Speakers Call for Rebalancing Relationship between Humans, Nature, as Political Forum on Sustainable Development Continues

With agricultural expansion driving 90 per cent of global forest loss and risk of species extinction growing at an unprecedented rate, speakers in the high-level political forum on sustainable development today called for rebalancing the relationship between humans and nature, exploring ways to better protect terrestrial ecosystems, biodiversity and land resources on a large, impactful scale.

“I come here to invite you to create,” said Uyunkar Domingo Peas, representative for the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon, one of several expert panelists to brief the forum on Sustainable Development Goal 15 (life on land).  He called on Governments to value those forests that are still standing and to recognize the rights and knowledge of indigenous people as their traditional stewards.  “Human beings are a part of nature, not separate from it,” he observed.

Panelist Bruno Oberle, Director-General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, underscored the need to decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources.  “If bread were free, we would use it to heat our houses,” he said.  He recommended placing a value on nature so it is not exploited so freely and collecting sound data to this end.  A “substantial” amount of money must be transferred from the global North to the “megadiverse” countries in the global South.

Providing a view of the global landscape, Yuxi Zhang of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs said the proportion of forests to total land area fell from 31.9 per cent to 31.2 per cent in 2020, representing a net loss of nearly 100 million hectares.  Agricultural growth, including cropland expansion and livestock grazing, is responsible for the lion’s share of loss, he said, adding that an estimated 40,000 species face the risk of extinction in the coming decades.

Irfan Tariq, Chair of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, added that with the projected financial losses during 2020 and 2021 estimated at $8.5 trillion, for some countries, social and economic recovery is far from certain.

In the afternoon, the forum held a panel discussion on building the resilience of small island developing States against external shocks, in which delegates from around the world explored options for girding against climate change, pandemics and financial crises.

Addressing that point head-on in a keynote address, Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, and Co-Chair of the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index Panel, said the old way of measuring development — as a linear, upward process that correlates neatly with gross national income per capita — is broken and only becomes more irrelevant with each passing year.

Several countries, by virtue of their structural handicaps, are disproportionately disadvantaged in the face of external shocks, he said, which generate huge disruptions that were not contemplated by outdated development models.  He described ongoing work to establish a multidimensional vulnerability index to accurately capture a country’s risk and enable access to concessional financing.

Broadly agreeing, Hyginus Leon, President of the Caribbean Development Bank, in a second keynote address, proposed the creation of an “internal resilience capacity measure” and a “recovery duration adjustor” as a more equitable framework to underpin access to concessional finance.

Also today, Togo and Uruguay presented their voluntary national reviews of their progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  The reviews aim to facilitate the sharing of successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The high-level political forum on sustainable development will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 July.

Introduction of Report on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns

IRFAN TARIQ, Chair of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, introduced its progress report (document E/2022/56), noting that with the projected cumulative financial losses during 2020 and 2021 estimated at nearly $8.5 trillion, for some countries, social and economic recovery is far from certain.  While progress on global sustainability goals remains significantly off track, the international community does have a window of opportunity to accelerate sustainability transitions to build back better, he said.  Sustainable consumption and production must sit at the centre of this response, he emphasized, adding that sustainable consumption and production, as well as circular economic models, can be a crucial driver of poverty alleviation.

Noting that investments in sustainable consumption and production can lead to net gains in gross domestic product (GDP) and livelihoods, including through improved energy security, he said that it also can provide a clear pathway in achieving the Paris Agreement on climate change.  However, he said, global progress on sustainable consumption and production is lagging, noting the lack of clear data and standardized assessments regarding this.  Where measurements are available, progress in the implementation of Goal 12 is insufficient to achieve 2030 targets.  Lack of capacity, technology and financial resources all contribute to that, he said, directing delegates to the report’s comprehensive breakdown of indicators, statistics measurements and trends in various sectors, from plastic waste to tourism infrastructure.

Highlighting the unique opportunity to harness sustainable consumption and production as part of the global effort to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted that the report contains a series of recommendations for policymakers.  Calling for an integrated approach that enables identification of synergies, mitigates trade-offs and addresses the root cause of multidimensional environmental problems, he said this can be both cost-effective and impactful.  However, as societies transition towards system-wide practices of sustainable consumption and production, it is imperative that no one is left behind.  Developed countries should take the lead and enable financial flows that ensure that this global movement is effective and inclusive, he underscored.

The high-level political forum then held an interactive discussion on Sustainable Development Goal 15 (Life on Land) and its interlinkages with other Goals.

YUXI ZHANG of the Statistics Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented the highlights of the Secretary-General’s report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, in relation to the implementation of Goal 15 (document E/2022/55).  Noting that the proportion of forest area fell from 31.9 per cent of total land area in 2000 to 31.2 per cent of total land area in 2020, representing a net loss of almost 100 million hectares, he said that agricultural expansion is driving almost 90 per cent of global deforestation.  This includes expansion for cropland as well as livestock grazing, he said, adding that while Asia, Europe and North America showed an overall increase in forest protection, significant losses were observed in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.  The risk of species extinction is increasing at unprecedented rates, he cautioned, adding that around 40,000 species are estimated to be at risk over the coming decades.  Calling for actions to conserve biodiversity, he highlighted the importance of sustainable agriculture.  Stressing the need to safeguard key biodiversity areas, he pointed out that only 37 per cent of countries assessed are on target to meet their targets for biodiversity conservation.

Panel I:  Sustainable Development Goal 15 (Life on Land)

Moderated by Nigel Sizer, Executive Director of Preventing Pandemics at the Source initiative, Dalberg Catalyst, the panel discussion featured presentations by:  Bruno Oberle, Director-General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature; Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and Coordinator of the Regional Commissions; Julie Nash, Senior Programme Director for Food and Forests at Ceres; Uyunkar Domingo Peas, Indigenous leader from Ecuador’s Achuar people, and representative for the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon; and Ajanta Dey, Joint Secretary and Programme Director of the Nature Environment and Wildlife Society.

The lead discussants to the panel discussion were:  Ralph Chami, Head of Regional Surveillance for Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia at the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Daniel Samuelsson, Youth Representative of Sweden; and Paul Divakar Namala, Convenor of the Global Forum of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent.

Mr. OBERLE, noting that that the science is very clear on biodiversity loss, underscored that this is not by chance; it is the result of unsustainable consumption and production.  The international community needs to decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources, he said, adding “if bread were free, we would use it to heat our houses.”  Therefore, it is important to put a value on nature so that it is not exploited so freely, he said, calling for sound data that will enable the international community to do this.  Drawing attention to the need for a robust monitoring system to track the amount of action that is delivered and the amount of support needed, he said a substantial amount of money needs to be transferred from the global North to the megadiverse countries in the global South.  Stressing the importance of using agricultural subsidies in more sustainable ways, he said that indigenous people and local communities need to be on board.

Mr. PEAS stressed that an environmental transition needs to start with a human transition.  Calling on Governments to value those forests that are still standing, he pointed out that they do not need investment; they simply need ongoing care.  Stressing the importance of smoother financial flows, he said that at the moment, they are impeded by various levels of bureaucracy.  “I don’t come here to complain, I don’t come here to protest, I come to here to invite you to create,” he said, calling on the international community in all its roles, from businesspeople to youth, to work together.  It is vital to acknowledge the rights and knowledge of indigenous people, he said, adding that human beings are part of nature, not separate from it.  Calling on the international community to respect that spiritual connection, he also drew attention to “Sacred Basins for Sacred Life”, a plan for conservation of the basins that support the Amazon rainforest, designed by the indigenous people of his country.

Ms. ALGAYEROVA, lamenting that overall biodiversity loss continues, pointed out that green spaces are also essential for sustainable and resilient cities.  Noting the increasing land degradation in Western Asia, accelerated by climate change and conflict, she noted the lack of systemic policies aimed at halting biodiversity loss in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Stressing the need for a transformative and whole-of-society change through a big environmental push, she highlighted some vital actions, including an overhaul of financial and regulatory policies.  Innovative sources of financing need to be developed, she said, adding that Governments should eliminate reforms and subsidies for products that lead to biodiversity loss.  Also stressing that carbon credits should be put to work, she added that sustainable forest management is vital.  “We have the knowledge, we have established instruments for international cooperation, we have tested tools at the national level,” she pointed out, adding that what remains is the determination to make these work together.

Mr. CHAMI said financial markets are under pressure from investors, employees and regulators to come into the space of nature.  Noting that markets have the resources and the means to move quickly, he said they need policy action to move from extractive practices to a new paradigm of a nature positive economy.  Outlining actions, he said Governments should account for nature’s presence and biodiversity, describing the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting as paramount.  “We need the legal framing around nature,” he said.  The question hinges around who speaks on nature’s behalf.  Once this question is answered, a new asset class will become capital on the balance sheets of investors, and markets will create services around the protection and growth of these assets.

Opening the interactive dialogue, lead discussant Zéphyrin Maniratanga, Permanent Representative of Burundi to the United Nations and Chair of the eighteenth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests, stressed that one quarter of the world’s population counts on forests for their needs.  “Now forests need our help,” he said.  He called for reducing deforestation and forest degradation, which requires landowners to have access to capacity-building and relevant technologies, and support for their social and cultural needs.  The causes of forest loss must be addressed, as called for in Goal 15, he said, observing:  “We must rebalance our relationship with nature.”

When delegates took the floor to offer their views, several highlighted national efforts to preserve forests, emphasizing the need for humans to rebalance their relationship with nature.

France’s representative said local populations are essential to forest management, stressing that Goal 15 is linked to Goal 17 (partnerships), with the latter at the heart of the issue.  The representative of the Philippines pointed to the ninetieth anniversary of the establishment of protected areas in the country and a “massive” information campaign on value of these areas, while Mexico’s delegate described efforts by the National Council for the 2030 Agenda, which prioritizes renewable energy, the circular economy and the establishment of a national system for care work in transforming the economy.  The Czech Republic’s representative, meanwhile, noted that drought has damaged 35 per cent of forests and other lands across the country.  She cited the launch of a large-scale reforestation plan and involvement in joint efforts to halt deforestation, while respecting international trade rules.  Morocco’s delegate said 13 per cent of her country is covered by forests, with a high level of endemic species.  The Government has established legal, governance and financial mechanisms aimed at valuing biodiversity, signed most conventions related to biodiversity, directly or indirectly, and put in place an oversight body.  Guatemala’s delegate said that in efforts to sustainably manage forests, the Government is working to better manage national food chains.  Some 41,000 forest projects are being carried out and there are 48 protected sectors within the country.

On the international front, Finland’s representative highlighted the need for greater collaboration between international agreements to achieve more efficient implementation.  “We must listen to those who will be most affected by the decisions we make today,” she added.  Along similar lines, the representative of China recalled his country’s proposal in 2021 to establish a global development initiative focused on climate change and green development, and the establishment of a network for the sustainable management of forests.  He called on all countries to seek “maximum consensus” at the fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Biodiversity Conference.

On that point, the speaker from the European Union, speaking in its observer capacity, called for adopting an ambitious biodiversity framework that contains measurable targets and a strong review mechanism, adding that the bloc stands ready to engage on the issue of digital sequence information.

A speaker from the Executive Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity said that, in addition to Goals 14 and 15, where biodiversity is explicitly mentioned, various targets in the 2030 Agenda are related to biodiversity and underpin a broad spectrum of activities.  In developing a post-2020 global biodiversity framework, steps are being taken for planning and implementation, and for strengthening integration of gender, the role of indigenous peoples and stakeholder engagement.

The speaker from the Local Authorities Major Group cited education and protection are the demands of the next generation.  She drew attention to women’s participation in establishing sustainable living systems and called for ramping up implementation of Goal 15.

In a second round of presentations, Ms. DEY, noting that she works with marginalized communities, underscored the need to bolster local circular economies.  These economies should focus on resilience and nature-based solutions, noting that “the science is strong” on how to lay the foundation.  She underscored the importance of recognizing the value of and incorporating traditional and indigenous knowledge into solutions.  She pointed to a restoration project focused on a particular mangrove delta, noting that efforts were focused on hydrology and species selection and in which local knowledge is extremely important.  However, the project had not consulted elder people in the area, for example, on what ecosystems were like 50 years ago.  A checklist was then developed so that all factors were considered.  She underscored the importance of “mangrove stewards” in this regard, stressing that “you have to have a value chain”.  Market access and governance systems must be in place.  She concluded by drawing attention to “green brigades”, notably of women, who are vital to taking nature–based solutions forward.  The right policies must be in place to support the sovereignty of small-scale farmers.

Ms. NASH said most countries rely on unsustainable agricultural practices, recalling that agriculture is the largest driver of forest loss.  Her organization is focused on driving company and investor action to reshape food systems, with an emphasis on reducing deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.  She described the “stunning” changes taking place in financial markets, noting that five years ago, it was difficult to find even a handful of investors to pay attention to nature.  Today, there are 78 investors with $32 trillion under management, focused on restoring land.  There is a realization that climate change, biodiversity loss and land are interrelated and that they all must be solved together.  Investors also now realize that those companies relying on nature-blind solutions are unable to correctly identify and manage risks within their portfolios, marking a “real change” in the narrative.  In the private sector, there is a building of a business case for action — and a move to place a value on natural capital.  This has two impacts:  it increases the understanding of risks, and in turn, leads to a greater understanding of opportunities.  Countries that take action to reverse the trend of nature decline will benefit because there are other countries that will not be as prepared.

Mr. NAMALA said he represents communities discriminated against on grounds of work and dissent, numbering 260 million who face intergenerational stigma due to their ancestral status, and are made vulnerable due to notions of purity and pollution.  They are often forced into forms of slavery and abusive manual labour.  Because this form of “global apartheid” persists, they are excluded from social and political spaces, including access to land.  The Sustainable Development Goals have yet to address these communities.  Goal 15 in particular is vital to their future.  They have been uniquely protecting and cultivating land, and have become vulnerable to the environmental destruction underway.  They are denied land access in many countries.  Stressing that support and safety nets are essential for their survival, he pointed in particular to people forced to work the land in Mauritania, to Roma communities across Europe who have been forced to live in ramshackle shelters where they scavage for plastics, and to Dalits in India, who work as labourers, yet are denied land ownership and instead bonded to the dominant class.  He called for ensuring that these communities constitute a distinct social group in the country reviews of Sustainable Development Goal performance.

Mr. SAMUELSSON, noting that 1.2 billion young people aged 15 to 24 years account for 16 per cent of the global population, said the situation related to the planetary goals are becoming increasingly irreversible, threatening peace and human health alike.  Young people, as among those most affected, must be “let into the room” to push decision makers to achieve the 2030 Agenda, notably Goal 15.  During the Stockholm+50 conference, the global youth task force raised urgent demands to restore all ecosystems, notably through reforestation projects.  They introduced a list of recommendations, including the need to designate mass destruction of the environment — “ecocide” — as a crime.  He urged the international community to build on the outcomes of Stockholm+50.  “We have no more time to waste,” he said.  “Please, let us act now.”

When the floor opened, delegates highlighted domestic forest preservation initiatives, with the representative of Belarus noting that her country is among the top five in terms of forest cover, with a biosphere reserve home to the “big five”:  bison, bears, moose, lynx and wolves.  The delineation of this reserve is especially critical for bison, whose migration has been violated.  She called on Poland to review its territorial provisions, requesting investors to assess the situation, which would perhaps help to resolve the situation.  Nepal’s delegate said his country is a pioneer in community-based conservation, with communities managing 39 per cent of the forests.  Nepal is also promoting nature-based tourism.

Botswana’s delegate, meanwhile, said stakeholder collaborations are vital to achieving the 2030 Agenda, and that the success of Goal 15 hinges on domestication of related environmental agreements.  Noting that 40 per cent of Botswana’s land is protected, he said an environmental fund has provided grants to 47 communities.  He also announced that a legislative instrument to domesticate the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity is ready for Parliament’s consideration.  The Republic of Korea’s representative pointed to the fifteenth World Forestry Congress, where participants stressed that forests offer a major nature-based solution to land degradation, hunger and poverty.

A speaker from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), drawing attention to the 2022 State of the World’s Forests report, pointed as well to the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation — or “UN REDD”.  He also described FAO’s role as chair of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, which involves 15 international entities.

A speaker from the Indigenous Peoples Major Group stressed that “nature, people and culture are inextricably linked”.  Lands and waters of indigenous peoples are not significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions, but rather, reserves of oil, wildlife and other essential ecosystems.  Yet, only 10 per cent of Governments around the world recognize indigenous peoples’ legal ownership of them, and hardly 1 per cent of the funds available for the environment goes to indigenous peoples and local communities.  Goal 15 must ensure that the local collective actions of indigenous peoples and local communities are recognized, that support is provided and that their rights are respected in conservation and development efforts.

“Our multilateral commitments must be met,” added Bolivia’s representative.

Also speaking were representatives of Norway, Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Senegal, Malawi, Türkiye, Sudan and Ukraine, as well as speakers from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Workers and Trade Unions Major Group.

Source: United Nations

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