An Unavoidable Crossroads - Opening Remarks by UNEP Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw at the 4th Plenary Session of the IPBES Mon, Feb 22, 2016

At the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Prime Minister, Professor Zakri, Braulio Dias, ladies and gentlemen, dear IPBES community,

As I speak here today, also on behalf of the four UN agencies supporting the IPBES, namely FAO, UNDP, UNESCO and UNEP, the world is creeping closer to a population of 9 billion people with an unprecedented level demand for resources - including 70 per cent more food than we produce today.

In itself, that's not a problem - as long as we don't think it's business as usual for the biodiversity and the ecosystems that must support it all.

And as long as we recognize that humanity is edging that little bit closer to an unavoidable crossroads where some hard decisions must be taken to address the health and wellbeing of us all.

Ever year, 60 million people flee violence and disaster, including the victims of conflicts triggered or funded by natural resources. 800 million people go hungry, including those already hit by the degeneration of 40 per cent of farmland. Many more are on the front line of human encroachment into new habitats, including the 2 million who die each year from zoonotic virus diseases, such as the Hendra and Nipah, which reach people via bats and pigs here in Asia.

HIV Aids, Ebola, waterborne diseases, Zika virus and numerous influenza viruses such as H1N1 can also be linked to environmental pollution and degradation.

By destroying or fragmenting habitats, we increase the chances of wild species coming closer to humans, notably the poorest communities that have little immunities and nearly no health facilities. Our best insurance against repetitive outbreaks of viruses, as a global community, is to maintain our ecosystems healthy.

This isn't about being the voice of doom - I just want to make the point that while poor management of natural resources can have the kind of devastating impact that I just outlined, responsible biodiversity and ecosystem management can be an incredible force for good: a catalyst for co-operation and peace building; a sustainable source of food, water and economic growth; and the foundation on which to build a healthy future, with healthy people and a healthy planet.

The Wealth of our Nations cannot be achieved at the expense of the Health of our Ecosystems and our Ecosphere.

An economic growth premised on inequalities and on the depletion of natural resources, undermines the wellbeing of future generations, it leads to social disorder and to disunity.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It has taken time and investment, but thanks to support from 124 governments, over 1,000 experts, 10 technical units, UN agencies and other stakeholders around the world, IPBES is now an effective mechanism to help deliver the global agenda.

Through the highest standards of transparent, scientific assessment - notably the pollination and scenario assessments being considered this week - and through existing partnerships with the CBD, UNDP, FAO, UNESCO and others that provide capacity development and stakeholder engagement, as well as technical, policy and communications support, the IPBES can ensure that its work will benefit all aspects of the 2030 Agenda.

Let me give you an example.

The pollination assessment shows that more than three quarters of our leading global food crops - including coffee, cacao, apples and almonds - rely on animal pollination for their production, with an annual market value of more than $235 billion.

This clearly raises issues for food security, biodiversity and ecosystem management. But it also raises issues around health and wellbeing; economic growth and job creation; and production, consumption and waste.

With the stakes so high, we clearly need to ensure the necessary support for IPBES to build momentum and develop the knowledge base for decision makers working towards both the 2020 Aichi targets and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

I want to stress two key factors in achieving that, which I know will be discussed at this session.

First, the launch of a global assessment to compliment the ongoing regional work. Coming 10 years after the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, this will ensure we stay on track for our 2020 and 2030 commitments.

Second, the mobilization of resources for the remaining two years of the first work programme, including the outstanding payments addressed in the recent call for Pledges to the Trust Fund. I know that these are difficult times for fundraising, but this is incredibly important - not only for the work of the IPBES but for the entire 2030 Agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The theme of next year's High Level Political Forum will be: "ensuring food security on a safe planet by 2030". I think this demonstrates how integral these issues are.

That's why this session could not come at a better time for building crucial momentum towards the second session of the UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA) which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, 23 to 27 May. You are all cordially invited to actively participate to the multiple debates from Health and Environment to Financing for Sustainable Development, Oceans, Sustainable Pastoralism, Displacement and the Environment etc.

We will also celebrate with the Convention on Biological Diversity the International Biodiversity Day. Don't miss the Science Policy Forum and many more exciting discussions related to the science policy interface.


I want to end by thanking some people who have built such strong foundations for IPBES and will be equally important in writing the next chapter.

I want to thank the many governments who provide solid support in many different forms.

I want to thank the Multidisciplinary Expert Panel and Bureau Members who ensure credibility and relevancy.

And, of course, I want to thank Anne Larigauderie and the entire IPBES Secretariat who have risen above some incredible challenges, despite some very tough operating conditions.

But I want to end with a very personal thank you.

This will be the last plenary for our departing Chair, Professor Zakri, who it has been an honour to work with over the last few years. But it will definitely not be the last plenary where we benefit from the commitment, determination or inspiration that he brings to those defending the interests of the world's biodiversity and ecosystems. For that, I can't thank him enough.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues - a round of applause or even a standing ovation seems a small reward for such a big contribution, but

perhaps you would join me in thanking Professor Zakri that way.

Thank you.

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