of the world's tropical glaciers. (Source: Upcoming State of the Environment report of Latin America and the Caribbean, Chapter 2/3;

  • Chile, Ecuador and Peru provide 20 per cent of the world's productive fisheries (Ag├╝ero 2007);

  • The region is renowned for its biological and cultural diversity.

So, Honorable Ministers, delegates, there is much to contribute, there is much at stake, and there is much to do, on behalf of and within this Region. My colleagues and I in UNEP stand ready to assist and facilitate you as you ponder on your related decisions and actions to move forward further and faster.


 

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