China Forum on International Ecological Competitiveness 2020
Hulunbeir, 20 Sept 2020
Excellency Ren Yaping, (Deputy Director of National Committee on Population Resources and Environment, CPPCC),
Excellency Huang Zhiqiang, (Vice-Chairman of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region),
Excellency Zhang Shaogang, (Vice Chairman of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade),
Ambassadors, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here, in these spectacular surroundings. It reminds me of my time in Outer Mongolia, where I spent 4 years with the UN before coming to China, and where I came to appreciate the beauty of the Mongolian steppes.
China’s people have understood the importance of the environment since ancient times, as illustrated by a phrase from a famous Chinese poem 1,500 years ago “天苍苍，野茫茫，风吹草低见牛羊“.
This week, the UN released its new Global Biodiversity Outlook report. Of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets set in 2010, the world has not been able to fully achieve any by this year’s deadline, only 6 were “partially achieved."
Nor are we on track to achieve any of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals – to end poverty and safeguard life on earth.
Our natural environment is deteriorating at an alarming rate: sea levels are rising; the past four years have been the hottest on record; and one million plant and animal species risk extinction.
In just 15 years, between 2000 and 2015, 20% of the Earth’s land was degraded, nearly the size of India and Russia combined. This is largely due to human activity. And that not only harms the environment – but also, us. 40 percent of all jobs on Earth require a healthy, stable environment.
The very air we breathe, our water and food, also depend on how we treat our planet. Biodiversity feeds our world. And urgent action is needed to address its rapid loss. This affects everyone, urban and rural: because we cannot build sustainable cities, without environmental development beyond them.
COVID-19 has demonstrated the costs of ignoring science. Climate change and the damage to our environment raise the risk of future pandemics - as shrinking wildlife habitats force animals and humans into ever closer contact, making it easier for viruses to jump species.
Yet, COVID-19 also offers an opportunity: to rethink our relationship with nature, in how we live and work. The response to the pandemic has shown a new normal is possible, and essential: a green economy that leaves no one behind.
What are the opportunities for local economies and businesses?
A greener path makes business sense. Making energy systems eco-friendly could boost global GDP by $98 trillion by 2050, with healthcare savings eight times the cost of investment. Through a circular economy, with goods that are re-used, recycled and upcycled at greater value, we can also create six million jobs.
What can be done in practice?
Cities can include the SDGs in their development plans, to unlock environmental and social benefits. Many have done so already. UNDP is ready to continue facilitating this, and will soon launch our SDG progress report on 90 cities nationwide.
We are also supporting the shift to greener energy and transport. About half the world’s zero-emission Fuel Cell Vehicles are deployed in China, where over half of all provinces and cities have hydrogen industry plans – many developed with UNDP support.
New business models – such as Payment for Ecosystems Services – can also be used. UNDP, with support of the Global Environment Facility, works to apply this in the Chishui River Basin cooperating with private sector to pay locals for protection of the biodiversity and ecosystems in the river basin.
The private sector indeed can, and should play a role, by moving to low-carbon investments that maximize environmental and social returns – and bring about business savings and positive branding.
Government action is also critical to create the conditions for responsible investments. One example is China’s 2020 Green Bond Catalogue that brings China closer to international standards to boost its green economy, by removing clean coal investments, while including green services for the first time.
There are countless opportunities for cities, communities and companies to go green. We must make them count. Because we have just 10 years left to achieve the SDGs.
Next year’s COP 15 - hosted in China - will be an excellent arena to showcase pathways forward with nature-based solutions for a new normal that is inclusive and environmentally balanced to sustain future generations.
I thank CCOIC for hosting this event, and wish this conference every success.