Secretary of State’s speech at the Darwin Initiative 20th anniversary event

Secretary of State’s speech at the Darwin Initiative 20th anniversary event.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman

You’ve been hearing about just a few of the wealth of projects that this initiative has funded since 1992.

What I want to talk about is how these projects - this initiative - fit into the bigger picture. 

About the links that show up so clearly in this work. 

The links between biodiversity loss and environmental degradation; and the economic, social and health prospects of human beings.  

Because everything is connected. 

By protecting nature, we are protecting the vital ecosystem services that we all depend on. 

Andrew Cunningham spoke to you earlier about the Indian vultures project.

Vultures provide the essential service of cleaning cattle carcasses of meat. 

Without vultures, carcasses are left to fester. 

And the feral dog population feasts - and grows.

Rotting carcasses and increasing dog numbers bring with them huge risks of both human and animal diseases, including anthrax, brucellosis, TB and rabies. 

Huge health risks - and with them, crippling financial costs. 

That’s the impact of the decline of one specific species.

In Nepal, another Darwin project is quantifying the services provided by whole ecosystems.

Nepal’s Important Bird Areas protect the habitats of numerous endangered birds. 

They also provide timber, fuel, grass, herbs, fruit, fish and water.

As well as soil formation services, storm protection services, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. 

These services benefit a whole range of scales, from local communities through to the global population. 

Everything is connected - and no one thing can change on its own. 

Of course the Darwin Initiative was born at the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992. 

I will be attending the Rio+20 summit in June.  

At that meeting, the links between national economies, individual livelihoods and the natural environment must be made - and acted upon. 

Let’s remind ourselves of what’s at stake.

Today, over a billion people still live in poverty. 

Today, two thirds of the world’s ecosystems are still in decline. 

Today the world population stands at seven billion. 

It will reach eight billion in about thirteen years’ time.

If this planet is to support a growing population. 

If we are to eradicate poverty and hunger. 

If we are to attain global economic stability.

We need to factor sustainability into everything we do.

We’ve come a long way since the first Earth Summit 20 years ago - and it’s important to acknowledge that. 

The achievements of the Darwin Initiative are a great example, and a rich source of pride and inspiration. 

I’m thinking of the Nantu Protection Unit.

Directly responsible for reducing the rate of global forest loss. 

For preventing extinction of Sulawesi’s endemic wildlife.

And for securing the water supply of 25,000 villagers living downstream from the Nantu Forest. 

I’m thinking of the Kenyan wood carvers. 

Whose use of illegally logged hardwoods threatened their own livelihoods, as well as forests of global importance. 

Thanks to a Darwin project, carvers are now using neem ‘Good Wood’, which is sustainably grown and harvested by coastal farmers. 

The project has resulted in additional income for these farmers, over half of whom have been living in absolute poverty. 

I’m thinking a fungus called cordyceps, found in Himalayan ghost caterpillers.

Retailing at over thirty thousand US dollars a gram, it’s the most valuable fungus in the world. 

Bhutanese yak herders derive half their income from harvesting this rare fungus. 

And if they over-harvested it they would be risking their own livelihoods. 

A Darwin_ _project monitors the fungus,

And gives the Royal Government of Bhutan the data it needs to regulate the harvesting of the cordyceps. 

So that high market prices don’t send it spiralling to extinction. 

And send the yak farmers spiralling into poverty.

At Rio, we need to create mechanisms that will embed this kind of thinking throughout society.

In all sectors, in all regions, and in all markets. 

We need to ensure a universal understanding that if we fail to manage our natural resources effectively we’ll make long term economic growth impossible. 

Sustainable development is not yet mainstreamed into economic policy on an international scale. 

We still do not universally assign an economic value to our natural resources.

Rio has to put this right. 

The UK will be pushing for a clear commitment to sustainable development, environmental sustainability and green growth from politicians around the world. 

We want action to ensure that governments - and also businesses - factor sustainability into every decision they make. 

GDP captures economic output.

It doesn’t consider factors such as the state of the environment and natural resources, or social and personal wellbeing. 

Which means it isn’t an adequate measure of sustainable development. 

So we think governments need to measure and account for their natural and social capital, as well as their GDP.

The UK is taking the lead here, with the Prime Minister’s “GDP+” initiative, taking steps to measure well-being and quality of life. 

We’re also taking measures on environmental accounting, including a Committee that reports to the Chancellor on our “natural capital”. 

It’s vital that businesses take these measures too.

A lot of them are already doing so. 

We will also be calling for sustainable business practices to become universal. 

In particular transparent and coherent sustainability reporting. 

I also want to see a real focus on the specific global challenges we face. 

Agriculture, water, and energy are fundamental to our economy and to the lives of many of the world’s poorest people; and they are inseparable. 

Much of the Darwin Initiative’s work is focused on these three issues, and the links between them. 

Work on energy efficiency; and on making bio-energy production sustainable.

Work to** **maximise agricultural yield as well as improving biodiversity on farmland.

Work to help communities benefit from wetlands without endangering their future existence. 

Work with excellent results. 

Advances have been made, but the international community has not made sufficient progress on these issues. 

So the UK will be calling for Sustainable Development Goals to drive international action on challenges such as food security, water security, and access to energy - and the links between them.

The Rio summit is not a stand-alone event. 

It is one in a chain of international meetings, leading from Nagoya, and towards Hyderabad. 

It must keep the momentum going. 

And neither is it an event just for politicians and civil servants. 

It’s for everyone. 

Everyone has a part to play. 

The business sector, certainly. It is business that will lead the way to a green economy. 

Scientists, conservationists, civil society organizations - also have a vital role. 

The world needs to understand why sustainable development matters. 

It needs to hear the stories, the real life examples, and see how sustaining nature sustains - and builds - livelihoods. 

So we need to talk about Darwin, and get other people talking about it. 

It’s stories such as the ones I’ve mentioned that really show how much this kind of work matters; and that can fuel international negotiations.

A twentieth anniversary is a great opportunity to tell the world about what you’ve achieved.

Keep celebrating - and keep spreading the word.

Make sure everyone knows the value of these extraordinary projects. 

And is inspired to play their own part in the change we so urgently need.

Published 8 March 2012