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Speeches & Transcripts

Keynote Address by Jim Adams, WB Vice President for East Asia and Pacific Region, at the 1st Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation

January 28, 2010

Jim Adams Thailand

As Prepared for Delivery

I am very pleased to be back in Thailand and here today in Hua Hin.

It is a distinct honor for me to represent President Zoellick at this conference, and to share the podium with Minister Suwit and Secretary Tridech.

I am also grateful for the participation of Prime Minister Abhisit today to demonstrate the strong support of the Government of Thailand for our work together on tiger conservation. As World Bank President Bob Zoellick reminds us, the year of the tiger is here and it is now time to seize the momentum to save wild tigers, take our successes to scale and operationalize our approach.

As President Zoellick said, let’s take decisive steps as partners to save this majestic species. I know that my colleagues in the World Bank will do their part to achieve this objective.

The World Bank and the international community applaud Thailand’s leadership on sustainable development planning, conservation and particularly of wildlife law enforcement and governance. This was evident in your hosting the ASEAN-WEN Secretariat, sponsoring the meeting of conservation experts in Pattaya in April last year, and now in hosting this first-ever ministerial meeting on tiger conservation.

In just two weeks, we will ring in the Year of the Tiger. This is an opportune moment for us to convene this conference to focus on the future and sustainability of the natural ecosystems of Asia, because how wild tigers fare is a core indicator of how Asia’s ecosystems will fare. But time is running out for the wild tiger. We need to make bold decisions now to reverse the trend towards the extinction of this majestic creature.

The nations of the Asia and Pacific region have been the world’s most dynamic economies for the last 20 years. The pace of change is astonishing, so much so that economic growth, infrastructure development, and urbanization are defining phenomena for Asian people, including those of the tiger range countries. Even during the financial and economic crises of the past two years, Asia’s developing economies have remained quite stable. In fact, it is Asia’s growth that is driving the global recovery. 

During this period, the World Bank is proud to have been intensely engaged as a strong development partner with our Asian partner governments to drive this growth. We welcome the development milestones achieved and the economic prosperity that have improved the lives of so many Asian people. But it has also taken a significant toll on Asia’s environment, ecosystems, and biodiversity, forcing us to re-think our development paradigm. 

Environmental degradation and the looming challenges of climate change are changing how we define and measure economic growth. Economic development that imposes large, but usually hidden, costs on the environment is simply unsustainable—and eventually will turn around and cause dire consequences. We now realize more than ever that environmental sustainability must be central to development.

Why is tiger conservation a priority at the World Bank?

The Global Tiger Initiative is one of the drivers of the World Bank’s commitment to new strategies that balance economic development with nature conservation, biodiversity and environmental protection. Some may ask, why is the World Bank making tiger conservation a priority?”  The reason is that in many parts of Asia, saving wild tigers is at the very heart of the conservation and biodiversity agenda.

In the next few days, we will hear much about the plight of the wild tiger. We’ll hear how the tiger faces a near-term threat of extinction, and we’ll hear that only about 3,200 of these magnificent animals survive today when a century ago 100,000 lived in habitats across Asia.

These facts alone are reason for action.  Many of you have taken up the call, and some off you have devoted your lives to saving wild tigers. We share the belief that the loss of such beautiful symbols, of such an important part of Asia’s cultural heritage, would be tragic and so unnecessary if we act now.

But beyond the beauty and heritage these creatures represent, the ongoing decline of the tiger habitat is symptomatic of the loss of Asia’s forests as a whole – the landscapes which are the habitats of the wild tiger. The disappearance of a species at the top of the food chain will endanger all of the species that live below it. Clearly other species of wildlife are also suffering similar plights. It is an issue at the center of the biodiversity and conservation agenda.

What’s more, ecosystems, endangered species, biodiversity and loss of habitats are inextricably linked with the livelihoods of the poor. So this is not merely a crisis of one charismatic species; it represents a crisis for many such species and biodiversity across Asia, and that is of immediate concern to the international community.

What happens to tigers has real-life implications for people, both for those who live in tiger habitats and sometimes even for those hundreds or thousands of miles away. And we know that the same deforestation in Asia that contributed to the tiger’s decline is already having devastating effects on many Asian people as well. The loss of wild tigers is a barometer for the health of ecosystems across Asia. We urgently need a new approach.

A New Approach for the Bank

I have worked with the World Bank for over 30 years, and I have seen many changes.  Historically, the environment strategy for World Bank-funded activities is based on safeguards and the “do no harm” principle. And within different sectors of the World Bank, we emphasized mainstreaming environmental considerations into our activities and projects.

At the end of this year, the World Bank will release its new environment strategy. We intend to move beyond the narrower safeguards and “doing no harm” approach to embrace a broader perspective which takes account of the overall environmental sustainability of the World Bank Group’s portfolio. In other words, the World Bank is moving from the “do no harm” approach to the “do measurable good” approach by finding a place for fighting climate change, protecting biodiversity and ecosystems and conserving wildlife within the mainstream of its development paradigm.

Tiger range countries face severe challenges with climate change impacts, deforestation, degradation of habitats and rapid urbanization. Within our new approach, the crisis facing tigers and other wildlife is similar to other sustainability challenges confronted by our environmental and infrastructure programs. It overwhelms local capabilities and transcends national boundaries.

The new approach will emphasize smart infrastructure - within and across borders- applying green standards to tiger conservation habitats and introducing effective and professional management of national parks and protected areas. Innovative financing would be allocated to the most innovative, community-linked programs, such as eco-tourism, and development corridors which promote sustainability and biodiversity. Technological and scientific innovation will help establish monitoring frameworks, guide research and develop capacity building programs and bring to bear the best habitat designs within the biodiversity community.

In the future, tiger range countries would gain much more than the higher likelihood of keeping wild tigers within their borders. Substantial benefits would accrue by decreasing trafficking crimes on borders, bringing economic advantages to poor communities and learning more about the ecosystems that sustain their lives and the economic well-being of neighboring communities.

We appreciate the energy and commitment of the 13 tiger range countries. Since its launch in 2008 by partner organizations and President Zoellick, the GTI has gained momentum and helped provide opportunities for stakeholders in the tiger range countries to come together to seek real solutions and develop smarter wildlife conservation strategies. As President Zoellick reminded us, Asian leaders now accept that regional cooperation is a necessity for tiger conservation, wildlife preservation and protection of diversity.

The World Bank must also take up the challenge: moving wildlife and habitat conservation to a mainstreamed position in our everyday business. The GTI platform is one of the ways we can do this. How well the Global Tiger Initiative is internalized into the World Bank’s everyday business in Asia – its work on infrastructure, its investments, its role in urbanization, and its own ecological footprint – will be the real test of our seriousness. The World Bank stands ready to support regional projects in law enforcement, community development and innovative finance.

For my part, I am determined that my teams in Asia work collaboratively with partner countries, regional and international stakeholders and constituencies to operationalize this new approach. With concerted effort, we can make a real difference and save the remaining tigers before time runs out.

But the Global Tiger Initiative is not only a commitment by the World Bank. It is an alliance of governments, international organizations, civil society and other dedicated partners. The World Bank’s convening power, as well as its political and financial leverage, do make it an important part of the GTI. We can help bring financing to the table to make the world safer for tigers and healthier for its biodiversity. We can also support research and encourage the smart infrastructure strategies and programs on the ground required to make an impact.

I am optimistic about the tiger’s future. The GTI has already galvanized strong cooperation and partnerships to address this wild tiger crisis. The Kathmandu Global Tiger Workshop demonstrated how GTI has evolved and matured into an instrument of change, a platform to develop and test innovative ideas and take them to scale. All 13 of the TRCs presented and updated their national strategies on tiger conservation, and agreed to a far-reaching set of recommendations for future action that will be discussed and refined as you meet over the next few days.

Here at Hua Hin, we are witnessing the convergence of political will. Political will at higher levels, combined with national action and international support, can create the essential conditions for wild tiger recovery.

The Road from Hua Hin to Vladivostok

As we move toward the September Tiger Summit in Vladivostok, I do challenge and urge the dedicated men and women in this room to take your conversations and ideas for solutions to the next level. Your passion—and the critical importance of your cause—must be conveyed to all of the ministries whose actions influence tiger conservation, from finance and justice to transportation, natural resources and mining ministries, and it must reach the boards of directors of large corporations and industry who can help make a difference on the ground.

The international donor community also has an important role to play. I know that representatives from our partner development organizations like the Asian Development Bank are here, as are bilateral donor agencies. As the GTI gains momentum, new partners can be brought together before the Tiger Summit in Vladivostok to solidify funding mechanisms for the proposals and strategies that have been discussed in Pattaya, Kathmandu, and now Hua Hin.

A most important year for Biodiversity; a crucial year for the tiger
Ladies and gentlemen, 2010 is the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity as well as the Year of the Tiger. There are seismic shifts taking place in Asia. These require seismic shifts in how we create programs and policies that balance sustainability and growth.

When we gaze into the eyes of a tiger, we are really seeing the face of biodiversity on our planet. It would be a travesty if wild tigers disappeared into the realm of history, and it would signal our failure to adapt and to address the modern problems of development, conservation and biodiversity.

We have adapted before, though, and I believe—as strong partners together—we can be catalysts for innovation—and for long-term success.

Speaking both for President Zoellick and World Bank colleagues, I want to assure you that we will continue to support the tiger range countries and the goals of the Global Tiger Initiative. It is the people in this room who stand at the front lines, taking on the sustainability challenges of the 21st Century, and on behalf of President Zoellick and the World Bank, I thank you for taking on this fight.