The Honourable Morris Dzoro (“Zorro”) Minister for tourism and Wildlife
Distinguished members of the diplomatic community
Ladies and gentlemen
It is an honour to address you today, just six months into my role as the UK’s first Minister with responsibility for biodiversity both at home and abroad.
In the UK Parliament, I represent a beautiful rural, coastal part of Dorset, in southern England. It is the most biodiverse part of the country, which gives me first-hand experience of the value of biodiversity – both in its own right and for its contribution to our economy.
We are facing some of the most critical threats to our planet in human history.
The greatest is climate change and associated desertification.
We are also presented with problems caused by the unsustainable use of natural resources, of increasing threats of disease pandemics, and by crippling poverty in much of the developing world.
We have reached a crossroads in the history of nature conservation. And we are privileged to be in this wonderful continent of Africa, which represents the source of one-third of the whole world’s biodiversity.
We are all committed to the 2010 targets, and in particular to making a significant reduction in the rate of loss of biodiversity.
That target is only five years from now.
The Millennium Review Summit discussed progress to date on the Millennium Development Goals. We must work towards a world which achieves environmental sustainability by 2015. This may seem an unrealistic aspiration, but humankind has always been an ambitious species, and its leaps and bounds in technologies unheard of 150 years ago demonstrate, if nothing else, a capacity to find solutions even when none seems immediately available.
Through our dual presidencies of the G8 and the European Union, the UK decided to couple development in Africa with climate change, because we believe these are the two greatest challenge the world faces today, and because of the belief that the G8 has to address the most pressing of all issues at its annual meetings. If not, what is its purpose?
I have read that, on average, African countries derive more than one fifth of their Gross Domestic Product from primary commodities, compared with around one tenth for developing countries, and much less than 3% in developed counties. At one fifth of GDP, the good governance and management of these resources is critical for growth – and for the protection of those resources, including migratory species.
The UK is encouraged by the ambitious, detailed package for Africa that was agreed at the G8 summit at Gleneagles in July and followed the work done by the Commission for Africa. This represents an investment in the future of this continent – home to much of the world’s greatest biological diversity – that sends a message that when people benefit, so does the environment.
The future of the peoples of Africa is bound to the future of the local, continental and global environment. And central to that future is climate change.
There can no longer be any doubt - the oceans are warming, a long-term reduction in Arctic ice cover is accelerating, the strength of hurricanes has increased in the last 30 years, and 250 million people worldwide are directly affected by desertification, which is a direct consequence of climate change.
The UK commissioned a report on the effects of climate change on migratory species, which I announced last month. Copies have been circulated to participants at this meeting, and there is also a leaflet available with some of the main findings.
These make alarming reading.
There is a paucity of knowledge available on the impact of climate change specifically on migratory species. And, where knowledge does exist, it suggests disturbing developments. We already estimate that projected changes in climate during the twenty-first century are very likely to be without precedent during at least the past 10,000 years. These climate changes, combined with land use change and the spread of alien or exotic species, are likely to limit both the capability of species to migrate and the ability of species to persist in fragmented habitats.
Our report suggests that:
84% of endangered migratory waterbird species are being affected, and will continue to be so;
Secondly, up to one-third of turtle-nesting sites in the Caribbean could be lost with predicted sea-level rises; and
Thirdly, the birth-rate of whales is likely to be affected;
Furthermore, there are increasing barriers to migration:
For example, reduced rainfall in northern Africa is increasing the size of the Sahara Desert so trans-Saharan migrant species face more arduous journeys; and
At the same time, dams, fencing and other artificial barriers are limiting the ability of species such as African wildebeest and South American river dolphins to adapt their natural migration patterns.
And the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment does not give us much comfort either. It reports, for example, that, over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on earth. Moreover, the degradation of ecosystems could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century and prevent us achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Equally pressing are the problems of disease pandemics.
A meeting on the conservation of migratory species at the present time would be incomplete without some discussion about Avian Influenza and we are fortunate to have present so many experts and representative interests.
The recent global spread of H5N1 - at a time when bird migrations are occurring and along routes which coincide broadly with migration routes - suggests that migrating birds play a part in spreading the disease.
Fortunately, as far as we are aware, Kenya and indeed Africa - like the UK - are free of Avian Flu. And there are many strains of avian influenza viruses which vary in their ability to cause disease. But none of us can afford to be complacent.
Africa is on the flyway from southern Russia via Turkey, Romania and Croatia. If birds in this flyway are infected, the virus may arrive in Africa during the next few months, perhaps mix with other strains, then come back to Europe when the birds return in the spring. We have very little information about what happens to these migrating birds when in Africa - where they go, who they mix with.
We do know that 270 species arrive in Kenya every winter. We know that they mix with domestic poultry. And we know that nearly three quarters of this poultry is kept in peoples’ backyards, bringing the potential for transmission of the virus to humans.
This is a global problem and it requires a coordinated, global response. But that response must be proportionate to the risk and based on sound evidence.
Poorer countries are less well-placed to deal with an outbreak, should one occur.
The particular concerns among the African nations were expressed most eloquently at last month’s Meeting of Parties to the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement in Senegal. The resolution from that meeting addressed some of the greater concerns, while also committing us all, whether in Africa or in the Eurasian region, to concentrating our activities in those areas where we can achieve most. This means in practice more targeted monitoring; identification of key target sites and species, and of course, awareness-raising and education.
I am very pleased that the CMS is drawing up plans to develop an early warning system that will pin point where water birds fly, go and where they stay stay when migrating. This will alert countries, communities and farmers that there may be a potential risk coming so that they can take appropriate measures.
I am delighted that UNEP is providing around $30,000 for this work.
This is an example of the global co-operation we all need and that the UK Govt will support.
We cannot afford to just look after ourselves. The international community needs to help poor countries prepare for and cope with the avian and human influenza threats and to do all we can to maximise supplies and fair distribution of antivirals and vaccines.
We have recently put in place a package of measures that will lower the risk of AI and strengthen our capability to cope with it, should it emerge. This follows the case of infected birds dying in quarantine in the UK.
We are working with industry and other stakeholders to produce guidance on the handling of dead birds in order to minimise any risk. We are asking bird owners to develop contingency plans so that they could house their birds in order to minimise the risk of disease transmission from external carriers. And we are putting in place, with our partners, new surveillance arrangements on certain species of migratory waterbirds
Legal and illegal trade in captive birds also carries a risk of spreading Avian Flu and the EU, under the UK Presidency, is taking a lead in closing this route within the EU.
The EU has imposed a temporary moratorium on trade in captive live birds, poultry and poultry products and is stepping up surveillance. Last month, I addressed a seminar in the UK for all 25 EU CITES management authorities, customs and police agencies, which looked at ways of tightening up law enforcement.
So, disease and climate change are clearly priorities. But, as I said at yesterday’s Round Table, we also need hope.
I would like to underline work being carried out by the Parties to this and other multilateral environmental agreements. For example the UK has carried out a study to examine the merits of a possible agreement under CMS to conserve migratory birds of prey. The conclusions suggest that these species would benefit. This is good news not only for migratory birds of prey, but also for the CMS Convention as a vehicle for conservation and sustainable use. Depending on the discussions undertaken here, we shall be exploring this further with the range States for these species.
We are also taking important steps to engage whole new communities, for example the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, in pursuing the difficult and complex area of marine conservation. We are advised that, within marine systems in much of the world, the biomass both of targeted species of fish and of those caught incidentally has been reduced to one tenth of the levels prior to the onset of industrial fishing.
The albatross and petrel agreement is important because of the ecological importance of these species to our natural heritage. 300,000 seabirds - of which over 100,000 are albatrosses - have been killed by longline fishing. This is neither sustainable nor necessary to economic development, and can often be relatively cheaply addressed.
Much of this work for the UK happens in our Overseas Territories. Many of these places are very important for the protection and conservation of several migratory species including albatrosses and petrels, turtles and cetaceans, some of which are indigenous. They also provide important breeding and feeding sites. The UK government is supporting a number of projects, for example, monitoring turtles around St Helena and the Caribbean and an albatross and petrel conservation programme around the Falkland Islands.
And we are seeing emerging partnership arrangements, some of which follow the examples set out at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. These coalitions of like-minded states, non-government organisations and individual experts have the capacity to achieve much, without the degree of bureaucracy that traditional arrangements have involved.
Most notably these include the Congo Basin Forest Project Partnership, and the Great Apes Survival Project Partnership, whose first Intergovernmental Meeting I was able to attend in Kinshasa in September.
For CMS, this mechanism could be an excellent vehicle for the Sahelo-Saharan Antelope work which could be greatly enhanced if we can develop a Partnership arrangement similar to that of GRASP and CBFP. This would provide a firm but flexible structure to join up initiatives at international, national and local levels, integrating all relevant players, including regulators, industry and local communities.
And there are other partnerships, such as those with the corporate sector. In this regard, I am very pleased to see CMS developing close links with Lufthansa and Tchui, who are already providing much-needed support.
And for the future?
Our major and immediate objective has to be the 2010 target. But we should also be looking beyond, indeed far beyond, this time to where we can invest resources for the maximum gain achievable, both for us as human beings, and for our common natural resources. If we do not do this, then what do we leave to future generations?
The lesson in this is not new, but it bears repeating: Every conservation effort we make must ensure that people see the economic benefits of protecting their wildlife.
The framework provided by the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for the sustainable use of biodiversity is an extremely useful tool to achieve these goals. These principles have already been addressed by a number of international biodiversity agreements, such as CBD and CITES. I see this as an important issue for CMS. I urge you to follow their lead and consider the principles and guidelines in a constructive manner, seeing how far they can and cannot apply to the Bonn Convention.
We know that our climate is changing, and that the change is affecting our wildlife and particularly migratory species. We know that migratory birds are going to be under increased pressure amid mounting concerns about an avian influenza pandemic. We know that pressures from development, poverty, and other human factors are going to make it difficult to meet the Millennium Goal on biodiversity.
And there are no easy answers.
We need to generate solutions together, not in isolation. We need to make sure our projects and plans complement each other, and take full advantage of similarities and explore different ways of working. We need to make sure that people are always part of the solution.
The challenge is clear for you in the days ahead: to address the many issues that face us; address them within the context of migratory species; and to make sure that your recommendations work in the interests of the Millennium Goals and broader biodiversity and human development interests.
I hope that you will all feel able to take back to your own governments that we are better placed to address these problems as a result of this meeting, and to demonstrate how far we will be able to make a difference by 2010.
It will not be easy, but I am confident that it can be achieved, and I wish you well.