3rd from left: Ms Faiza Effendi, Resident Representative a.i., UNDP in Sri Lanka

*Check against delivery*

Hon. Secretary, Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Ministry of Environment, fellow representatives of the joint initiative, colleagues, friends from the media - Good morning!

It is a pleasure to share a few words at the launch of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration in Sri Lanka.

This launch takes place at a time when a virus called COVID-19 has made people, the world over, experience the fragility of life on earth. At this critical juncture of recovery, the policy priorities and fiscal choices which will be made will determine a country’s economic and development trajectory.

Sri Lanka has one of the highest rates of biological endemism and is home to a rich ecosystem because of its climatic diversity and coastal influences.

At the same time, limited policy attention has resulted in Sri Lanka becoming one of 36 biodiversity hotspots in the world, with rapidly depleting biodiversity.

As Sri Lanka’s climate vulnerability and extreme weather events increase, these ecosystems if protected, are capable of providing nature-based solutions to reduce climate vulnerability and impacts on communities.

There is clear evidence that healthy ecosystems underpin sustainable development. But nature is often overlooked – its value is disregarded by the marketplace,   and its role in sustaining communities and often ignored. financial institutions tend to overlook the impacts of their investments on nature.

If we look at the global numbers, nature provides $ 125 trillion in assets to humanity. This includes e.g., all nature-based livelihoods, agriculture, fisheries, tourism etc. that depend on eco-systems for their sustainability. Nature underpins half of the world's GDP.  We spend more than $ 5.2 trillion in fossil fuel subsidies every year.  Yet for every dollar we spend on protecting nature, we are spending hundreds of times more money to destroy it. 

UNDP’s 2020 Human Development Report on “ Human Development and the Anthropocene” claims that we are now in a geological epoch where humans control the shape of the planet and recognize that we are on a collision course with the planet if we do not change our trajectory.

But changing our trajectory first requires changing the hearts and minds of millions of people.

UNDP identifies four transformations needed to change this trajectory.

1. First Transformation Pathway - Put Nature at the Heart of Sustainable Development: This requires demonstrating how nature, especially ecosystems contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals like climate, water, health and safety, and prosperity.

UNDP has supported Sri Lanka’s Climate Change Secretariat on updating Nationally Determined Contributions of the country. As a result of our technical assistance, Sri Lanka has managed to fulfil its commitments towards Greenhouse Gas emission in several sectors including power, industry, waste sectors. More recently the Agriculture & Livestock sector has also committed to reducing emissions.

UNDP also supports the Ministry of Environment and respective sectors to develop sectoral NDC implementation and monitoring plans to help track sectoral progress towards low carbon pathways.    

In Sri Lanka, UNDP works together with the Ministry of Environment to support and develop the National Environment Action Plan: NEAP (2021-2030) to facilitate policy implementation in major areas including land, marine and freshwater etc. that contribute to ecosystem restoration. NEAP also assists sector agencies to translate Environment Policy and climate commitments including NDCs into action.

We are working with the Ministry of Power to bring to the forefront the Green Development agenda to influence development policy in the country, encourage stewardship and innovation while raising awareness for an economic growth model which is in balance with the planet.

2. Second Transformation Pathway is on business and finance: We need to fundamentally change how the world values nature and how investments are made to redirect financial flows from nature negative to positive.

Sri Lanka has a rich ecosystem, compared to many other countries. Yet it is allocating as per 2015 data only .03% of its GDP to biodiversity management.

UNDP is working with a range of private sector partners including MAS Holdings, Standard Charted Bank, Ceylon Biscuits Limited and Brandix Lanka Limited, in order to further strengthen their efforts in ecosystem restoration and expand biodiversity financing.

But much more resources are required. Sri Lanka, according to (whose) estimates requires around 30 billion LKR for the period of 2018-2024 for sustainable biodiversity management and for achieving the national biodiversity targets.

3. Third Transformation Pathway is on developing a global ambition with Local action

a.      UNDP has assisted the Ministry of Environment to identify 328,050ha (810,629 Ac) of Non- Protected land areas as Environmentally Sensitive Areas because these areas contain biodiversity of significant value. Coupled with an enabling framework to sustainably manage these vital ecosystems, the project has pilot-tested a model of providing economic benefits to the communities while safeguarding environmental value.

b.      UNDP has supported the Ministry of Irrigation access around $50m to an integrated water management Project, that includes rehabilitating nearly 300 Village Irrigation Tanks and surrounding ecosystems, to increase the climate and disaster resilience of rural communities in 6 dry zone districts. To date around 223 Village Irrigation Tanks and ecosystems are rehabilitated. Around 5000 Hac of land has been brought under cultivation which has benefited around 11,815 farmers (8,338 males, 3,477 females).

c.       The Small Grant Programme, sponsored by the Global Environment Facility, has provided funding to women groups in Knuckles, Colombo wetlands, and Mannar to help them conserve bio-diversity and restore the coastal ecosystem.  

4. The fourth transformation focuses on changing the hearts and minds of people everywhere about the value of nature: Last year globally UNDP ran two simultaneous campaigns. The first simply promoted the hashtag #NatureForLife, which reached around 45 million people with over 200 million views. It is predicted to reach 1 billion views. This is an unprecedented number for a nature-related campaign. 

The second hashtag #StandForNature has received more than 60 million views.

Today the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (UN Decade) is a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world. It is a ten-year push to halt and reverse the decline of the natural world.

We hope that the campaign “Reimagine. Recreate. Restore”, will encourage people and organizations to look beyond; to create a global movement that will last a decade and beyond, providing a cohesive call on all – from governments and corporations to citizens and civil society groups – to do their part in healing our ailing planet.

In conclusion, UNDP would like to thank all partners involved in this initiative including the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Conservation, World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) , Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

UNDP reassures its commitment together with its partners, to help Sri Lanka build forward better and encourage a generation that can make peace with nature, for a more sustainable future.

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