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Activities of Secretary-General in Canada, 5-7 December

The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, accompanied by his spouse Catarina Vaz Pinto, arrived in Montreal, Canada, from New York on Monday afternoon, 5 December, where he would attend the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, known as COP15.

Early on Tuesday, the Secretary-General attended one of the side events organized by the Global Youth Biodiversity Network and other youth groups.  In an informal discussion, the Secretary-General underscored that the leadership of young people is critical to the planet’s survival.  He told them they were on the front lines to rescue humankind in its battle against nature.  He encouraged them to increase their involvement, not just by demonstrating but also by using all the available tools of citizenship — especially by voting and getting involved in politics.

That morning, the Secretary-General met with Huang Runqiu, the Minister of Ecology and Environment of the People’s Republic of China.  Mr. Runqiu also serves as the President of COP15.

The Secretary-General also met with the leaders of all regional groups present in Montreal and was briefed on the state of the negotiations.  He encouraged them to work towards strengthening efforts to protect our biodiversity.

In the remarks delivered at the opening ceremony of the Conference on Tuesday the Secretary-General underscored the importance of making peace with nature, which is our life support system.   He also warned that if our bottomless appetite for unchecked and unequal economic growth continues, we will risk facing mass extinction. 

The Secretary-General called on countries and the private sector to develop bold action plans that protect biodiversity and support sustainable practices.   And he reiterated his call for developed countries to provide financial support for developing countries, many of which are custodians of the world’s natural wealth.  (See Press Release SG/SM/21619)

In a press conference held that day, on the sidelines of COP15, Mr. Guterres reiterated the urgent need to address biodiversity.  He called on Member States and the private sector to move effectively and to focus on the future of humanity’s relationship with nature.   “Ecosystems have become playthings of profit,” the Secretary-General said, “and human activities are laying waste to once-thriving forests, jungles, farmland, oceans, rivers, seas and lakes.”   Humanity’s war on nature, he said, is ultimately a war on ourselves.

He added that climate action and the protection of biodiversity are two sides of the same coin.  In response to questions, he noted the linkages between climate change and the loss of biodiversity and stressed the need to deal with both.  Watch the press conference.

In answer to a question about environmental protests and Governments cracking down on protesters, he said that “human rights must be at the centre of all environmental concerns.”  Mr. Guterres noted that “it is totally unacceptable that environmental activists become victims of human rights violations.”

Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General met with a number of other constituencies, including local and indigenous populations, women’s groups and youth groups among others.  He listened to their concerns regarding the loss of biodiversity and related issues, especially human rights.

Following the press conference, the Secretary-General travelled to Montreal’s Biosphere to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  The two had an in-depth discussion on a wide array of issues.  The Secretary-General thanked the Prime Minister for Canada’s steadfast support for the United Nations.

The Secretary-General travelled back to New York later on Wednesday evening.

For information media. Not an official record.