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Seventh Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity Ecology and Economy for a Sustainable Society

Minister of the Environment Bård Vegar Solhjell addressing the Seventh Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity, Ecology and Economy for a Sustainable Society.


Minister, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

“Our future, todays biodiversity” was the chosen slogan from the last Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity in 2010. Since then we have agreed on many critical topics under the Convention on biological diversity, both in Nagoya and in Hyderabad.

In Nagoya we agreed to take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity in order to ensure that by 2020 ecosystems are resilient and continue to provide essential services. Thereby we can secure the planets variety of life, and contribute to human well-being and poverty eradication.

If we are to fulfil this mission, we have to change course. And we need to do so fast.

Halting the loss of biodiversity and combating climate change are the two most important environmental challenges facing the planet. And while climate change takes up much of the media attention, loss of biodiversity is an equally serious threat. This is because the degradation of ecosystems can reach a point of no return – and because extinctions of species are forever.

Biodiversity has an intrinsic value and we have a moral responsibility to preserve it. 

The title for this conference is Ecology and Economy for a Sustainable Society. Sustainable development has three dimensions; we must strive for environmental, economic and social sustainability. One dimension can not be seen as superior to the two others. They are interlinked.

We need biodiversity for sustainable development.  Biodiversity is not something on the side of life - biodiversity is life. Biodiverity is not just the zoo or pictures in a calendar. Biodiversity is our everyday source of food, shelter, jobs, health, culture and identity. And it is poverty alleviation and part of the solution in combating climate change. Our policies must reflect this. It is vital to make biodiversity a natural part of decision and policy- making.

Biodiversity is also genetic resources necessary for food production, medicines and for natural adaptation and building resilience. I am happy to inform you that Norway will ratify the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-sharing very soon. A proposition on the ratification of the Protocol will be dealt with by the Parliament within a couple of weeks. 

In order to be forward looking, and search for solutions, we need to know our point of departure. In setting the stage for this Conference we have to remind ourselves on the critical situation we are in. 

According to the Global Environmental Outlook from 2012 the world

  • lost over 100 million hectares of forest from 2000 to 2005,
  • and lost 20 per cent of its seagrass and mangrove habitats since 1970 and 1980 respectively.
  • In some regions, 95 per cent of wetlands have been lost.
  • The condition of coral reefs globally has declined by 38 per cent since 1980.
  • Vertebrate populations have declined on average by 30 per cent since 1970, and up to two-thirds of species in some taxa are now threatened with extinction.
  • Declines are most rapid in the tropics, in freshwater habitats and for marine species utilized by humans.

Luckily we find some success stories at the local and national level:

  •  In the Chinese Hubei Province, a wetland restoration programme has reconnected lakes to the Yangtze River and rehabilitated wetlands with a capacity to store floodwater. This contributes to flood mitigation. In addition, restored lakes and floodplains have enhanced biodiversity, increased income from fisheries by 20-30 % and improved water quality to drinkable level.  
  • In Argentina, extensive areas of natural forest are protected for flood control, which is seen as a low-cost alternative to infrastructure. In addition, the biodiversity benefits from the forest protection.
  • European countries bordering the Danube River aim to mitigate floods by removing built infrastructure such as concrete river channels and restoring wetlands and rivers. This will improve their water retention capacity

We must multiply all good examples to reverse the overall negative trend. We need to mobilize the political will in order to make good progress. And political will is a renewable resource.

Improved knowledge is a key to make better decisions. I have great expectations to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Norway acknowledges and supports the need to incorporate capacity building in all its activities. This is important both for gathering knowledge, and for making the optimal use of the findings from the platform at the national and local levels. 

Norway has offered to establish a unit here in Trondheim in support of capacity building of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Our intention is to build on the competency in what we sometimes refer to as the biodiversity capital of Norway. We have worked closely with the UN system and with a number of partner countries in exploring how we can advance the capacity building agenda under the platform.

Biodiversity is about people, our need for biodiversity for human well-being and poverty eradication. Our management, individually and collectively, are threatening biodiversity.  I would also like to quote from the vision in the strategic plan "By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.”

This is the future we want.

A couple of weeks ago a campaign for buzzing gardens was launched in Norway. Bumblebees might at first glance not look very important, but they are doing an enormous job as pollinators every summer day.  Here in Norway we have 34 of the worlds 250 species of bumblebees, and you might say that they are well dressed for the Norwegian climate.

Pollination is one of the most important ecosystem services worldwide. The economic value of insect pollination for the main crops of the world has been estimated to 217 billion USD in 2005. This amounts to almost 10% of the world agricultural production.

The Norwegian Governments Climate and Forest Initiative is Norway’s largest contribution to biodiversity today. The Climate and Forest Initiative is clearly founded in our commitment to contribute to reaching the maximum two degrees global warming target. But its importance for the conservation of biological diversity and other benefits should not be underestimated. Deforestation and forest degradation is recognized as key factors behind the current biodiversity crisis. Close to 1.6 billion people rely on forest resources for their daily livelihoods. Norway is underlining the importance of robust safeguards for environmental and social issues in our work for reducing deforestation.

Last week we celebrated the international day for biological diversity. This year’s focus was water and biodiversity. The interplay between water, food and energy is one fundamental relationship for society. And the importance of wetlands for the water cycle is at last gaining some momentum.

Last year’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development also recognized the role of ecosystems in maintaining water quantity and quality. And as the Secretary General of UN stated in his press release last week:  ”Where once the focus was on trade-offs between water use and biodiversity, today we are coming to understand how biodiversity and water security are mutually reinforcing.”

The results from the initiate “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity” (TEEB) hosted by the UNEP, has been an eye-opener on the range of values from biodiversity and ecosystem services. 

All countries relies on resilient ecosystems and well-functioning ecosystem services, among other things for stable primary production, water security and clean water, and reducing vulnerability to climate change.

We have a Government-appointed committee on the values of ecosystem services working on this in Norway. They will present their report in August this year. I would be most interested in learning from other countries’ experiences in this regard – we are definitely walking the walk together on this issue.

I’m pleased to learn about the interest from all over the world to engage in the TEEB approaches. The launch of the TEEB Guidance Manual tomorrow will guide countries in implementing TEEB approaches at the national level.

This conference gives us an opportunity to discuss how we can mainstream biodiversity further, what benefits we get, and what pitfalls must we be aware of. And as economic policies cut across scales and sectors, we must regard the benefits of biodiversity and ecosystem services the same way. Biodiversity taken into account in decision making at all levels and across all sectors and businesses.  Our politics must be both ecologically as well as economically responsible. But biodiversity values are not just a matter of money.

Neither company nor national accounts explicitly include the benefits society derives from ecosystem services. Nor do they include the costs to the economy and our well-being of degradation of these services. This economic invisibility may lead to an overexploitation of ecosystems without knowing what we are losing.

One success from the Rio+20 summit last summer was the engagement in Natural Capital Accounting. Countries and private companies joined forces to support work to include values of natural assets like clean air, clean water, forests and other ecosystems into business decision-making and countries systems of national accounting.

It is something wrong with our systems when the income from harvesting timber is recorded in national accounts, while the simultaneous depletion of natural forest is not explicitly recognized at all.  This can result in quite misleading economic signals about economic growth. 

The Natural Capital Accounting must be developed to cover the values from ecosystem services. This is a challenging task. We realize that we would most probably need to identify a stepwise approach in order to capture these values. A first important step is to strengthen the bio-physical information on species and ecosystems. We stand ready to contribute in developing this further. 

I would also like to underline that valuation of Natural Capital is not a way of selling out biodiversity for private gains, nor does it aim at creating markets in general. It is a tool to improve public and private management of natural capital in general, and biodiversity and ecosystem services in parti­cular. If we are not able to recognize the value of these services we might contribute to them being lost permanently.

Better measurements of biodiversity and ecosystem services can help improve management. When you know where and to what extent you face a challenge, you can more easily implement policy measures with well-designed, proper incentives for responsible management.

The main focus now under the Convention on Biological Diversity is implementation.  We in the biodiversity community can’t deliver results on all the Aichi biodiversity targets alone. We need to work across the environment sector, agriculture, forestry, fishery etc. And we need to work with the finance and planning sectors. 

Improved knowledge, understanding and mainstreaming of biodiversity and ecosystem services will contribute to implementation of other targets in the strategic plan. They address causes of biodiversity loss at an early stage and align actions across sectors.

I believe that the continuing loss of biodiversity is the result of insufficient investments being made in biodiversity and over-investment in activities that result in the loss of biodiversity. To address these challenges, we must develop new and improved financial mechanisms to finance biodiversity conservation, and review practices, including on perverse subsidies, which lead to biodiversity loss today.

Today we have a language barrier; the language of biodiversity and environment is not similar to the language of economics. In the same way as the language of social development seems to be different. Communication amongst these disciplines needs to be improved. This year’s Trondheim Conference is an attempt to do just that!

I am pleased to note that the theme of COP12 in 2014 is “Biodiversity for Sustainable Development”.  Your discussions here in Trondheim and the outcome from this Conference represent an opportunity to advance our thinking in this regard. The slogan from last conference is still very valid: “our future, todays biodiversity”.

Thank you!


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