IUCN Director General’s speech at the 70th anniversary celebration in Sweden

On International Day for Biological Diversity, IUCN Members in Sweden celebrated the Union’s 70th anniversary. 

Inger Andersen_Sweden_2018

Your Royal Highness, Prince Carl Philip

Your Excellency Minister, Karolina Skog

Friends, Members, Partners

Ladies and Gentlemen

Today is World Biodiversity Day, and I am delighted that you have chosen this important day to celebrate IUCN’s 70th Anniversary. I want to thank our Patron, HRH Prince Carl Philip, Minister Skog who represents Sweden as an IUCN State Member, and all our members and partners in Sweden for their commitment to the work of IUCN.

The pressure on nature has never been so great. IUCN is designed to not only withstand but counteract this pressure through the provision of knowledge and tools critical for ensuring that human progress, economic development, and nature conservation take place together.

Established in 1948, IUCN is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. Sweden is among our founding members, through the Swedish Society for the Conservation of Nature, and it is with Sweden’s support that IUCN has influenced the global conservation agenda over decades past.

During these past 7 decades, IUCN’s work has evolved immensely. In the 1950’s, IUCN focused on human impacts on nature, such as pesticides and landscape planning. In the 1960’s, IUCN focused on protecting species and habitats as well as on climate change and corresponding impacts. It was also at this time that IUCN created the World Wildlife Fund and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In the 1970’s, IUCN made significant contributions to the development of international conservation law through the creation and implementation of UNESCO World Heritage (1972), CITES (1973), and Ramsar (1971) Conventions. By the 1980’s, IUCN had elevated conservation to an international strategic level by dent of the World Conservation Strategy, fostering national conservation strategies, and by illustrating the importance of traditional knowledge. In the 1990’s, IUCN gained international momentum as seen by the emergence of the Rio Conventions in 1992, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, the first IUCN World Conservation Congress (1996) and by obtaining UN Observer Status as an intergovernmental organization (2000).

In the 2000’s, IUCN reached out beyond conservation, focusing on poverty reduction and human rights and through cooperation with the private sector. In the 2010’s, IUCN championed nature-based solutions to societal challenges, such as climate change. The Bonn Challenge, for instance, sets a goal of restoring 150 million hectares of degraded lands by 2020 and 350 million by 2030. As of the 2016 World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, Indigenous People’s organizations became a distinct membership category.  IUCN’s mission was also furthered through its status as a Global Environment Facility Project Agency (2014) and as an Accredited Entity to the Green Climate Fund (2016).

Projections currently indicate that we are on course to miss our commitments to halve the loss of natural habitats by 2020 (Aichi Target 5); avoid overfishing and keep the impacts of fisheries within safe ecological limits (Target 6); and prevent species’ extinctions and improve the status of known threatened species (Target 12). Only last week, articles published in Science reported that one third of global protected land is under intense human pressure, and that the projected effect on insects, vertebrates, and plants of limiting global warming to 2°C, rather than 1.5°C, is catastrophic.

However, this is not to say that we’re not having successes, without which we would be in a much worse situation. For example, wildlife reserves, while subject to human pressure, cover 10% of the Earth’s land. This is an area equivalent in size to India and China combined. We have also already achieved over 160 million hectares in pledges to the Bonn Challenge, surpassing the 150-million-hectare goal. Additionally, discussions are underway to codify the major principles of International Environmental Law in the form of a Global Pact. The Ozone-Montreal Protocol has been ratified by every country in 1987 and, to date, the Parties to the Protocol have phased out 98% of ozone-depleting substances globally compared to 1990 levels. The Protocol is expected to save, by 2030, an estimated two million people each year from skin cancer.

Naturally, some countries are doing better than others. Sweden is a leader, with some 14% of the country’s total surface under protection. Additionally, the number of large carnivores (bears, lynx, and wolves) has increased in Sweden in recent years, and the Government of Sweden has banned cosmetic products containing plastic particles included for cleansing, exfoliating, or polishing purposes. Nonetheless, this is only one part of the puzzle, as the average Swedish citizen has an ecological footprint 3 times larger than the global average.

As we move into post-2020 discussions, we must take stock and define a new and improved framework, based on measurable targets. Part of this process is learning from our mistakes, achievements, and from successes elsewhere – such as from the Paris Agreement. One example is to invite nationally determined contributions (NDCs) from Parties. This ‘bottom up’ / ‘voluntary’ approach, combined with a mandatory ‘review and ratchet up’ approach, could help push the political landscape of the CBD in a more positive direction by promoting ambitious country-led action and collaboration; it would also provide a more productive template for international/north-south cooperation on biodiversity conservation in the post-2020 period. The NDCs’ ‘bottom-up’ approach has yielded a sense of responsibility and ubiquitous ownership of climate action. This approach could also work for biodiversity and we must consider it. The climate community has additionally been able to galvanize worldwide public engagement and support, thus putting crucial pressure on decision makers.

With all of that in mind, the obvious question is, what would an effective post-2020 biodiversity framework look like?

First of all, it would be aligned to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and tracked systematically to demonstrate its contributions towards achievement of the SDGs. Of course the ‘biodiversity gaps’ in the 2030 agenda should be addressed, and the relevant goals and targets should be updated, strengthened, and meaningfully taken up in the SDG process. The framework would also facilitate enhanced synergies and cooperation between the CBD (and its Protocols), the other two Rio Conventions, and the biodiversity-related conventions. An effective post-2020 biodiversity framework would be supported and owned by all parts of society, from the private sector to religious groups to the new generations, and it should include a long-term vision for biodiversity conservation up to 2050. Our vision for this framework includes a 2030 Mission, which constitutes an overall science-based target for biodiversity that can be quantified and tracked through implementation. An appropriate equivalent of the 2°C/1.5°C temperature rise cap agreed under the Paris Climate Change Agreement could be explored. Additionally, this crucial framework will address drivers of biodiversity loss and policy barriers to implementation.

In sum, an effective post-2020 biodiversity framework must be ambitious, achievable, action-driven, science-based, communicable, and measurable.

Ultimately, 2020 represents THE opportunity to shape a new grand narrative for conservation – we have no choice but to seize it. Indeed, the road to 2020 is absolutely vital; we must use every occasion and opportunity we have to shape the grand narrative.

In this year of 2018, there are plenty of opportunities for us to look back while looking forward: IUCN is celebrating its 70th anniversary and the CBD is turning 25; SBSTTA-22, SBI-2, and COP14 are approaching, as are the HLPF, UNGA, Ramsar COP13, and the UNFCCC COP 24. Additionally, the mid-term review of the implementation of the IUCN European Work Programme is, of course, an opportunity to reflect on what we are doing in Europe and plan better for the future – as well as for the IUCN post-2020 Programme. As you know, we are gathering information on the implementation of the IUCN European Programme by IUCN Members and we look forward to receiving inputs from our Swedish Members.

Speaking of our Swedish Members, it is without a doubt that Sweden is a crucial leader and ally in steering this transformational change. IUCN has been working closely with Sweden on a number of areas, including on the SDG 14 Ocean conference and follow-up. Considerable focus is given to ocean risks, ocean deoxygenation, ocean warming, blue carbon, and ocean acidifications. Ocean plastics is also a joint area of work, with progress in the Baltic and Arctic as well as globally. Micro-plastics in the ocean have been a special focus. We are additionally working together on standards for MPAs and joint efforts to achieve the Aichi targets and beyond. Sweden is also leading on the implementation of IUCN Resolution WCC-2012-Res-100, “Incorporation of the Rights of Nature”, and I am pleased to note that the second Earth Rights Conference will take place in 2019 in Sigtuna.

What most pleases me however is that, when I look around this space in which we have convened together, I see a diverse union of individuals who stand united in support of biodiversity. While this International Day for Biodiversity brought us together today, it is our mutual commitment to conservation throughout the days, years, and decades to come that keeps us in lockstep, and I very much look forward to a rich discussion on how you as Members can further contribute to achieving the transformational change we all seek.


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