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Source: United Nations 4

Note:  A complete summary of today’s General Assembly meetings will be made available after their conclusion.

Opening Statements

VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, said that humanity’s existence on Earth depends entirely on its ability to protect the natural world around it.  Yet every year, 13 million hectares of forest are lost and 1 million species are at risk of extinction.  In the last 50 years, species of vertebrates — a category that ranges from frogs to elephants — have declined by 68 per cent.  To continue down this path is not only to lose natural riches, but also to jeopardize food security, water supplies, livelihoods and the ability to fight disease and face extreme events.  Noting that more than half the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), or $44 trillion, is dependent upon nature, he said that, according to the World Economic Forum, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse is among the top five threats facing the world today.  He emphasized that COVID‑19, much like Zika, Ebola and HIV/AIDS, is among the 60 per cent of infectious diseases that originate from animal populations under severe environmental pressure.

“Clearly, we must heed the lessons we have learned and respect the world in which we live,” he said, describing COVID‑19 as an opportunity to do just that.  A post‑pandemic green recovery that emphasizes the protection of biodiversity can lead to a more sustainable and resilient world, unlock an estimated $10 trillion in business opportunities and create 395 million jobs by 2030.  This first‑ever summit should set the stage for a global movement towards urgent action on biodiversity and sustainable development and build political momentum towards the post‑2020 framework to be adopted at the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) to be held in Kunming, China.  “COP15 must do for biodiversity what COP21 [twenty‑first meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] in Paris did for climate change” by making biodiversity a mainstream topic and putting it firmly on the political agenda, with all voices — including those of business and civil society — heard, he said.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that humanity must rebuild its relationship with nature.  Deforestation, climate change and the conversion of wilderness for human food production are destroying Earth’s fragile web of life, which must be healthy for current and future generations to thrive.  Biodiversity and ecosystems are essential for human progress and prosperity, and central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change, yet none of the global biodiversity targets set for 2020 will be met.  “Much greater ambition is needed, not just from Governments, but from all actors in society.”  Emphasizing that degradation of nature is not purely an environmental issue, he said that the topic spans economics, health, social justice and human rights, and that neglecting precious resources can exacerbate geopolitical tensions and conflicts.

“By living in harmony with nature, we can avert the worst impacts of climate change and recharge biodiversity for the benefit of people and the planet,” he said.  Nature‑based solutions must be embedded in COVID‑19 recovery and wider development plans, given how the preservation of biodiversity can create jobs and economic growth while also tackling the climate crisis.  Economic systems and financial markets must account for and invest in nature, he added.  Citing Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates, he said that the $300 billion to $400 billion required for nature is far less than current levels of harmful subsidies for agriculture, mining and other destructive industries.  The international community must also secure the most ambitious policies and targets that protect biodiversity and leave no one behind, he added, stressing that nature offers business opportunities to poor communities from sustainable farming to ecotourism.  He urged world leaders participating in today’s summit to “bend the curve on biodiversity loss” and send a strong signal in the run‑up to the fifteenth Conference of the Parties.  “Nature is resilient and it can recover if we ease our relentless assault,” he said.

MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that it was a biodiverse and hospitable planet that accommodated the emergence and evolution of the human species, providing nutrition, clean air, fresh water, natural medicines and bountiful raw materials.  The world’s holy books prescribe respect for each other, as well as for nature and its bounties.  In the modern era, nature has been severely abused.  Half the live coral cover on reefs has disappeared since the 1870s, with accelerating losses due to climate change.  As the Secretary‑General has said, humanity is at war with nature and nature is fighting back.  The impacts of climate change are visible and biodiversity loss will be equally devastating for the future of humanity.  Loss of biodiversity increases the likelihood of zoonotic diseases and COVID‑19 is a grim reminder of the relation between humans and nature.  The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are interlinked and if the biodiversity goals are not achieved, most of the other goals will be difficult to realize by 2030.  A new social and economic paradigm is needed that values nature more than gross national product (GNP) and per capita incomes.  In promoting biodiversity goals there is a need to contain the economic greed and policy negligence that is driving humanity to destroy the planet, he said.

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