Thank you for inviting me to deliver opening remarks at the sixth Conference of the Parties as you set out to take some important decisions to maintain the glory of one of Europe’s largest, and most beautiful, mountain ranges. In particular, allow me to thank Hungary, represented here today by Deputy Agriculture Minister Sándor Farkas, for three years of leadership, and to wish Poland, and Deputy Minister, Mr. Adam Guibourge – Czetwertyński, all the best as they take over the Presidency.
The Carpathians are a mountain range of global importance. They contain Europe’s largest remaining old-growth forest ecosystems outside of Russia. One-third of all European vascular plant species. Over 40 per cent of Europe’s brown bears and 30 per cent of its grey wolves.
The Carpathian Convention is vital to protect these precious ecosystems. It supports the implementation of global and European policies and is the only existing instrument to address crises in the subregion in a holistic manner. It is a key tool to support wider global processes – such as the post-2020 biodiversity framework, which we must agree upon in Kunming next year and all throw our weight behind.
UNEP is proud to host the Secretariat of the Convention and to have worked closely with Parties for almost two decades. I am particularly pleased to see a new decision on the agenda of this COP, which will strengthen cooperation with UNEP and the Convention’s engagement in the UN Environment Assembly.
This heightened cooperation will be essential as we seek to address growing threats to the Carpathians.
Make no mistake: the Carpathian region is in real and immediate danger.
A 2017 report from UNEP, WWF and Eurac Research was unequivocal about the threats, particularly from illegal deforestation. The old-growth forests of the Carpathians and their unique biodiversity are disappearing at alarming rates as timber is being illegally cut and transported across and beyond the borders of mountain range States. This has many consequences.
Ukraine has seen several devastating floods over the last years. Villages and roads submerged. Bridges brought down. People killed. These are, in part, linked to climate change. But illegal logging – taking place under the cover of the difficulties Ukraine has suffered – has removed large chunks of forests that soak up excess water and provide a buffer against flooding. Meanwhile, over the past 20 years, illegal logging has cost Romania over five billion euros. The report I mentioned, found that, in 2016 alone, around 187,000 cubic meters of timber were illegally cut in Romania.
Deforestation and climate change are not the only concern. The illegal fishing of sturgeon for the caviar trade, the poaching of large carnivores and the killing of wild birds are depriving governments of the money they need to promote jobs, education and health services – issues that are particularly critical in this time of COVID-19 slowdowns.
We need to step up to first stop, then reverse, the damage being done to these essential ecosystems. Please allow me to outline what we at UNEP see as five important actions that can strengthen the impact of the Convention’s work.
One, accelerate implementation of your plans on conservation and sustainable use.
Conservation, and the sustainable use natural resources, works. We have seen this in many places. It keeps ecosystems intact, mitigates climate change, and provides long-term livelihoods for local communities.
The Convention has placed a strong focus on conservation and the sustainable use or resources. At COP3, you adopted the Protocol on Sustainable Forest Management and, subsequently, a Strategic Action Plan for its implementation. You have passed other decisions on sustainable transport and agriculture to avoid damaging and fragmenting ecosystems.
This year, you will review and hopefully pass decisions on maintaining ecological connectivity, conserving large carnivores, protecting wetlands, developing an inventory of old growth forests, and enhancing the management efficiency of protected areas by strengthening the Carpathian Network of Protected Areas.
With all of the right decisions in place, it is now critical to gather all your forces and resources to implement them at pace. We at UNEP are here to assist you in any way necessary.
Two, strengthen rule of law, enforcement and protection.
A large portion of the threat to the Carpathians comes from illegal, and sometimes organized ciminal activity. Criminal groups have no compunction in resorting to violence – intimidating and sometimes murdering the forest rangers and activists trying to stop them.
UNEP’s 2017 report identified inadequate implementation and enforcement of national legislation as the main factor for logging and wildlife crime in the Carpathian region, while decision COP5/8 called for “urgent and forceful” measures to address illegal logging. I echo this call, and urge Parties to protect those on the frontline, stop gangs from operating and hold big companies involved in purchasing illegal timber to account. It can be done. Romanian security forces in 2018 broke up an illegal logging ring. We need to see a lot more of such action.
Three, increase transboundary collaboration.
The ecosystems of the Carpathians are intertwined – as we see in the East Carpathians Biosphere Reserve, an area spanning Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine, that UNESCO defines as one of global importance. Species migrate across and between countries. River basins, such as the Danube, are shared between the countries of the region. Criminal groups transport their ill-gotten gains through routes that respect no national interest.
The existence of the Convention automatically ensures collaboration. But we can do a lot more. Joint training of authorities and institutions. Platforms for mutual assistance, both in terms of legislation, prosecution and enforcement. Integrated wildlife management strategies.
What happens in one country affects another. Increased transboundary cooperation is in everybody’s interest.
Four, proactively combat climate change.
Climate change is upon us. Ukraine is only but one country in the Carpathian region to feel the pain in terms of the floods I mentioned earlier. The impacts will only intensify, damaging not just ecosystems, but societies and economies. Member states must get ahead of the game before it gets worse, both in terms of cutting their own greenhouse gas emissions and finding ways to adapt to the changing climate – such as ensuring healthy and abundant forests that absorb carbon and protect against flooding and landslides.
Article 12 bis of the Convention requires states to pursue policies on climate change mitigation and adaptation in all sectors. I congratulate Hungary and Poland for ratifying this article. I call on all other states to follow suit so it can enter into force and then quickly began to act.
Five, take a lead in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
This decade of action gets underway in 2021. If everybody gets behind the UN Decade, we can make a huge positive difference to climate change, biodiversity and food security. At the global level, the restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems could generate USD 9 trillion in ecosystem services and remove up to 26 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The UN Decade provides an opportunity for the Carpathian region to claw back some of what it has lost by restoring deforested and degraded areas. I urge states to make strong commitments in support of the Decade.
Ministers, Distinguished Delegates, Friends,
The Carpathians are facing many and varied threats. But acting fast and decisively to implement all of the Convention’s protocols, provisions and articles can reduce these threats. We must stop the illegal loggers. Sustainably manage existing resources. Make a concerted effort on climate change and bring degraded lands and forests back to life.
Doing so will improve the region’s natural capital, economic resilience and human well-being. It will contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement and the post-2020 biodiversity framework.
As you meet today, remember that you have the power to help deliver all of these benefits. I urge you to use it.