It is time to move from banging the drum to banging doors. Because the environmental crisis is of existential proportions. We must all commit to turning 2021 into the year we make #PeaceWithNature.
The 5th UN Environment Assembly: Towards a just and sustainable future
Speech prepared for delivery at the opening of the Fifth UN Environment Assembly
We are meeting at a time of great upheaval. Over one year on, we are still feeling the full impacts of the pandemic. As a result, we are unable to greet each other in person at this, the fifth gathering of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5).
The COVID-19 pandemic is inextricably linked to three planetary crises of our own making: the climate crisis, the nature and biodiversity crisis, and the pollution and waste crisis. I need not go into detail on these crises. You know all about them. And they were detailed in UNEP’s “Making Peace With Nature” report, launched by the UN Secretary-General last week, a report that provides a comprehensive breakdown of the immediate peril facing the planet, a report which of course also provides the scientific underpinnings for the new UNEP Medium Term Strategy. Indeed the report has received unpredecented coverage – more than 1000 news stories in 74 countries have been published thus far, with stories appearing in 22 languages, including all 6 UN languages.
Colleagues, as tomorrow’s UNEP@50 kick-off shows, we have spent half a century working to identify and slow these crises. And we have achieved much.
We now fully understand the causes of, and solutions to, the crises. We have acted through many multilateral environmental agreements, from healing the ozone layer, to slowing the growth of emissions, to increasing action on biodiversity. Climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are now issues that move voters, markets and business practices.
But we have to acknowledge that the situation is worsening. That doing more of the same, and doing it at the same speed as that we have employed up to now, will not bring about change at the pace in which it is needed. We have to acknowledge that it is time for our movement to drastically change. We have to acknowledge that we need an all of society effort to radically change our ways if we are to make peace with the planet and therefore create the environmental conditions so that all of humanity can thrive, now and for generations to come.
So, UNEA-5 must drive the radical change to an era of action.
By agreeing to hold UNEA virtually, you have already demonstrated its relevance. This assembly is the world’s top environmental body. It sits at the core of the Rio+20 architecture, uniting all of the environmental agendas. It is about deciding where we go and how fast we go there. Most important of all, it is about lives.
Most of us at this meeting have seen our jobs and health hold up during the pandemic. Others have not been so lucky. We have a duty of care to everyone who has lost their jobs, their health, their family members, their lands, their future. If we do not get on top of the three planetary crises, and quickly, the planet will warm and nature wither. Many more will suffer.
Over the last year, you have supported UNEP by increasing income to our core fund. I thank you for this vote of confidence. And I now ask you, in this first UNEA session, to approve the medium-term strategy, programme of work and budget so we can work harder, faster and stronger.
Then take the vision of UNEA out into the world in this critical year.
I know you have all tried hard. Done your jobs. Fought for the environment. Now I ask you to do more. It is time to move from banging the drum to banging doors. Because the environmental crisis that humanity is facing cannot be addressed in manners and modes of yesterday. Because the challenge is of existential proportions. Because time is no longer on our side and action must be now. Because failure is simply not an option. We must make businesses, investors and your very own colleagues in other ministries commit to turning 2021 into the year we began making peace with nature.
That means backing a green recovery from the pandemic. That means joining the net-zero club and submitting stronger nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement. That means agreeing an ambitious biodiversity framework, backed by the means of implementation. That means mobilizing the whole of government, economy and society. That means deploying rapid efforts to renew nature during the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. That means adopting a new chemicals management framework and redoubling progress on plastic pollution. And that means stepping up action to ensure planetary, human and animal health through the One Health Alliance.
We need these meaningful commitments and the accompanying action on the ground together with global solidarity so that we can build on them at the resumed session of UNEA-5 in 2022.
The world is watching. Not least the next next generation. The Youth Assembly took place last week, and they called for your leadership; your commitment, your action and your courage.
Yes, this is a time of great upheaval. But it is in upheaval that humanity excels. It is when humanity is faced with its gravest challenge that we must lift our heads from the daily grind and find better ways of being. So, we can make peace with nature. So that we can overcome poverty. So that we can deliver justice. I call on you, who make up the United Nations Environment Assembly to rise to this existential challenge. Let it be said that when the world convened the highest environmental authority, that the world’s environment ministers rose to this challenge. That they were able to see past divisions and rather to look to the horizon with a steely determination to mend an ailing planet. And be the driving force that leads us all into a just, peaceful and sustainable future.