Don't forget environment, IUCN tells UN

14 May 2009 | News story

World leaders must consider the environment if they want to ensure people enjoy a sustainable and dignified life. That was the message IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre gave in her keynote address to the High-Level Ministerial segment of the 17th session of the United Nations Commission of Sustainable Development (CSD), held in New York from May 4 to 15.

Ms Marton-Levefevre said that as the world's governments and peoples reeled from the impact of crises on a scale never before witnessed, it was clear that the negative effects of unsustainable lifestyles and practices were being felt in Africa more strongly than anywhere else.

She said the entire international community would fail to attain the Millennium Development Goals and be unable to tackle tough environmental challanges, if it continued to negleft the African continent. Turning around that trend required not only scaling up investments in agriculture, markets and infrastructure, it also required a much more concerted effort to integrate Africa into world trade and significant increases in development aid to Africa.

"Looking ahead to the Commission's next thematic cycle, delegations need to pay particular attention this year to sustainable consumption and production and the impact, thereof, on Africa," Ms Marton-Lefèvre said. She urged delegations to keep environmental issues in the forefront of their thoughts and actions, even as the fallout from the global financial crisis continued to grab headlines.

Ignoring the pressures on the environment and natural resources caused by current behaviour would be a "serious mistake", she said, noting that, among other things, ongoing population increase combined with social and economic inequalities was amplyfying the stress on ecosystems and the services they provided. "In short, we are running out of time to reverse a serious of dangerous trends. We must now recognize that we have overdrawn our account of natural assets," she added.

She urged delegations and their respective governments to scale up their investments in nature by, among other ways, supporting the environment's ability to continue to provide clean air and water, food, clothing, medicines and inspiration.

Such investment required understanding that the environment was not a separate sector, but rather a crucial element to address many of today's challanges. Investing in nature also meant taking advantage of the interdependence of the environment, economy and society. Moreover, through ecosystem-based and landscape approaches, it was an effective way to decrease people's vulnerability to drought, desrtification and food insecurity.

"Without investment in nature, your objectives for managing today's sustainable development challanges of food security and poverty reduction are doomed to failure," she told the high-level ministerial segment..

She went on to highlight the proposal for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), which IUCN believes is one of the best examples of what could be achieved by investing in nature. Stopping deforestation could curb the current global carbon emissions from 10 to 20 per cent.

An additional 117 gigatons of carbon emissions could be captured by restoring 850 million hectares of degraded forests worldwide. She added that the additional capture would also improve local livelihoods simply by using agro-corestry and other techniques.

"Why we would pass up an opportunity to make such a difference, using available technology and capacity, is beyond imagination," she said.

This year’s CSD thematic focus covered agriculture, Africa, drought, desertification, rural development and land use. In line with this, IUCN organized several learning opportunities for delegates at the meeting, including one on the role of biofuels in terms of rural sustainable development and one on drylands.

IUCN President Ashok Khosla and Aroha Te Pareake Mead, the Chair of IUCN’s Commission on Environment, Economic and Social Policy, participated in the event.

IUCN participated in the panel during the opening session of the CSD Partnerships Fair and contributed to the Working Session on the future of partnerships in the partnerships session, looking at lessons learned and best practices since Johannesburg.

To read Julia Marton-Lefèvre’s full speech, please click here.