Speaking at the second Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction (GP09) Geneva, Switzerland, UNEP's Director of Division of Environmental Policy Implementation and chair of the session, Ibrahim Thiaw, called for greater integration of ecosystem management in climate change adaptation and disaster preparations and response.
'At the local, national, regional and international, political commitment is urgently needed to raise the profile of ecosystems,' he said.
Richard Munang, a project manager in UNEP's Climate Change Adaptation Unit, described ecosystems management as a moral imperative and social responsibility calling for a new vision and approach to development. 'The world lacks neither the financial resources nor the technological capabilities to act, - what is missing is a sense of urgency, human solidarity and collective interest based on shared values and a shared interest,' he said.
Patterns of disaster risk are changing and the critical ecosystems that support community resilience are being lost at an alarming rate due to human mismanagement of natural resources.
Speaking at the panel, EU Parliamentarian Anders Wijkman, said: 'Although our well-being depends entirely on the services of nature, in the majority these goods have no markets and consequently no prices. We ought to be aware, however, that by destroying these natural resources, life-supporting systems could collapse. It is time that we grasped the consequences of our actions and start acting today. Everyone from all walks of life needs to be a player in addressing this challenge. Closing the gap between science-policy and advocating action is imperative.'
Jim Leape, the Director General WWF-International, underlined the importance of different ministries in all countries to develop good communication with stakeholders. 'Maintaining healthy ecosystems generates multiple returns. Well managed forests and wetlands, for instance, mitigate carbon emissions by acting as carbon sinks and enhance community resilience by providing natural defence barriers against hazards and supporting local livelihoods,' he said.
Both Neville Ash (IUCN Ecosystems Manager) and Prof. Sam Hettiarachi (Head of Delegation, Government of Sri Lanka) said the importance of ecosystems needs to be recognised and greater research capacity is need to integrate across scientific disciplines to understand how ecosystems function. 'Ecosystems are difficult to repair/restore so recognising a problem too late means that it will be extremely costly (socially and economically) to achieve sustainable ecosystem resource after damage has occurred,' they said.
In response to the discussions, participants called for increased financial investment for integrating ecosystems with risk reduction, climate change, food security and poverty alleviation priorities. Indeed, the poor are among the most vulnerable to disaster impacts and will be the first to benefit from investment in an ecosystems-based disaster risk reduction strategy.
Ecosystems services are the benefits that we derive from nature for free, from timber and food to water regulation and climate regulation. As the world's leaders work towards a new international climate change agenda, it is clear that without a deep and decisive post-2012 agreement and major concerted effort to reduce disaster risk, the Millennium Development Goals will remain elusive. A concerted political commitment at the highest level will be needed to raise the profile of ecosystems on the global risk reduction agenda.
In its issues paper, UNEP strongly recommended that adequate financial, technological and knowledge resources be allocated correspondingly for integrating ecosystem management in the climate change and disaster risk reduction portfolios, including in national policy-setting and awareness raising, capacity building, planning and practices, particularly in developing countries vulnerable to climate change impacts and increased risks of climate-related disasters.