Zurich, April 29th 2011 - A summit of environmental leaders and politicians has called for an urgent move towards a global green economy in order to achieve sustainable development over the next half century.Low-carbon technology, green infrastructures, investment in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture were all listed as being essential in combatting climate change, poverty and water shortages.
Speaking at the event today, convened by WWF to mark the global conservation organisation's 50th anniversary, EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said that unless biodiversity is adequately protected the consequences would be "catastrophic".
"Biodiversity and ecosystem services must be protected, valued and adequately restored," said Commissioner Potocnik. "It's essential for human wellbeing and in our own self-interest. If we do not preserve ecosystems we will push biodiversity over the tipping point beyond which changes become irreversible and possibly even catastrophic. It is an irrefutable fact that global consumption and use of resources is the biggest factor in a sustainable future."
The specially-convened roundtable - "Public Sector Voices on Conservation in the next Half-Century" brought Mr Potocnik together with leaders from Asia and Europe to set out their vision of the state of the planet in 50 years' time. WWF International President Yolanda Kakabadse, chairing the debate in Zurich, told the audience "We are here to celebrate 50 years of WWF - but we want to look forward, not back. What is the next half century going to bring in terms of water, food and life on earth?"
Bhutan's Minister of Agriculture and Forests, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho pledged that within ten years, as part of its drive towards sustainability, Bhutan would be the world's first totally organic country. He said water security was the biggest challenge facing his country - but one which could only be solved through global action.
"What happens in the Himalayas and South Asia is going to impact all of us. Can we afford to wait until 2050 to limit temperature rises to two degrees celsius? Two degrees will be too much and 2050 will be too late." said Dr. Gyamtsho. "We need to act now - many areas are already suffering shortage of drinking water."
The Norwegian Minister of the Environment, Erik Solheim spoke of the urgent need to put real economic value on ecosystems and natural resources to help stop widespread deforestation. "We must come to a situation where there is an economic benefit for the sustainable use and conservation of natural resources," said Mr Solheim. "The big success story is Brazil where deforestation has been reduced by 70% in seven years - by far the biggest factor in fighting climate change. NGOs must encourage governments to take risks and support those politicians who do do something."
There was a warning that any proposed global green investment fund to fight climate change should not attempt to replace or duplicate existing environmental and development finance. "Today there are more than 230 overseas development funds which lead to fragmentation and more overheads," said Monique Barbut, CEO of the Global Environment Facility. "We should not be trying to build again another poorly coordinated system which is not going to work. I do not believe we need a new institution or a new bureaucracy."
All panellists were unanimous in congratulating WWF for its record of conservation achievements for the past 50 years. Commissioner Potocnik said "Congratulations are due to WWF on the splendid results of the last fifty years and for playing an excellent role in the preservation of the environment." Monique Barbut added "WWF has played a very important role in promoting policy and science."
Rounding off the debate, WWF International Director General Jim Leape urged NGOs to move beyond their traditional roles of lobbying and asking for money. "We are uniquely placed to help in forging coalitions of the committed to address the biggest issues of our time," said Mr Leape. "By working in partnership with government we have already achieved some great results.