On Earth day, we share the address that Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, gave at our recent International Geographical Societies Gathering. Hosted online by the RSGS working with the International Geographical Union, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and the Royal Geographical Society with IBG to discuss the biodiversity crises ahead of COP15. 

Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary, United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

Ladies and gentlemen, greetings! It is an honour to deliver a message for this important meeting. I thank the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for inviting me and for bringing together representatives of the international geographical community to discuss biodiversity-related issues.

For many years, scientists have warned us about the severe consequences of the complex global environmental crisis caused by biodiversity loss, climate change, land degradation and desertification and pollution; as well as the impacts they have on human systems. These challenges are jeopardizing our efforts towards sustainable development.

One of our main challenges is reconciling environmental protection with economic prosperity and human well-being. Ecosystem degradation already affects the well-being of at least 3.2 billion people which is about 40 per cent of the world’s population. Over 800 million people went hungry in 2020. And when we factor in COVID-19 pandemic, we have an additional sense of urgency to ensure a healthy planet and people.

Creating and maintaining mechanisms to protect, conserve and sustainably use biodiversity, and ensuring equitable benefit-sharing is not only urgent but crucial for survival on Earth. The multiple benefits of biodiversity conservation range from health, livelihoods, food and water security as well as disaster risk reduction to resilience to changing socio-economic and environmental conditions.

For instance, healthy ecosystems support nearly 55 per cent of the global GDP, and nature-based solutions provide an estimated 37 per cent of the climate change mitigation needed by 2030 to keep global warming below 2°C. By providing 60 to 80 per cent of all freshwater resources, mountains are known as Water Towers and fulfil the needs of more than half of humanity.

Geographical societies worldwide can play a huge role in facilitating conservation and sustainable use by inspiring and informing people, and by helping provide solutions to complex issues using geographical knowledge. I congratulate the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for their exemplary outreach and educational materials, public events and research, which in turn helps inform conservation policies.

Biodiversity is our shared responsibility, and we need to act fast, as the cost of inaction threatens our own existence. The tasks ahead of us are difficult, but they can be achieved through concerted efforts. Through your international reach, I believe that geographical societies can be a key player in this great challenge.

Accurate geographical information is crucial to understanding key biodiversity areas. It is also critical for effectively designing and implementing conservation and restoration activities. The societies’ collections of items tracing many years of geographical discovery are crucial tools to inform education, scientists, and experts, raise awareness and advance conservation science and activities towards a sustainable future.

However, the issue is not only about halting biodiversity loss by 2030. It also concerns achieving recovery and restoration by 2050 to reverse the current crisis and turn this vicious circle into a virtuous one, through a transformative change that ensures sustainable development.

The post-2020-global biodiversity framework, to be adopted later this year at the UN Biodiversity Conference in China, is our roadmap. Its implementation a necessity for the transformative change and sustainable future that we want. The draft framework has four goals and 21 targets and is intended to be used not only under the Convention and its Protocols, but also by the broader international community.

The framework will also include a decision to aid its effective implementation. This includes obligations with respect to reporting, review and means of implementation, resource mobilization, capacity-building, and the long-term strategic approach to mainstreaming, as well as other related topics, including digital sequence information.

Accordingly, we need to appropriately account for the value of biodiversity; raise awareness that the biodiversity crisis is a shared responsibility; enhance interdisciplinary, inter and cross-sectoral multidisciplinary research and advances in conservation science, education, mainstreaming and integration. Here, geographical societies can make a substantial contribution.

Above all, we need a high level of willingness, cooperation, and concerted efforts by all sectors: public, private, financial, academia; and, by all members of society to achieve a sustainable future with a focus on intergenerational fairness and legacy.

The next 10 years will be the most critical of our generation. Urgent actions are required.

I extend my appreciation and gratitude to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for hosting and organizing this event, and to all other contributors.

Let us strive to halt and reverse the current crisis, build back better and greener, and move forward towards the future we want: a life of Living in Harmony with Nature. Thank you.