Distinguished hosts and guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be addressing such an eminent gathering of protected area professionals, conservation experts and decision makers. Thank you for this opportunity to connect with old and new partners to strengthen and move forward the protected area agenda at a crucial juncture for parks, people and the planet.
Some of you may remember me in previous incarnations, managing projects on biodiversity, land degradation and territorial approaches to climate change for UNDP, or pushing for the Sustainable Development Goals initiative from within the Colombian government. I moved to the World Bank in July with the same drive and passion because I now want to focus on implementation. As head of the new Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice at the World Bank, I see great opportunities to carry the conservation agenda forward by managing natural resources within the broader paradigm of poverty reduction and long-term sustainable, resilient development.
Getting steps right to maximize present and future benefits
Let me start off with a story. A couple of months ago, on my first World Bank mission, I was in Tanzania. A country renowned for its national parks and protected areas. Indeed, national parks and the wildlife they host are the backbone of a tourism industry that accounts for a critical 13% of the country’s GDP and 400,000 jobs. Tourism spurs investment and business in other sectors. It’s also the largest export earner—which means it underpins the exchange rate, which makes much else in the economy possible.
Nature-based tourism is thus a driver of growth in a country which still faces challenges in eliminating poverty. However, the natural assets that generate vital revenue face a range of threats.
Some are more intractable such as the gruesome poaching crisis that has decimated elephant populations in the Selous Game Reserve, and demand concerted, collective international action. Other threats, however, could be readily addressed if the true worth of protected areas were understood.
In the Ruaha national park, where 10% of the world’s remaining lions live, the Great Ruaha River is running dry and wildlife is in decline. Why? Irrigated rice fields have increased 10-fold in the upper watershed above the park in the last few years. Because so much water is being diverted upstream, for several months every year the Great Ruaha River simply does not run, with concomitant impacts on wildlife. Streams and watering holes are drying up. In addition to impacts on the Park, this limits livelihood options for downstream communities.
This illustrates a story that is played out constantly all over the globe. The true worth of ecosystem services, now and for tomorrow, is often not taken into account. Decisions are made without fully understanding the trade-offs, without identifying win-win options that would so readily deliver co-benefits. Instead, poor management of resources limits development opportunities, generating cascades of social, environmental and economic externalities. Perversely, the very assets that would lead to long-term collective well-being are eroded as a result of investments that focus on narrow short-term gains and fail to appreciate that environment is actually a core part of the development equation.
Tanzania’s government and business community are committed to ensuring that nature-based tourism remains a strategic driver of sustained growth. The Ruaha story is simply a reminder that resilient, sustainable development demands that we look at the big picture, one in which the health of both people and nature are deemed to be equally important as they are fundamentally interconnected. Ignoring nature inevitably erodes human wellbeing.
When I started to position the SDGs I was told by many that they had to focus only on people. I always wondered exactly how that could serve humankind given that we happen to need the planet for life. Clearly we still need to make the case for the symbiotic relation between planet and people—and in this context then to make the case for protected areas. This is a vital task because unless we succeed, we will have a hard time steering decisions toward win-win solutions that help us simultaneously feed billions of people AND conserve habitats AND respond to climate change.
Protected areas should be part of a broader poverty reduction strategy
Our task, however, takes place against a sobering backdrop.
It is what I call "receding reality"—the new normal. This is the slow onset degradation and depletion of our planet that lulls us into passivity. The fish are smaller, the forests emptier, the streams dry... Slow onset is not just sea level rise. Slow onset speaks to our progressive acceptance of a less rich and diverse world. This we must cognize and rebel against. Because a diminished planet also means that our collective global society will have failed to understand the inherent worth of protected areas.
Current trends are encouraging—the global coverage of protected areas is increasing from around 9% at the first Rio meeting, to the current 15.4%. We’re on track to reach 17% coverage of terrestrial and inland water areas by 2020, one of the Aichi targets. However, much more effort is required if we are to reach the targets for oceans and marine areas. We also need to ensure that these areas are vibrant and real, not paper parks.
The World Bank is proud to be working with governments to advance this can-do agenda. Our work supporting the Brazilian government through the Amazon Region Protected Areas program (or ARPA), for example, has largely contributed to global progress on protected areas, by establishing, expanding and strengthening the protection of 60 million hectares of rainforest.
We’re also seeing more and more protected areas that are created with people and livelihoods in mind: ARPA’s success is largely founded on empowering Indigenous Peoples and building assets for the poor: the program has helped secure Indigenous Peoples’ rights over 45 million hectares of land, and enhanced their livelihoods by promoting the sustainable use and marketing of forest resources.
My hope is that these best practices are carried forward into the new Parks of tomorrow. We know conservation must benefit nature-dependent people; we know how to do conservation without fencing out the people.
But we can’t rely on protected areas alone. How will we feed 9 billion people in 2050? Where will land, fodder, fuel and jobs come from? Put simply, the forest will burn if people are hungry. Agriculture and fisheries drive the majority of biodiversity loss. We must look beyond the traditional boundaries of conservation, fisheries and agriculture, understand that there can be no divide, and address poverty and food security full-on. We need to promote the sustainable climate-smart intensification of agriculture, through landscape approaches, sustainable fisheries, agro-forestry, and the restoration of degraded lands. Protected areas should be positioned as core components of broader landscape and seascape development strategies. Our challenge is to ensure that Ministers of Finance and Planning and Agriculture understand protected areas are part of a functional and productive economy.
By protecting and enhancing natural capital not only in parks but along watersheds, on farm land, in pastures, in freshwater and coastal waters, we can transform the economic prospects and food security of millions of people. We’ve seen it, for example, in Indonesia, where a project worked with 358 village communities to protect coral reefs, while improving fishing practices. Coral reef grew on average by 17% in 6 out of 7 districts, and communities’ income increased by 20% since 2008. Now in its third phase, the COREMAP project is working to mainstream an approach that makes coral reef protection planning an integral part of development planning and improves the welfare of coastal communities. Natural infrastructure delivers.
Truly sustainable development requires policies and economic incentives, practical tools and safeguards to ensure that protected areas sustain critical ecosystem services and promote resilience and human well-being. In the coming year, we can set the pathway to that future if we can strengthen the role of protected areas in defining and delivering on the world’s Sustainable Development Goals, and by embedding protected areas in the procedures that define society’s development planning and underpin economic decision making.
That's why I'm excited about the future despite the worrying trends: there are proven "win-win" solutions. We have the tools to ensure that both conservation and development are fully convergent.
Steering development choices toward long-term gains
This brings me to my second point: the rebellion against a receding reality only works if enough people in different walks of life join the good fight. And on this score there is also hope. Around the world we are witnessing a growing rejection of business as usual, with many taking risks and making hard choices to halt the planet’s decline, to slow down the destruction.
Yesterday, China and the U.S. exemplified historic leadership in the run up to Lima, putting forth commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that should drive all Parties to greater ambition.
Witness too the recent New York Declaration on Forests, with robust commitments to eliminating deforestation by national and sub-national governments, CSOs, Indigenous Peoples, companies. There is for example, a growing focus on the impact of commodities and consumer goods and the role that protected areas and natural ecosystems can play in sustaining commodity supply chains.
The new Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture will be a decisive player in this effort.
In addition to this, there is a growing chorus of governments and others seeking to look beyond GDP. More and more countries are asking for support from the Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services Partnership—WAVES.
Natural capital accounting has already helped Botswana factor water constraints in its policy choices. In the Philippines’ biodiversity-rich Southern Palawan, where there are numerous competing demands on resources, ecosystem accounts are expected to provide decision makers with the tools they need to make no-regrets decisions on ecotourism, agriculture and mining. This work is challenging from a methodological point of view but politically vital. It is helping governments go beyond annual growth statistics and understand the importance of natural assets over a longer time horizon.
Programs helping countries plan for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) are also having an impact, by creating an incentive for decision makers from different land-use sectors to sit around a common table, take out maps and negotiate a shared vision for the future that leaves valuable forests intact.
We are creating and applying solutions to address and correct market, institutional and policy failures, by transforming how we measure and account for development and by providing clear incentives across sectors for responsible private and public investment in natural capital.
And let me share, as a final thought, why this concerted, collective action is so critical in a time of receding reality. There is no question that the moral imperative of our time is poverty eradication. While we know that extreme poverty has declined, the proportion of people at risk of falling back into extreme poverty remains stubbornly high. And everyone one of us in this room knows that gains on this front will be lost unless we change the current development paradigm.
The World Bank Group adopted two goals last year: to help countries end extreme poverty by 2030 and boost shared prosperity for the bottom 40% of the population in a sustainable manner. The second goal speaks to the rising expectations of a global emerging middle-class. We must also be prepared to manage the changing consumption patterns of this growing global middle class as this will further exacerbate resource depletion and stretch the carrying capacity of many productive systems. This demands structural, systemic changes that go beyond minimalist, quick-fix approaches. It is our collective task to ensure that those changes have at their core an understanding of landscapes and seascapes as an integral, vibrant whole. That the true worth and value of protected areas is reflected.
We have come a long way from the Stockholm Conference of 1972. We must seize the moment. Follow up on the NY Declaration on Forests. Support climate-smart agriculture and fisheries. Ensure that forests are meaningfully included in future climate change agreements. Support the active and integrated implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. We must live up to the Promise of Sydney and implement solutions that cross boundaries and deliver lasting results for parks, people and planet.
At Sydney this year, this must be our pledge. There is no plan B for people and the planet. Thank you.