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Remarks by UNEP Executive Director on Forests and Ecosystems in Kenya

Nairobi, 5 November 2012 - His Excellency, Mwai Kibaki President of the Republic of Kenya; Minister: Noah Wekesa (Forestry and Wildlife, co-host),

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to address this dialogue on Kenya and its ecosystems.

Your Excellency,

UNEP attaches the highest priority to the sustainable management of these natural or nature-based assets and is delighted to partner with the government of Kenya on its ambitions including as they relate to the 2030 Vision strategy.

Only last week the UNEP Deputy Executive Director Amina Mohamed signed a Memorandum of Understanding between Kenya and UNEP to further deepen, amplify and extend that cooperation.

Part of that agreement covers assisting Kenya in implementing its commitments and realizing its opportunities related to multilateral environmental agreements.

Many of these including the Convention on Biological Diversity which just ended its biennial global meeting in Hyderabad, India, link directly to the sustainable management of forests and freshwaters alongside Kenya’s rich, highly diverse and world-famous biodiversity.

It is a positive sign of the times that at the end of the Biodiversity Conference, nations including many developing ones agreed to double their support towards sustainable management and use of the natural world in order to achieve what are known as the Aichi targets by 2020.

Your Excellency, Honourable Ministers,

In the past a nation’s forests, freshwaters, soils and other key ecosystems were often seen as assets to effectively mine rather than manage.

Understandably in a world of a few million, perhaps even a few billion these natural systems seemed limitless and endlessly renewable.

But in a world of seven billion people, rising to over nine billion by 2050 the world is fast understanding the limits to this kind of over-exploitation.

Limits and tipping points that challenge the fundamental ability of society’s to operate and to function, let alone thrive and prosper.

Limits and tipping points that challenge also the world’s ability to achieve and to surpass the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals now planned post 2015 as a result of the recent Rio+20 Summit.

UNEP’s work on the inclusive Green Economy-an initiative Your Excellency in which Kenya has been a partner and a pioneer-is about addressing the economic drivers that have put the planet and its people on an unsustainable path.

Our work together on the Mau forest complex, in which the latest economic analysis has been brought to bear underlines that this ecosystem and its services is worth $1.5 billion a year to Kenya in respect to generating river flows, carbon storage and for example moisture for the tea industry.

This has proven a tipping point in a positive sense bringing in donor countries, the private sector and communities in common cause to restore the Mau and in doing so providing a beacon of sustainable management to other countries.

Other countries such as Brazil, Colombia and India are themselves carrying out similar analyses as part of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity-an initiative hosted by UNEP and one which has illuminated not only the wealth of nature to nations, but also its pivotal role in eradicating poverty.

But there is much more to do if all the ‘water towers’ of Kenya are to be brought back to full and productive health and play their part in lifting millions out of poverty and powering the sustainable development of East Africa.

Later today we have the pleasure of releasing the findings of a new report, which assess the socio-economic contributions of a range of forest ecosystems to the Kenyan economy.

Your Excellency, Honourable Ministers perhaps just one poignant fact from this study.

It finds that over a ten year period the benefits of standing and fully functioning forest ecosystems outweigh the economic contributions of deforestation by a factor of 4.2-in other words the value of intact forests and the services they provide are worth four times what is generated from clearing them for timber or other uses.

I would also like to mention that today’s dialogue and workshop has been funded by the UN-REDD Programme-a collaboration between the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization; the UN Development Programme and UNEP.

UN-REDD-reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation-has grown out of the UN climate convention negotiations as a way of financing forest conversation in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.

Today UN-REDD Program, launched in 2008, currently supports 44 developing countries, with 16 countries receiving direct financial and technical support.

During 2012 Kenya’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife has been advancing what is called its REDD Readiness Road Map en route towards accessing funding for carbon forest projects and putting its forests in the forefront of combating climate change-a threat and a challenge that puts everyone on the planet in the front line, but perhaps most especially in Africa.

This UN-REDD work is also bringing in many civil society partners such as the Green Belt Movement, founded by the late, great Wangari Maathai and the National Alliance of Community Forest Associations-all vital partners if the economic and environmental but also the social benefits and opportunities are to be fully realized.

Your Excellency, Honourable Ministers,

I am sure over the next few days, this dialogue can further strengthen the cooperation between UNEP and the government and many other partners in support of a sustainable Kenya.

We are not starting from scratch-UNEP’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 2012 mark four decades of cooperation between the environment programme of the UN and our host country.

The best may be yet to come.

Your Excellency, Honourable Ministers,

as a result of your staunch support nationally and internationally through the African Union and at the Rio+20 Summit in June Heads of State and nations agreed to strengthen and upgrade UNEP.

In New York, at the 67th session of the UN General Assembly that process is underway and there are positive signs that this outcome will be honoured by member states.

It raises the real prospect that when UNEP convenes its next Governing Council in February 2013 it will do so with Universal membership for the first time in this institution’s history while providing a stronger forum for policy-making by the world’s ministers responsible for the environment.

I am sure those nations attending their first UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum will take note of Kenya’s wondrous wildlife and the efforts now underway to achieve a sustainable century here-not just in terms of forests and other ecosystems.

But in respect to the other evolving achievements ranging from policies promoting the expansion of geothermal in the Great Rift Valley to your government’s unflinching support of the largest wind farm planned in sub Saharan Africa near Lake Turkana.

Thank you