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General Speech for World Environment Day 2009 Globally Hosted by Mexico,by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UN Environment Programme Executive Director

General Speech for World Environment Day 2009 Globally Hosted by Mexico By Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UN Environment Programme Executive Director

Mexico, 4 and 5 June 2009 - Felipe Calderon, President of the Republic of Mexico,

Juan Elvira Quesada, Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources of Mexico, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

To be in Mexico to celebrate and to mark World Environment Day 2009 is an honour and privilege.

You have laid the table with a feast of events and spectacles that will make this very special United Nations day—and the days surrounding 5 June—a world class affair despite a recent national and international health emergency.

UNEP is here to demonstrate solidarity—a word that also echoes the inescapable theme for 2009: climate change.

The banner of slogan for WED this year—"Your Planet Needs You: UNite to Combat Climate Change" underlines the urgency of the next 184 days.

In December in Copenhagen, governments must Seal the Deal on a new and transformational agreement on climate change if the world is to avoid disruptive economic, social and environmental impacts.

If the world is to seize the opportunities from moving to a dynamic low—even zero—carbon economy alongside one that is far more resource efficient.

Ban Ki-Moon has called 2009 the "Year of Climate Change"—it is now a year which is half way through and going fast.

WED is an opportunity for the six billion citizens of this planet to signal by words, but especially by deeds that they want real and transformational action from their politicians and world leaders.

And I believe that mobilization of public opinion is happening—just go to news.google.com and see the myriad of events involving millions upon millions of people that are taking place in well over 100 countries and seemingly in ever corner of the Earth.

From the events here in Mexico, organized in Quintana Roo, in the Yucatan Province including a conference on the Green Economy with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And the other events including photo exhibits, an art competition, a Maya 'Healing the Earth' ceremony, and a Symphonic Visual Concert entitled 'The Shield of Nature' by the Philharmonic Choir and World Heritage Orchestra.

These link to Charles and Sho Scott, a father and son team who are among UNEP's first 'Climate Heroes' who are pedaling 4,700 km from the top to the tip of Japan to raise climate awareness.

Other Climate Heroes include

  • Roz Savage, who is rowing across the Pacific Ocean to inspire people to take action on CO2 levels by walking more and driving less;
  • David de Rothschild, who is building a boat out of reclaimed plastic to cross the Pacific and visit the Pacific Garbage Patch and raise awareness of the gigantic problem of waste and overconsumption;
  • Project Kaisei, a team of innovators who are studying how to capture waste in the ocean, detoxify it, and recycle it into diesel fuel.

Perhaps the government of Pakistan should also be added to this list of climate heroes.

They will announce their participation on Friday to UNEP's Climate Neutral Network joining other nations such as Norway, New Zealand and Costa Rica along with cities and companies who are pledging and planning to become zero emission economies and businesses.

The sheer welter of events taking place around WED is beyond any cursory remarks but perhaps we might mention:

  • Kenya: a seafront clean up will be organized on the island of Lamu with schoolchildren, students, community and government representatives.
  • Afghanistan: - A neighbourhood clean-up will take place in Kabul on World Environment Day, along with a series of awareness-raising campaigns through schools and mosques.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: In Sarajevo, the 'Run to the Hills' 10-km race will take runners from around Europe up the beautiful forested paths of the Olympic Mountains.
  • Brazil: In Florianópolis, an online campaign will call online volunteers to produce, translate and disseminate information and advice on environmentally-friendly lifestyles.
  • USA: North America's host city for WED 2009 will be Omaha (Nebraska), with a series of events to highlight and promote low carbon economies and lifestyles including with Mae C. Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut.
  • Nepal: An 'Ecofootball' match entitled 'GOAL-against Climate Change' will bring together celebrities, politicians and environmentalists, with the aim of raising awareness on climate change and the need for a united response.
  • Belgium: The EchoFestival in Brussels's Royal Park will include a picnic, exhibits, a concert and a fair for a "shared eco-cultural experience".
  • Korea: 30,000 children will take part in a painting competition on the environment.

'HOME' movie premieres around the world One of the major worldwide events taking place for World Environment Day is the global premiere of the new film 'HOME', by world-renowned photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, in more than 100 locations around the world.

Screenings – including star-studded premieres at the Eiffel Tower and in New York City's Central Park – will be free of charge, and the film will also be available for free download on YouTube.

Using the stunning aerial footage that is Arthus-Bertrand's trademark, the film – shot in more than 50 countries – makes an urgent appeal for our planet in peril and all its treasures, arguing that we have barely ten years left to reverse its destruction.

Perhaps some of the most popular events will be tree plantings in support of the UNEP Billion Tree Campaign which aims to have seven billion trees planted by Copenhagen.

New partners who have recently come on board are the Scout Movement including scouts in Mexico and the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Tree plantings will range from the massive to the local, with 20,000 mangroves to be planted in Keddah (Malaysia) as well as small-scale plantings by communities around the world, from Sierra Leone to India.

Indeed we will announce on Friday that the campaign has broken through the four billion planted-mark with additional plantings from Ethiopia.

To date, tree plantings have taken place in 166 countries around the world as part of the campaign.

The latest participants in the campaign include the Pakistan Ministry of Environment and Forests, which has pledged to have 120 million trees planted by the end of 2009.

In addition, the Ministry plans to launch a 2.3 billion tree planting campaign with a target of increasing the country's forest cover by 1 per cent by 2015.

The Government of Turkmenistan has also joined the campaign with a pledge to plant close to 1.5 million trees this year.

Here in Mexico, it is not only the Scouts but indeed President Calderon got the troops out to plant millions of trees and indeed Mexico remains a top ten BTC participant. Roll of Honour: Top 10 tree-planting countries Ethiopia 1.4 Billion

Turkey 707 Million

Mexico 537 Million

People's Republic of China 236 Million

Kenya 143 Million

Cuba 137 Million

Indonesia 100 Million

India 88 Million

Republic of Korea 50 Million

Rwanda 50 Million

Ladies and gentlemen, Why Mexico? These outpourings of concern by the global public also equally reflect a sense by the global public that a difference to the development trajectory of countries across the world is both necessary, but also possible.

They give license to courageous politicians who act in both the national and the global interest—underline that national and global interests are now inextricably intertwined in this globalized world.

The challenge in Copenhagen is to bring over 190 countries, at different points in their development, together in common cause where each believes they are gaining rather than losing by combating climate change.

Some nations are indeed bringing forward creative and potentially unifying proposals that may secure a deal and set the world on course towards a 21st century Green Economy.

Mexico is among that group of nations.

Many countries are actively debating Mexico's Green Fund proposal as perhaps one inspiring way of generating the funds necessary to assist developing economies and thus catalyze the chance of agreement.

For it is clear, that issues of financing and access to technology are perhaps the key hurdles that need to be leapt for Copenhagen to truly bear fruit.

And there are other positive signs from the election of President Obama in the United States and his actions on vehicle emissions, a proposal for a cap and trade scheme anmd commitment to re-engage on global warming to the targets set by the European Union and indications of voluntary emission targets by some developing economies such as South Africa.

In May President Calderon underlined Mexico's determination to be part of the climate change solution with the unveiling of a climate change strategy aimed at cutting emissions voluntarily by around 24 per cent by 2014.

This is in public consultation but the proposals, if approved, include:

  • Planting 250 million trees across the country over the next 10 years
  • The 2007-2012 plan also incorporates moves to expand sustainable forestry by 2.6million hectares a year, reduce fossil fuel use and increase clean energies.
  • Specific commitments to phase out all buses and trucks more than a decade old and to increase goods transportation by rail by 10% before 2012.
  • A tenfold increase in the capacity of Mexico's 100-megawatt "La Venta" wind farm over the next six years. Plans are already underway to build more than 3,000 turbines at the site, located on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the southern state of Oaxaca.
  • Reducing the percentage of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, in standard petrol to 30 particles per million.
  • An extension of the residential solar power initiative in the northern Mexicali region via solar water heaters and solar batteries.
  • A 5% improvement target for the efficiency of the state run oil and gas company Pemex's refineries.
  • Support for plans by Pemex to develop combined heat and power facilities at several of its largest refineries to improve energy efficiency—an estimated emissions savings of 7.7million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

Ladies and gentlemen, World Environment Day is about galvanizing public support for action on climate and on sustainability generally.

It is also about catalyzing the private sector.

Private Sector-Mexico Mexico is not coming from ground zero here.

The decision by more than 150 companies in Mexico to measure their carbon footprint under a pilot programme involving the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the World Resources Institute and Mexico's environment and natural resources ministry, is a good step forward.

Indeed, the inclusion of so many multinationals from Ford to Mittal Steel, indicates that this initiative could have national but also international impacts.

Meanwhile, it is encouraging that so many companies here are also members of the UN Global Compact—indeed with close to 370 signatory companies, Mexico is the leader in Latin America.

I believe that Mexico's business community has also seen the opportunities rather than the burdens of combating climate change—opportunities that can only accelerated and expand under a Copenhagen agreement and via smart, Green Economy market mechanisms and instruments.

The fact that several companies are generating electricity from wind energy is as much due to your recently adopted laws here, that allows private companies to generate electricity for their own commercial uses, as it is about global warming.

Plans by Mexican retailer Organizacion Soriana and joint venture partner Vientos del Istmo to invest $300million in a wind-driven power plant in the state of Oaxaca.

And ones by Cement-maker Cemex to build a 250-megawatt wind-powered plant are cases in point.

Meanwhile the private sector is also a key driver behind Mexico's significant accessing of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol.

UNEP's Risoe energy centre in Denmark, which crunches the numbers for CDM projects globally based ones approved and ones in the pipeline, ranks Mexico as second only to Brazil in Latin America with 155 projects by mid-May this year.

That is around 20 per cent of those on the Continent.

Overall Latin America could earn close to $4 billion from certified emission reduction credits by 2012 from an estimated 1,400 CDM projects, our experts estimate.

Perhaps one of the most interesting developments of recent months are the number of energy efficiency projects emerging under the progarmmatic CDM including two covering light bulbs in households called the Smart Use of Energy in Mexico.

A newly submitted one too in Tabasco, Mexico on waste energy recovery at a PEMEX facility alongside new proposals on landfill-gas into-energy in Quintana Roo province and a biogas power plant in Jalicsco province.

These kinds of projects underline that some responsiveness to countries concerns are emerging from the CDM board.

CDM projects overall, supported under the UN-brokered carbon markets and very much a partnership between developed and developing economies, also represent new and innovative businesses alongside new kinds of sustainable, Green Jobs and alternative livelihoods. Copenhagen—Biosequestration The opportunities for Mexico and economies across the tropics and elsewhere do not end there if a deal is sealed in Copenhagen.

In December 2009, at the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, nations may decide to also pay to tropically-forested countries for maintaining standing forests under a scheme known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).

This is because up to 20 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions linked with climate change is coming from deforestation?more than from cars, trucks, planes and ships combined.

UNEP, along with the Food and Agricultural Organization and the UN Development Programme, is working with nine developing nations including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and Panama in preparation for the inclusion of REDD in a future agreement on climate change in Copenhagen.

By some estimates a country like Indonesia, for example, could earn $1 billion a year if it manages to reduce its rate of deforestation by one million hectares annually, with revenues calculated on the basis of the price per tonne on the carbon markets at the time.

If REDD is agreed as part of a post-2012 climate regime, this could open the door to carbon storage payments for other kinds of nature-based management covering 'ecosystems' such as grasslands, pasturelands, peatlands and mangroves.

Today UNEP, in collaboration with researchers across the world including Mexico, launched a new rapid assessment report called the Natural Fix? on what we call bio-sequestration—a perhaps inelegant world, but underling an elegant process—namely the ability of the planet to carbon capture and store in a tried and tested way.

The report estimates, conservatively that the Earth's living systems if better managed and rehabilitated could sequester more than 50 gigatones of carbon over the coming decades with the right kind of market signals and safeguards for local people and indigenous groups. Carbon Farming We have just launched a project to take this forward.

Village communities in Western Kenya alongside ones in Niger, Nigeria and China could become the key to unlocking the multi-billion dollar carbon markets for millions of farmers, foresters and conservationists across the developing world.

They have been chosen as a test-bed for calculating how much carbon can be stored in trees and soils when the land is managed in a sustainable, climate-friendly ways.

The initiative, known as the Carbon Benefits Project, was launched today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Agroforestry Centre, along with a range of other key partners. The project is being funded by the Global Environment Facility.

Instead of developed economies investing billions in capturing and storing carbon from power stations in the ground, Africa's natural and nature-based assets could be doing the same job?with multiple benefits in terms of water supplies, biodiversity and conservation-related jobs.

Benefits too in terms of soil stabilization services provided by forests and vegetation-a country like Kenya where UNEP is globally headquartered, loses in terms of economic value more soil every year into Lake Victoria or to the sea than it generates in tourism, its main foreign exchange earner. Green Passport The economic importance attached to ecosystems and their services in terms of climate change, also cuts across the biggest industry on the planet—tourism.

People talk about mass tourism versus ecotourism—perhaps we should talk about all tourism and the need for it to be sustainable right across its footprint.

One response to this has been the Green Passport initiative which UNEP launch in Berlin at the big international tourism fair there in 2008—this was the soft launch or virtual, internet-based launch of essentially a generic, green-behavior fact pact for travelers.

The Green Passport website has been developed in English, French, Portuguese, Greek, and soon in Spanish and German and the European Commission decided to promote it and to consider within the Tourism Advisory Committee the possibility of ensuring the translation of the Green Passport in as many languages as possible.

I am pleased to say that it is continuing to evolve into something more practical and is being tailored to local needs and circumstances not least here in Mexico in terms of public awareness and entrance to national parks.

This is an important milestone given the huge growth in tourism which changed dramatically the Riviera Maya region in less than 30 years making it the number one tourism destination in Latin America with millions of North American and European tourists using it as a destination and a gateway to the region.

Versions are also being adapted at local level in Brazil, Ecuador and Costa Rica. The Portuguese version of the Travel Guide, as well as radio and TV spots will be launched in Brazil in July/09.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Mexico's role and influence in global affairs is rising sharply-its leadership role on the challenges and opportunities for this generation including climate change but also the wider sustainability, Green Economy, agenda is also emerging and is palpable across ecosystem management to private sector engagement.

World Environment Day is part of that story and part of this region's achievements within a globalized world.

Again thank you for hosting the event in such a glorious, enjoyable but also efficient and dynamic way—today the 110 million people of Mexico have sent a message and joined hands with hundreds of millions of citizens across the globe.

"Your Planet Needs You: Unite to Combat Climate Change".




Further Resources

World Environment Day 2009

Seal the Deal 2009 - Climate Conference - Copenhagen

Spanish version of the ED's speech -WED


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