As Prepared

Thank you, Leah, for that kind introduction.  And thank you, Dr. Washington, for holding this symposium and bringing together such a distinguished group of scientists, who, like Tom, are pioneers and leaders in their fields.   

To all the speakers here today:  I have greatly admired your work for many years.  Like Tom, you all have that rare gift of not only understanding the complexities of our planet, but also being able to explain it to the rest of us in ways we can understand.  And you do this with such love and compassion.  I am truly humbled and very honored to be here today.    

I had the pleasure of getting to know Tom over the past few years.  I didn’t know him well, but each time I interacted with him it felt as though I’d known him all my life.  He was such a kind and caring person, a calming presence in any situation.  He always made it feel as though my work mattered, and that I was contributing to a whole that would one day prove greater than the sum of its parts. 

It’s no exaggeration to say that he was an idol in the conservation world – for me and for so many others who have relied on his work, and on his wisdom, for decades.  At a time when climate was becoming a global concern, Tom put nature on the map.  But fighting to protect and conserve nature has been an uphill battle, and I think it’s fair to say that, time and again, Tom’s work and his words have served as inspiration and fostered our courage to keep going when so many forces were working against us.   

There was never a doomsday scenario in Tom’s world.  He was an eternal optimist.  He believed that with enough science, patience, perseverance, and perhaps common sense, we would one day prevail in our fight for nature and the people and communities who depend on it.  And I believed him – I still believe him.   

I continue to draw on Tom’s work for inspiration and strength, particularly now that I’ve returned to government service.  He always seemed as comfortable in a room full of politicians as he was with researchers at Camp 41.  There is no doubt that the mountain of literature he produced will forever influence our understanding of nature.  But so too, will his numerous and profound contributions to environmental policy.  He was, perhaps, the original “biopolitician.”   

We were fortunate to witness firsthand Tom’s facility for bridging science with policy during his two years as a Science Envoy at the State Department.  We hosted him in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, or OES, and arranged for him to work with U.S. Embassies around the world to advance conservation priorities. 

Tom’s work with us took him to Malaysia, the Philippines, Peru, Colombia and, of course, Brazil.  He was untiring in his diplomatic engagements.  He worked with government officials and lawmakers to shape environmental governance and create policies to conserve biodiversity.  He motivated civil society to keep fighting for nature, assuring them that their struggle was not in vain.   

And he was a regular in the media, drawing public attention to our shared obligation to preserve biodiversity – a term he himself coined years ago, which is now ubiquitous in conservation policy. 

I share Tom’s view, which he often conveyed over the past few years, that we are at a pivotal moment for the health of our planet.   

The pandemic has made abundantly clear the very real overlap between humans and nature, and the harm associated with habitat destruction and the illegal wildlife trade.  But we also have the opportunity to restore nature and the sound biological functioning of our planet.  We have the opportunity to limit warming to 1.5 Celsius, and to avoid the loss of up to a million species by 2050.   

This is our moment to build a more sustainable future, where economic development and conservation reinforce each other, rather than compete.   

In a 2019 IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, we learned that the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever.  The report’s key findings include: 

Up to a million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. 

Three-quarters of the land-based environment, and about 66 percent of the marine environment, have been significantly altered by human actions. 

Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, and 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters.  Fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’ totaling a combined area greater than the UK. 

Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23 percent of the global land surface; up to $577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes due to loss of coastal habitats and protection. 

This report showed us in detail how human-induced pressures are affecting nature and the ecosystem services it provides.  But as we think about sustainable development, we must also look at global futures.  That is, we must also consider what these changes mean for economic outcomes.  

In 2019, the WWF used a global futures model to determine the economic impact of nature’s decline.  The results posed a stark warning:  unless we reverse nature loss, trillions of dollars will be wiped off the world’s economies, industries will be disrupted, and millions of lives will be affected.   

The global futures model was built on Dr. Lovejoy’s groundbreaking work on the value of ecosystem services.  It assessed how the natural assets that provide these services, such as forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and fish stocks would change under various future development scenarios.    

The model then looked at how the consequent changes in ecosystem service supply would affect economic outcomes, from GDP to commodity prices. 

In the business-as-usual scenario, from 2011 to 2050, the total cumulative economic loss would be nearly 10 trillion dollars.  The agriculture sector would be hit hardest by the further degradation of nature, driving global prices up for key commodities such as timber, cotton, oil seeds, and fruit and vegetables.   

Poorer countries would, of course, bear most of this burden, compounding the risks faced by millions in already vulnerable economies. 

In the model’s “Global Conservation Scenario,” where the world adopts a more sustainable development pathway that protects biodiversity and ecosystem services – even with conservative estimates – we would see an annual net gain of 490 billion dollars per year compared to the business-as-usual scenario.    

The results paint a stark picture of the potential risks if we fail to tackle accelerating environmental degradation and biodiversity loss – and make a compelling economic case for protecting and restoring nature for a more sustainable and prosperous future.  

In the face of such compelling, and daunting statistics, I have to ask myself how Tom Lovejoy would approach the challenge.  Perhaps he would tell us, as he often told his students and mentees, to go out and “make good trouble.”    

That is what I and my colleagues at OES are trying to do, with an emphasis on “good” of course.  Reversing biodiversity loss and conserving nature for people and the communities that depend on it is central to our work as we restore American leadership for a healthier planet. 

OES is guided by four overarching priorities that I believe will drive progress this year and positively shape global futures in the years to come.  

First, we are addressing climate and environmental security threats and fighting nature crime, such as wildlife and timber trafficking.  We are also working to support sustainable fisheries, including by combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.   

IUU fishing jeopardizes our entire maritime security architecture, ruining livelihoods for law-abiding fishers and their communities and depleting a vital protein source for hundreds-of-millions of people.   

We will continue to use scientific data, evidence, and international cooperation to enhance surveillance and enforcement against illicit actors and networks profiting from nature crimes.  

And on the climate front, we are now two years into the decisive decade of our fight to put the world on a sustainable climate trajectory.  We made progress in Glasgow, raising ambition to meet our goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius.   

But let’s be clear – we will fail in this effort if we do not dramatically ramp up ambition, and, more importantly, action across the board.   

We are just six months away from COP27 in Egypt.  Six months.  We have to make this time count for the climate fight, with all the passion and energy we can summon.   

Second, we are tackling the scourge of pollution, and especially plastic pollution, which is now omnipresent in our air, land, and waters.   

I think Tom would be proud that the United States and the world adopted a resolution at the UN Environment Assembly meeting in Nairobi earlier this year, to start negotiating a global instrument to end plastic pollution.  This has the potential to be the most consequential step forward on the environment since the Paris Agreement. 

Our third priority is something I call “People, Places, and Nature,” which is really based on how Dr. Lovejoy viewed conservation.  He once said, “Conservation is sometimes perceived as stopping everything cold, as holding whooping cranes in higher esteem than people.    

It is up to science to spread the understanding that the choice is not between wild places or people, it is between a rich or an impoverished existence for Humankind.” 

We are working bilaterally, multilaterally and using the full strength of the U.S. government to vastly increase the amount of biodiversity under conservation globally.  And we are following Tom’s guidance as we go, encouraging governments to stop thinking about nature as a small patch of protected area, and start thinking about human aspiration embedded in natural landscapes.   

Our goal is to reach an ambitious target President Biden set for us, to conserve and protect at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030, and at least 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030.   

We know that nature does not respect political boundaries – animals swim, fly, run, and crawl wherever their instincts take them.  So, we are bringing other countries into this effort, seeking solutions that are interconnected, based in science, and that leverage scientific innovation and resilience. 

The United States recently co-hosted the 7th Our Ocean Conference in Palau, and I was so gratified the world came together to make a big statement in support of our ocean.  Countries made 400 commitments worth more than 16 billion dollars to conserve our ocean.   

We are going to carry this momentum into the Stockholm +50 and UN Ocean meetings next month.  And we are closely watching the Convention on Biological Diversity to make sure the world agrees to a comprehensive Global Biodiversity Framework that moves us from ambition to action. 

Our final priority is to end the pandemic and build a world better prepared for future outbreaks.  

For the past 40 years, 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in origin.  And it is abundantly clear that changes in climate and other environmental conditions affects the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. 

We have to be better equipped to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks before they spread globally and cause another pandemic.  This demands that we advance a “One Health” approach that addresses the links between human, animal, and environmental health.   

I believe each of these priority areas will help us shape global futures and put us on the path toward conserving our natural capital.  And it is important to note that everything we do is underpinned by a strong foundation of science, technology, and innovation. 

OES has long been leading international engagement on new technologies, such as satellite systems, quantum, biotech, and AI.    

We will continue to work with our allies and partners to strengthen the shared values that are fundamental to the global research ecosystem.  Values like openness, transparency, reciprocity, and merit-based competition drive good policymaking and ensure science, technology, and innovation benefit everyone. 

Finally, and I know this would be of great importance to Dr. Lovejoy – we are making sure that equity, inclusion, Indigenous wisdom, and the needs of the most vulnerable people and communities are integrated across our work.  These are the values that underpin American foreign policy under President Biden. 

Thank you again for the opportunity to address you today, and to honor Dr. Lovejoy, whose last name is magically eponymous with how he saw nature.  “The natural world in which we live is nothing short of entrancing—wondrous really,” he once said.   

“Personally, I take great joy in sharing a world with the shimmering variety of life on earth.  Nor can I believe any of us really want a planet which is a lonely wasteland.” 

I couldn’t agree more.  Thank you. 

U.S. Department of State

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