Chief External Affairs Officer, The Nature Conservancy
At first glance, the United Nations (UN) seems more bewildering than ever this week, as world leaders descend on New York to grapple with the problems of a bewildering world. Leaders from every corner of the globe are talking about the growing demands for food, water and energy, as global population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. How to lift millions from poverty while ensuring that a growing middle class uses resources sustainably are at the top of the agenda. Countries are looking for answers and have lessons to share. And nature offers some important solutions.
Today, The Nature Conservancy teamed up with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Island Partnership to bring leaders together to share their experiences and learn from one another. Investing in nature is essential to smart development, and leaders from the biggest G20 nations to small island developing states are demonstrating this in different ways. I was proud to represent the Conservancy at today’s gathering of Leaders Valuing Nature.
Charles McNeill, Senior Policy Adviser, UNDP, provided opening remarks and welcomed everyone to UNDP headquarters. He voiced his appreciation for the leadership shown by the panelists and commented that UNDP maintains a high level of commitment to environment for development, adding “nature-based solutions will continue to be a pillar of UNDP’s solutions well into the future.”
We were honored to hear from Minister Tony de Brum of the Marshall Islands about a new Declaration on Climate Leadership recently adopted by 15 countries in the Pacific. These countries, some of the most vulnerable in the world, are letting the world know that they are leaders in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As the Minister noted the clear message to bigger emitter countries is that “we’re all in this together and if we can do it, so can you”. The Declaration will also bring in civil society and the private sector, as well as other countries. With their President in town this week to hand deliver the new Declaration to UN Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon, it was heartening to hear that the United States is supporting the Declaration and that the United Kingdom (UK) signed up yesterday.
We heard from the Seychelles’ Ambassador Ronald Jumeau that small island states are really “big ocean states,” whose communities conserve their coast lines for their own benefit, and in doing so help protect the oceans for us all. He noted that for his country, “marine-based nature is a driver for sustainable development”. The tourism and fisheries sectors are based on a “blue economy”, with Seychelles now also exploring ways to link their debt reduction to climate adaptation activities.
These leaders—on the front lines of rising tides and shrinking lands—know that conserving their coral reefs, mangroves and fisheries will help buffer their communities from the impacts of climate change while protecting vital food sources. As Ambassador Jumeau noted, they are a “microcosm of what is happening to the rest of the world” and we have much to learn from their experiences.
Kerstin Faehrmann of the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development shared with us Germany’s support for “development-oriented conservation”, noting that Germany provides €500 million each year for biodiversity conservation around the world. She told us about programs in Benin where communities are combining decisions on biodiversity, human development and poverty eradication, and as a result both nature and people are benefitting.
Care International’s Kathleen Hunt told us that nature is increasingly a part of their development programs because there are clear benefits for people to reduce the impact of disasters and provide economic gains. She noted that adaptation at the community level is economically sound; a recent evaluation found that $1 spent on adaptation investments yields between $1.45-$3.00 in return for communities. Care engaged in the current UN negotiations as they offer a way to bridge decisions that are based on sustainability and financial incentives.
If you’re like me, I’m sure you often wonder how we can really solve problems as vast as climate change, poverty, or hunger. Within the labyrinth of UN meetings and motorcades this week in New York, it’s especially easy to be cynical.
But as I listened to these leaders today, I was inspired by the simple yet powerful ways they are putting nature to work to slow climate change and provide a better future for their people. They aren’t here in New York to debate abstract agreements or make empty promises—they are here to build support for the investments they are making in nature to provide a sustainable future for their people and for all of us. Suddenly, the UN—and the world—seem a lot less bewildering.