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STATEMENT BY THE ITALIAN MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, LAND AND SEA, HON. ANDREA ORLANDO, AT THE INTERACTIVE EXCHANGE OF VIEWS ON “OCEANS AND SEAS, FORESTS, BIODIVERSITY” DURING THE EIGHTH SESSION OF THE OPEN WORKING GROUP OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (February 3, 2014)


We have the honor to make this intervention also on behalf of Turkey and Spain, with whom we are pleased to share the membership in this Open Working Group.

Distinguished co-Chairs, Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Over the millennia, humans have learned to live on shores and islands, and to utilize the oceans’ resources for food and transportation-communications. Only recently, however, we have begun to understand the full extent of the role that oceans have on the quality and survival of life on the land and on how the oceans can help the planet stay healthy.

2. Although it has been confirmed that the oceans do absorb CO2 at a high rate, that the temperature variations inside the oceans are smaller than those outside them, and that the global oceanic conveyor belt current – the Earth thermostat – is presently functioning well, it has also been learned that the climate stabilizing role of the oceans can drastically change on short timescales. For instance, the increased precipitations in the northern hemisphere lower the salinity of the oceans thereby negatively affecting ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream; higher ocean temperatures weaken the oceans ability to absorb CO2 and harm the marine food chain.

3. While the climate threat is ongoing virtually unchecked, sea level is rising at an alarming rate posing an immediate threat to the survival of those peoples and communities who live on very little land. The magnitude of the social and humanitarian threat posed by sea level rise far surpasses any economic consideration; loss of homeland and related identity, relocation, changes in ways of life are its real devastating consequences.

4. Ocean acidification is also a devastating consequence of CO2 high concentrations in the atmosphere. But there is more. Overfishing is not only threatening food security for over half a billion people living on less than 1 meter above sea level, but also the protein intake of billions of people who live on land. Pollution is literally suffocating marine life, endangering marine species and exhausting the marine food chain. The destruction of valuable habitats and unique ecosystems is widely spread. Invasive species, transported where they do not occur naturally by human activity are disrupting the ecological architecture of marine environments, thus again the marine food chain.

5. We have already begun the unsustainable utilization of the ocean resource, generating damages that are probably permanent, yet adaptable to, provided that we plan to make sustainability the main objective of all future human activities. We believe that a global commitment to the preservation of the oceans as healthy guardians of the Earth climate, being equivalent to a commitment to reducing GHG emissions to levels that do not threaten the survival of life on the planet, is in order. The level is measurable, and the commitment is applicable and feasible in all national contexts.


Distinguished Co-Chairs,

6. Forests are a very important part of the ecosystem and they have a central role in tackling most of the challenges we have been addressing in the Open Working Group. Poverty, food security and agriculture, biodiversity, climate change, desertification and land degradation, energy, sustainable consumption and water management are some of the issues that are linked to forest and sustainable forest management.

7. Productive and socio-economic functions of forests should be utilized within the ecosystem integrity. There should also be a strong emphasis on elimination of all threats on forests and deforestation, in particular by tackling the main drivers such as conversion of forests to other land uses, population pressures, poverty, demand for timber and wood based products. These drivers should be managed through cross-sectoral policies.

8. Sustainable forest management (SFM) stands as a critical tool for conserving current forests, improving their state as well as implementing measures for degraded forest lands, through reforestation and afforestation. SFM is consistent with the green economy approach that is tailored on forest-dependent local communities by promoting forest products and services, encouraging green jobs and ensuring better employment conditions in rural areas.

9. Sustainabel forest management, multifunctionality of forests and the role of forests addressing global challenges should have an important place in the post-2015 development agenda. Similarly, since forests contain 80% of the terrestrial biodiversity, their richness should also be protected. In addition, it is essential to recognize the importance of forest ecosystem services and assign them a monetary value as part of our common natural capital.

10. There are various ongoing international debates and agreements on forests which may result in regional approaches and perspectives to achieve global objectives on forests. In this context, we should take on board the current four global forest objectives, endorsed by the UNGA in 2008, and, as appropriate, other international goals affecting forests, such us CBD and UNCCD strategic plans, the Bonn Challenge and regional forest-related process.


Distinguished co-chairs,

11. The Earth’s ecological functions depend on the variety and variability of genes, species, populations and ecosystems. The provision of food, fiber, medicines and fresh water, pollination of crops, filtration of pollutants, and protection from natural disasters are among those ecosystem services strongly linked to changes in biodiversity. The consequences of abrupt ecosystem changes on a large scale are so risky for human security that it should be rational to simply assume a conservative approach in biodiversity conservation.

12. In many countries, millions of people, often among the poorest, are completely or substantially dependent on harvested plants and animals for their livelihoods, including for indigenous and local communities and their cultures which often rely directly on the uses of biological diversity, even as health care or as bush meat for protein supply. SDGs need to deepen the interrelations between biodiversity and poverty, as already done by the CBD institutions, both from the point of view of dependency of the poor on biodiversity and the reduction of poverty by means of biodiversity conservation.

13. A vital sub-set of biodiversity is agricultural biodiversity. The conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity, often carried out by poor smallholder farmers, plays a critical role in the fight against hunger, by ensuring environmental sustainability while increasing food and agriculture production. These benefits are not, however, at all reflected by the market. Smallholder farmers are the guardians of biodiversity and their role must be recognized and valued.

14. The application of best practices in agriculture, starting from organic agriculture, sustainable forest management and sustainable fisheries should become standard practice, and approaches aimed at optimizing multiple ecosystem services instead of maximizing a single one should be promoted. In many cases, multiple drivers are combining to cause biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystem.

In conclusion distinguished co-chairs,

15. The current decline in biodiversity is largely the result of human activities and represents a serious threat to poverty eradication and, more generally, human sustainable development. Even if the poor would face the earliest impacts of such changes, all societies and communities would be ultimately affected. If humanity is to have a future on this earth, biological diversity must be conserved so that these functions and services are maintained.

16. The transition from MDGs to SDGs requires to adequately recognize the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services in all basic human needs. There is also a pressing need to address the underlying drivers of biodiversity loss through a holistic and integrated approach. The process we are undergoing in defining the SDGs provides us with an incredible opportunity to do so at a global level by, on one side, addressing the issue of biodiversity conservation, while on the other, phasing out environmentally harmful human-driven processes and activities that undermine the functioning of the Earth’s support system.

Finally Distinguished Co-Chairs,


17. Our suggestion is to insert among SDGs the most significant objectives and indicators defined in the UN-CBD framework, with an overarching aim to halt biodiversity loss by 2020 and thereby contributing to sustaining a healthy Planet. The goals might be as indicated in the CBD Strategic Goals. Building on existing goals and targets will ensure policy coherence.


Thank you.