Speech by Woochong Um, ADB Managing Director General, at the launch of the Regional Flyway Initiative, 14 October 2021

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Good Afternoon: Two years ago I had the great privilege of touring the spectacular Yancheng wetlands during the inauguration of the Jiangsu Yancheng Wetland Protection Project in PRC. Looking across the vast area in front of me, I reflected on the immense value of these coastal wetlands and what they represent.

It made me proud that the ADB project had helped restore more than 4,500 hectares of wetlands and contributed to the successful listing of those wetlands as a UNESCO World Heritage natural site. The visit motivated me to support our plans to scale-up strategic, long-term support for those highly threatened ecosystems upon which so many species and livelihoods depend.   

Today it gives me great pleasure to see the fruition of those plans and welcome you to the launch of ADB’s Regional Flyway Initiative in partnership with BirdLife International and the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership Secretariat. 

Over the next ten years, ADB, BirdLife International and the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) together with a coalition of partners, will look to mobilize finance up to $3 billion for East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) wetland conservation. This will include  the essential strengthening of capacity of local communities, governments and civil society to ensure sustainability of such investments. This Initiative will deliver a vast regional network of sustainably-managed priority wetland clusters along the EAAF, the most threatened global bird migration route extending across more than 20 countries from the Arctic Circle to New Zealand. ADB will work closely with our member countries to increase their investments in the restoration, protection, and management of their wetlands for long-term economic and social benefits.

Wetlands of immense value 

Nearly 200 million people rely on the wetlands that lie along the EAAF. The ecosystem services they provide, support livelihoods with food and clean water and opportunities in recreation and tourism. Wetlands also deliver key flood regulating services, sequester carbon and deliver adaptation to the changing climate.

These wetlands also of course support great biodiversity. Over 50 million migratory waterbirds of more than 220 species, along with a diverse range of other animals and plant species depend on the EAAF’s thousands of wetlands for food, shelter, and other essential needs. The waterbirds that rely on these wetland clusters or “string of pearls” serve as sentinels of regional and global environmental change and will provide a charismatic focus for our activities. 

Sadly though, waterbirds and biodiversity in general are in continuous decline. Recent reports by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services paint a very bleak picture. It lists numerous worrying statistics such as 75% of the land environment is now considered as severely altered and a million species are at risk of extinction. Targets to halt these trends are not being met and there is growing evidence to show that climate change impacts are already here while we are still struggling to reduce emissions to 1990 levels. We are now living the impacts of a double crises, with biodiversity being lost at unprecedented rates and climate changing faster than previously forecasted. 

The world’s wetland ecosystems in particular, continue to be in steep decline. According to RAMSAR, the Convention on Wetlands, 35 percent of them have disappeared between 1970 and 2015. This is a rate three times that of forests. Land reclamation, agriculture expansion, infrastructure, and urbanization have driven these losses. Of all the world's major eight flyways, wetlands along the EAAF are under the most threat. 20% of the bird species that depend on EAAF wetlands are globally threatened.

To address the continuing biodiversity declining in the Asia and Pacific Region, ADB has developed a Nature Positive Investment Roadmap that will enable us to mainstream biodiversity, providing countries with better, and more targeted support. We are also supporting financing for strategic, high impact nature-positive programs that address regional ecological priorities, one such key program is the Regional Flyway Initiative. 

These focused efforts on biodiversity conservation will enable us to deliver our commitments under ADB’s Strategy 2030, whose third operational priority focuses on tackling climate change, building climate and disaster resilience, and enhancing environmental sustainability. In addition, the Regional Flyway Initiative will build on one of the ADB's key strengths of regional cooperation which is a founding pillar of the bank. This continues to be an operational priority and is a cornerstone for a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific region. 

For the Regional Flyway Initiative, our vision over the next ten years will be to support the protection and the sustainable management of at least 50 priority sites along the EAAF, building a coherent network of sites to maintain and enhance species population as well as delivering on ecosystem services and supporting local livelihoods. 

Over the next two years, ADB will help identify sites of international importance that deliver ecosystem services, support livelihoods, and protect migratory waterbirds. This will be done through grant projects. During this time, ADB will work with BirdLife International and in collaboration with EAAFP and other stakeholders, to consult with governments, other convention secretariats and development partners to produce a final list of priority sites for which investment concepts will be developed. As almost all countries along the flyway are EAAFP partners as well as ADB Members, we look forward to strong collaboration.   

While the development phase is underway, the establishment of a Sustainable Financing Mechanism is being explored. This will support the Flyway in the long-term. The aim of the initiative is to create a mechanism that can leverage funding from public and private sources that reach both governments and civil society to protect and restore these wetlands, generating benefits for nature, people and climate. 

RFI implementation phase 

As the Regional Flyway Initiative moves into the implementation phase, a bottom-up approach will be used. We will work with local communities supported by local government and civil society which will  ensure local ownership of the rehabilitation and conservation of these critical wetlands and the biodiversity they support. In addition, ADB will look to use its Natural Capital Lab to build on natural capital valuation methods to help governments to recognize the essential contributions that these areas can provide to local and national economies. This programmatic approach will allow us to cultivate projects on a regional scale, bring in other development partners, and provide a platform for blended finance. 

Looking ahead

You can rest assured ADB will be here for the long-term. Taking inspiration from the birds that use the flyway, if we work together, we can sustain a long journey and arrive at our destination safely. Through this journey, we can deliver on our ambitious target to restore and protect these wetlands for generations to come, and we can also support the communities along the flyway and the magnificent birds who travel, rest and nourish themselves from Russia to New Zealand. At ADB, we strongly believe that investing in wetlands is one of the best opportunities for delivering a green, inclusive and resilient recovery beyond COVID-19 and we hope you will join us on this worthwhile journey.

Finally, I must now say a huge thank you to those partners who have already pledged their support to this regional flyway initiative and of course a huge congratulations to the organizers of the eco-civilization event and the government of People's Republic of China for delivering under such difficult circumstances and for providing a platform for the launch of the Regional Flyway Initiative.

Thank you.