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Hon. Dirk Niebel - Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development - Germany

GLOBE Natural-Capital-Summit-Niebel-2

Keynote speech

As delivered by the Hon. Dirk Niebel - Germany's Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development at the 1st GLOBE Natural Capital Summit

Mr. Gardiner, Dr. Ishii, Mr. Kauch, Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,

Almost exactly a year ago, the Rio+20 Conference was held in Brazil. It was an important milestone in the international policy effort for sustainable development.

However, the arduous negotiations also showed once more that there are no simple answers if we want to put in place a basis for making sure that everywhere in the world, economic prosperity will be paralleled by social cohesion and the protection of vital natural resources.

Global sustainable development can only be achieved if we make headway on innovations, try new things and remain open for change – and only if we do this in all spheres: governments and parliaments, the private sector and civil society. We need to apply a vast range of approaches in combination.

One important starting point is GLOBE International's Natural Capital Initiative, which was launched by the World Summit of Legislators on the occasion of the Rio+20 Conference.

Our natural environment provides us with countless services, which are only seemingly unlimited and free. But unfortunately, we often do not realize what our natural environment does for us until it ceases to provide a service, until resources have been used up and ecosystems, destroyed. Until we look for alternatives and are forced to replace these services artificially at a high cost – if that is possible at all. But if we know what an ecosystem service is worth and if that value is taken into account directly in economic accounting, the conservation of natural resources will become a core element of all economic activities. Then it will become easier for us to take decisions that take account of the full picture from the beginning and that ensure that natural resources are used sustainably.

Once we have learned to consider biodiversity and intact ecosystems as an economic value that must be protected and conserved, we will have made considerable progress along the road toward sustainable development. That is why GLOBE International's Natural Capital Initiative is so important. It seeks to integrate the natural capital approach into political decision-making. I am very pleased that the Initiative supports joint learning processes in developing and industrialized countries. And I am especially pleased that German parliamentarians are actively involved in this. We are all beginners in this field and can learn a lot from each other.

If we want to achieve sustainable development that takes account of our planet's limits, we need more international cooperation. Germany's development policy addresses this at several levels. We are supporting new strategies and approaches to integrate ecosystem services into planning processes and political decision-making. Germany helped initiate the international study on the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, which was directed by Pavan Sukhdev.

We are also taking part in the World Bank's WAVES project (Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services). And we support our partner countries in valuating ecosystem services in specific projects and in introducing natural capital accounting. For instance, we supported the introduction of environmental-economic accounting in the State of Andhra Pradesh in India.

These activities are important elements of our global efforts to conserve biodiversity. Starting in 2013, we will be providing an annual 500 million euros for this. In our related efforts, we always combine strategies for the protection and sustainable use of natural resources with poverty reduction activities. After all, natural resources can only be protected on a sustainable basis if they benefit the people directly.

The conservation of biodiversity and poverty reduction are two sides of the same coin. One outstanding example of this is the KAZA transfrontier conservation area in Southern Africa. At KAZA, flora and fauna habitats are being protected across five countries' borders. And KAZA gives local people additional income opportunities, for instance through environmentally sound tourism.

Sustainable development means reconciling environmental protection and poverty reduction. So it is very important that the process for the formulation of Sustainable Development Goals that was launched in Rio be linked closely with the effort to define a new post-2015 development agenda to succeed the Millennium Development Goals. We want a comprehensive, coherent agenda. We need a manageable set of goals that is valid for all countries in the world but also differentiates between different national settings. 

Sustainable development is the key challenge of our future. We know that it is possible to link economic prosperity with social cohesion and with the conservation of the natural resources on which we depend for our survival. There was broad agreement in Rio that a Green Economy will offer many new opportunities. But we also know that challenges vary a great deal from one region of the world to another.

We accept our responsibility as industrialized countries. But all countries need to explore new avenues if we want to achieve global sustainability. GLOBE International's Natural Capital Initiative opens up new avenues. As Molière said very aptly, "Things only have the value that we give them." That is exactly what the natural capital approach is all about – it is not about reducing the natural environment to economic aspects. It is not about complex new sets of figures, it is about handy information for better, environmentally sound decision-making.

GLOBE International and today's conference are helping to make sure that natural capital accounts will not be filed away but will actually make a difference. I wish us all two successful days. In Germany, the motto for our development cooperation is "Building the future." So I would like to invite you to let us join forces to build the future together.