Remarks of Ambassador Olof Skoog, Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations at the high-level event to celebrate World Wildlife Day at the UN Headquarters in New York

3 March 2020


2020 is a pivotal year for global biodiversity policy. The world is to agree in October in China on a new set of goals for the next Decade after we have failed to reach almost all the 2020 targets.

The stakes are high. According to the World Economic Forum, half of the global GDP – approximately €40 trillion – is dependent on nature. Yet, onemillion species are on the threat of extinction.

This sounds frightening also to non-experts. But for many of us, if we are honest, the impacts of biodiversity loss remain often more abstract than the threats of climate change. 

This is different for hundreds of millions of people, including many indigenous people, for whom biodiversity is the basis of their livelihood.

Over 1.6 bio people depend on forests for their subsistence, employment and income generation. Almost twice as many depend on marine and coastal resources. 

Wildlife is a major economic sector. Related tourism contributes 120 bio USD to global GDP. CITES has helped create success stories - legal harvest and trade in wildlife products, from aloe for cosmetics to luxury vicuna wool, can help protect endangered species and generate much needed income for local communities.

All of this shows: Protecting biodiversity and ensuring that it is used in a sustainable way is inseparably linked to poverty eradication and economic development.

The EU has provided support for biodiversity worldwide over 3 billion Euros over the last seven years. Biodiversity protection will play a very important role in the future under our new “Green Deal”.

Let me give you one example of the EU’s support on the ground: the Virunga area in the Eastern DRC. It has the greatest assets and faces the greatest challenges: home to unique flora and fauna, home to endangered gorillas and chimpanzees, home to 4.5 million people living within one day's walk of Virunga. And located in a mineral-rich conflict zone.

The EU has been supporting the Park over the past decades linking biodiversity protection with economic development, a combination of projects strengthening law enforcement for the protected areas but at the same time developing eco-tourism, sustainable agriculture projects and renewable energy around the park. It is clear: only support that addresses the needs of all living in the area can bring a lasting solution.

This September, heads of state and government will discuss these issues for the first time in many years at the UN Biodiversity Summit here in New York.

How to reconcile the protection of biodiversity with the needs of those living with and off it, must be a central point on the agenda of our political leaders.

If we succeed in reaching a common understanding and commitment on this, it will not only help address some of the key drivers of biodiversity loss, like overexploitation and land use change. It will also be a true accelerator to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda overall, and as we launch the SDG Decade of Action.