Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Professor Judi Wakhungu, IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng, Juliette Biao, UNEP, Director and Regional Representative for Africa, Ambassador of Sweden Johan Borgstrom,
distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Washeshimewa, Mabibi na mbwana
Thank you for inviting me to participate in this important conference to discuss conservation in Eastern and Southern Africa. IUCN is an extraordinary organization, and I’m pleased that they have been a partner with the U.S. government and our Mission in Kenya for many years. I start here: conservation is critical to President Obama, to the US government, to all of us here in this room, and, indeed, to the future of the entire world. Today we have the opportunity to come together as government, civil, and business leaders to help shape a future that protects wildlife, climate, and biodiversity, while promoting sustainable development across Africa.
Eastern and Southern African is home to some of the most spectacular wildlife and ecosystems on Earth. I have had the opportunity to see it in countries across the continent – and of course here in Kenya. Africa is also home to rapidly growing human populations, dynamic economic growth, and, in some cases, persistent poverty. Inevitably, the imperative of human development and the imperative of protecting the environment and wildlife come into conflict. The challenge of finding a way forward, protecting the environment and wildlife while ensuring prosperity for people is large… and it is compounded by many other problems including poor governance in some countries and climate change.
The late Wangari Maathai said, “We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to conserve the environment so that we can bequeath our children a sustainable world that benefits all.” She put the same message more directly and more bluntly when she said: “If you destroy nature, nature will destroy you.”
The purpose of this conference – and the task of all of us here today – is to realize the goal of Wangari Maathai of conserving and protecting nature while also ensuring human progress. This is certainly among the most pressing challenges facing us today: to balance economic growth with biodiversity conservation in the face of accelerating climatic change. But we can do so. We must do so.
Just as the great migration of wildebeest and zebra, or the treks taken by elephants, climate change, environmental degradation, and desertification do not know national boundaries. Our world is increasingly interconnected and finding lasting solutions will require us to reach out across national and political divides. This is why events like this are so important, as they bring together civic and community leaders from across the continent and open dialogue to find regional and global solutions to such pressing issues. To succeed, to find answers, we must work together.
As an American Ambassador, I am particularly pleased at this moment to serve in Kenya, a country that is a leader in conservation and wildlife protection. During President Obama’s historic visit in July, he recognized Kenya’s efforts when he said, “[I] commend Kenya, a leader in clean energy, for announcing its post-2020 target to limit carbon emissions as part of our fight against climate change.” In climate change, and in other environmental matters, Kenya is helping lead the way.
And, Kenya and the United States are strong partners in conservation. We are working together to put an end to wildlife trafficking, to support biodiversity, and mitigate climate change. As just one example, our 30-year partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service has led to community conservancy initiatives, which now serve as a model for conservation around the world. In particular, we work with local governments across Kenya, including the Lewa Conservancy and the Northern Rangelands Trust. Not only do these initiatives preserve unique habitats, they are also fostering tribal peace, have helped reduce elephant poaching by over 43 percent in 2014, and are improving the livelihoods of more than a quarter million people across 27 community conservancies. Over the next five years, we intend to expand our community conservancy partnerships beyond Northern and Coastal Kenya to other critical areas including in the Masai Mara, Amboseli and Tsavo.
Success in protecting our environment will require commitment from us all, but also strong, sound governance. During President Obama’s historic visit in July, he said, “the United States is committed to supporting African countries’ efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, support civil society, advance gender equality, improve governance, and protect human rights. We view these efforts as priorities not just because they are vital by themselves, but also because good governance and human rights underpin sustainable economic growth and peaceful and just societies.” We cannot adequately consider conservation, sustainable development, and climate change initiatives without the support of good governance and the rule of law.
Corruption also affects countries ability to protect the environment. President Obama and President Kenyatta committed our two nations to working together to tackle it here. They agreed to a wide range of steps that, when accomplished, will help address the problem of corruption once and for all. While these commitments have broad implications, they will also help strengthen Kenya’s ability to protect its environment and wildlife, for example by putting poachers in prison. Kenya is far from alone in facing challenges on governance and corruption, and I urge everyone here to face it squarely and to take serious action.
Today’s discussion is on protecting Africa’s heritage – how to save its unique wildlife and biodiversity alongside its remarkable cultural contribution to the world. The risk of inaction is great as many of the changes we face – extinction, desertification, ecological collapse – may be irreversible. We must act so that our children have arable soil and adequate food. We must act so that our children have access to fresh water and clean air. We must act so our children live in a world with wildlife.
I am heartened by everyone here today and the steps we are taking by investing in Africa’s natural and social capital to achieve truly sustainable development. I look forward to working together to address the challenges of today and those of tomorrow. Together, we can succeed. Together, we can protect our environment and our wildlife while also building prosperity for ourselves and our children.
Pamoja tusonge mbele — together, we move forward.