Remarks by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director at the 6th Intergovernmental Biodiversity in Europe Conference Mon, Apr 15, 2013

For many Rio+20 and its pathways may seem distant to the day to day realities of simply getting by in a challenging world and one still reeling in many regions from the economic and financial crisis that emerged in 2008.

Batumi, Georgia, 15 April 2013 - Your Excellency, Minister of Environment Protection of Georgia, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me to address the 6th Intergovernmental Biodiversity in Europe Conference. I regret that I cannot be there with you personally.

Your Excellency,

the Government and the people of Georgia deserve our warm appreciation for hosting this meeting here in the beautiful city of Batumi.

Georgia is also an ideal place to host a conference on biodiversity as it is one of the world's biodiversity "Hot Spots" and one of the centers of origin for agricultural plant diversity.

Georgia's economy is growing but the government has nevertheless put the importance of its natural environment-its nature-based assets, its ecological infrastructure-at the heart of its sustainable development and green economy path.

This was underlined and was showcased last September at the Tbilisi+35 Intergovernmental Conference on Environmental Education for Sustainable Development.

UNEP has been proud to host The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative which has brought the multi-trillion dollar value of the globe's ecosystems and their services from the invisible into the visible spectrum of economic and developmental discourse.

Not because the economics of nature are nature's only relevance to humanity-but in a world where the ups and downs of GDP currently define much of policy-making, bringing the wealth of the natural world to the attention of ministries of finance to development as well as environment can open eyes to perhaps more informed choices and policies.

Georgia itself-like many countries now across the world-has undergone a TEEB Scoping study as a way to value its 'ecological infrastructure' - one of the central themes of this conference.

And indeed many other countries in pan-Europe are working with UNEP and other partners to implement TEEB-related activities.

I am sure this conference will inspire further action within the region towards bringing biodiversity and ecosystems from the fringes into the centre of political and planning decisions.

Your Excellency, Honorable Delegates,

Your meeting comes in the wake of the Rio+20 Summit, a short while since the UNEP-hosted Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species conference in Bangkok and just under three years since the UNEP-hosted Convention on Biological Diversity parties met in Nagoya, Aichi Province, Japan.

Your conference here is an opportunity to take forward the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the Aichi Targets.

And the very positive outcomes at the CITES conference as well as related MEAs including the UNEP-hosted Convention on Migratory Species which held its last conference of the parties in Bergen, Norway in November 2011.

But it is also an opportunity to assist in realizing "The Future We Want' outcome of Rio 2012.

For many Rio+20 and its pathways may seem distant to the day to day realities of simply getting by in a challenging world and one still reeling in many regions from the economic and financial crisis that emerged in 2008.

But within the many agreements and new initiatives launched are some real seeds and potentially catalytic transformations that hold the promise of a sustainable century including for biodiversity and ecosystems.

·        Heads of state and governments enabled the Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication which UNEP and three other UN agencies are taking forward including with advisory services.

TEEB, as I am sure you know, is a key stream of UNEP's green economy work with countries.

·        A 10 Year Framework of Programmes for Sustainable Consumption and Production was given the go-ahead.

UNEP in collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN has launched a global campaign called Think Eat Save: Reduce Your Foodprint in support of the agri-food theme of the 10YFP in order to cut the breathtaking loss and waste of food-with all the links to land conversion and increasing pressure on biodiversity and ecosystems from the production of food that is never eaten, never makes it from farm to fork.

Other promising avenues from Rio+20 include a new initiative on sustainable procurement and a fresh push on corporate sustainability reporting-including as it relates to companies' impact on the natural world.

·        Meanwhile, a new indicator of wealth that goes beyond the narrowness and bluntness of GDP is likely to emerge over the next one to two years.

An indicator that will hopefully better factor in the wealth of biodiversity and ecosystems in line with the TEEB work

·        The strengthening and upgrading of UNEP, including with universal membership and more stable and predictable funding-not as an end in itself but as a way of empowering environment ministries and delivering more effectively globally and on the ground.

Finally, let me mention the post 2015 development agenda and the discourse around developing a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to build on the poverty-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The SDGs can, in their design, bring about two sea changes.

·        Assist the North and the South into more cooperative, common cause because as we know, sustainability on this planet is as much about decoupling existing unsustainable patterns of resource use in developed countries as it is about ensuring that developing ones pursue and evolve a far more resource efficient path

·        Secondly: Keeping up the momentum from Rio+20-we need to ensure that the environmental dimension of sustainable development is fully reflected in these SDGs into the ensuing decades alongside and equally with the economic and social dimensions.

This was not the case in respect to MDG-7 on environmental sustainability-we cannot as an environmental community allow a similar mish mash or afterthought to occur in respect to the SDGs and more universal, inclusive goals.

Because and while there are achievements from the past 20 to 40 years of sustainable development-including the growth of national parks and protected areas and the phasing-out and down of ozone damaging-we know the score card is increasingly heading into the red.

·        We have failed to reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity to date - the 2020 targets must be met including those relating to the region as laid out in the Pan European 2020 Strategy for Biodiversity and NBSAPs

·        Climate change as yet remains unresolved with all the implications for the natural world despite some remarkable multi-billion dollar uptakes in for example renewable energy investments-a meaningful and inclusive treaty by 2015 must be our common cause

·        According to the UNEP-hosted International Resource Panel, consumption of natural resources will triple by 2050 on current trajectories-decoupling is the only option.

Excellency, honorable delegates,

This Biodiversity in Europe Conference is an excellent opportunity for pan-European countries to build on the outcomes of the biodiversity-related convention meetings of the past three years and strengthen the collaboration amongst them.

And the wider sustainable development agenda laid out at, and from Rio+20 including reflecting on how the natural world will be integrated in the SDG architecture now on the drawing board and engaging governments.

The challenges facing species and ecosystems- from forests to freshwaters, soils coral reefs and fisheries up to the ability of the atmosphere to absorb the multi-trillion dollar 'externalties' of current patterns of industrialization and consumption-are formidable.

But so too are the possibilities inherent in a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient green economy pathway that internalizes the fundamental reality that without the natural world humanity faces a mutually impoverished and increasingly uncertain future.

Rio+20 has to my mind transformed the discourse surrounding the environmental dimension of sustainable development.

It has also afforded an opportunity to perhaps finally weave the wealth of the natural world-and therefore the urgency to sustainably manage this asset and this source of beauty and for many spiritual gratification- into the development opportunities for seven billion people, rising to over nine billion people by 2050.

Let us not waste it-this and future generations are depending on us to solve the problems and seize the real and running possibility for the future we want and the future we need here in Europe and beyond.

Thank you.

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