Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director, UNEP at HLPF Launching the decade of action at a time of crisis: Keeping the focus on the SDGs while combatting COVID-19

by Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director, UNEP

As I address you today, the challenges ahead of us seems to be daunting. COVID-19 has brought unimaginable suffering around the world. For the first time since 1998, global poverty is set to rise. Meanwhile, climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution remain the underlying threats facing humanity. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets will not be met. The 2020 objectives of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management will not be met. And COVID-19 has come just as we embark on a make- or-break Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals.

In other words, humankind’s destruction of the natural world has not stopped. 

The IPBES Global Assessment tells us that an estimated 1 million species are facing extinction and are disappearing at a rate hundreds of times higher than the natural rate. This is due mostly to land use change and direct exploitation. We have already altered nearly two-thirds of the face of the earth, and the resulting land degradation is affecting the livelihoods of 3 billion people. Since 1990, 420 million hectares of forest (equal to three times size of South Africa) have been lost through conversion to other land uses (State of Forests). Chemicals new and old keep accumulating in the food chain. And all these problems are compounded by climate change, which is happening much faster than predicted.

If these trends continue, we will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030. We cannot continue going on this path. We need to change course now and we need to redouble actions on the environment-related SDG targets that were due to end in 2020, and which we know will not be achieved. And the good news is that we can. But how? We need to start by setting quantitative targets that can be properly monitored. In that context, the adoption of an ambitious Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework at the 15th Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2021 and an ambitious strategic approach for the international sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020 are crucial, including to inform the monitoring of the SDG targets. But targets and frameworks alone will not be enough. They need to be matched by bold political leadership and commitments from all.

We all need to realise that taking care of the planet means taking care of the people. Our new report on Zoonotic diseases (Preventing the next pandemic - Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission) calls for one- health approach – uniting, human, animal and environmental health like never before.

A big part of this will be ensuring that nature is placed at the heart of decision-making. Only then can we begin to restore and maintain ecosystems, manage chemical waste, produce food sustainably and invest in infrastructure sustainably

The natural world, which directly or indirectly affects every single one of the SDGs, must be at the very heart of all our efforts to build back better. 

This is the key to a resilient and sustainable future – it is the key to humanity’s well-being.

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