On behalf of UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner
Nairobi, 7 May 2010- Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates and colleagues:
I'd like to extend a very warm welcome to you here at the UN Office in Nairobi and UNEP Headquarters.
I am particularly pleased to join you at this critical juncture as momentum intensifies during the UN International Year of Biodiversity and we rapidly move towards two landmark meetings; the UN Secretary General's high-level meeting on 20 September 2010 in New York on biodiversity, climaxing at the meeting of the 10th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in October 2010, in Nagoya, Japan.
Thank you all for agreeing to be part of this seminal consultative meeting. We meet ahead of the third meeting on a potential new mechanism to establish an Intergovernmental Science-Policy Interface on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). As you all know, this will be in Busan, Republic of Korea, in a month's time.
We should be proud of what we have achieved so far. The Governing Council at its 25th session asked UNEP to facilitate the IPBES effort in partnership with other institutions, namely IUCN, FAO, UNESCO and UNDP. The collaborative effort, work and support have been outstanding, exemplifying the spirit and intention of one UN and valued partnerships.
However, the clock is ticking in more ways than one. Refocusing the international response to biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation is as urgent as it has ever been, and will require concerted action across a range of issues.
Perhaps we have heard the statistics many times, but repeating them should neither make us complacent nor fatigued. Since 1970, we have reduced animal populations by 30 per cent, the area of mangroves and sea grasses by 20 per cent and the coverage of living corals by 40 percent. These losses are clearly dangerous and unsustainable, since biodiversity is a key contribution to human well-being and sustainable development.
Where does this meeting potentially take us?
The first and second consultative meetings suggested there is broad recognition of the need for an IPBES. The "Gap Analysis" study completed by UNEP last July at the request of governments highlighted that although there are of course many useful mechanisms in place, there are considerable gaps in science-policy interface at all levels.
The biggest challenge; that there is no established and on-going mechanism to bring credible and authoritative scientific expertise to the policy making process. The IPBES process has also underscored the need to strengthen existing science-policy processes and institutions. These are ambitious and lofty goals to aspire to, should governments decide to meet them head on. And Africa must take its place at the table when such decisions are made.
Why would IPBES be relevant to you?
Africa has a rich tradition of conserving and benefiting from biodiversity. This continent boasts some of the world's richest biodiversity, and is a treasure trove of still undiscovered resources and natural wonders.
Yet, Africa also finds itself in a paradox. Whilst this continent is rich in natural wealth, most of its economies are amongst the poorest in the world, facing difficult challenges in managing and developing its natural resources to meet the needs of a rising population.
Wildlife and wild resources are not an obscure and unimportant resource to Africa's people. As an example, just across the border from here, Tanzania forests and woodlands support the livelihoods of 87 per cent of the rural poor. This is of course, not unique to Tanzania. Biodiversity and ecosystem services are critical for the 'GDP of the poor'. Or to frame it another way, biodiversity belongs to everyone and if well managed, is a source of wealth beyond compare.
Decisions taken in Busan will have great significance for Africa. To use an everyday metaphor - we wouldn't sell a house before assessing its market value including structure, location, whether it has a garden, is on a main road and is well built.
In the same way, collecting and organizing quality data on biodiversity and ecosystem-services plays an essential role in supplying objective information, upon which to base good public policy.
This advance meeting also provides a 'window of opportunity' to make major contributions to science policy platforms for biodiversity to influence both national and global policies in favour of Africa's long term environmental policies and strategies.
There are many complex and important issues at stake and we are lucky to have two days to discuss them in detail. They range from governance, capacity building and at its core, the future and trajectory of Africa's sustainable development path.
What could an IPBES bring? It has the potential to vastly increase capacity through collecting, organizing and interpreting data. An IPBES would also assist to generate knowledge and ultimately be a market for Africa's expertise and knowledge. It could also improve access to modern technologies, harnessing the newest tools and inherent power of the modern age.
These issues will be at the centre of making an IPBES work and at centre stage of the negotiations in Busan. It is well to remember that the sustainability challenge is one that besets all nations and the international community needs guidance from governments on whether or not to evolve a new mechanism and what would it offer.
This critical Africa meeting aims to develop a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities we face and to enable governments to be prepared for the forthcoming Busan meeting.
Let us not forget that we represent the work, goals, aspirations and future of a billion people in Africa, representing nearly 15 per cent of the world's population.
We are honoured to have this role.
With that thought, I open the consultation process and wish you all a very productive and successful meeting.