“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens’ classic 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities ruminates on oppression and violence in the 18th century, and the choices made by its main characters which lead to resurrection and transformation. Mankind’s current treatment of our natural world offers a useful corollary: the world we face today with escalating climate change, with the collapse of wildlife populations and biodiversity and ever-more inequitable, must be vanquished and replaced with a nature-positive world, where humanity’s relationship with the natural environment is transformed.
2020: The worst of times, the age of foolishness, the epoch of incredulity, the season of darkness, the winter of despair.
Let’s begin with the worst of times, and 2020 certainly — and tragically — had plenty. A global pandemic has severely depressed the world’s economies, ended the lives of 1.5million people prematurely, and continues to hit the world’s less well-off hardest. Wherever nature conservation efforts rely on tourism, then they too have suffered due to travel restrictions and border closures. Whole communities are painfully losing vital income and livelihoods, which in turn poses a threat to the wildlife that they protect such as the mountain gorillas of central Africa.
Covid underlines what happens when humanity’s relationship with nature is broken. When we lose intact natural areas of the world, when wildlife markets are illegal or unregulated, and with ever increasing intensive livestock farming, then the science is clear. The potential for previously unknown viruses to jump from nature to humans grows, resulting in more opportunities for pandemics such as Covid and the havoc it has wreaked. A year ago you might not have believed it possible that a virus originating from nature would bring the global economy to the brink of collapse and take away a million and a half loved-ones. We must now move past this epoch of incredulity (the state of being unwilling or unable to believe something), because we have now all experienced the true cost of Covid, and must diminish the chances of a future pandemic.
Yet the reaction of many governments to Covid also represents an age of foolishness. They chose to bail out grey-economy, heavily polluting industries such as unsustainable agriculture, coal mining, oil refining and airlines, while ignoring green-economy businesses that are pioneering the solutions that our ailing planet desperately needs.
2021: The best of times, the epoch of belief, the season of light, the spring of hope.
2020 also offered green shoots of hope that the best of times are within reach. For the first time in history, 80 Heads of State, and counting, have endorsed a Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, committing to reverse biodiversity loss this decade. These leaders now must turn commitments into integrated action in developing an ambitious and transformative biodiversity plan, tackling plastics and pollution, investing in nature-based solutions and ensuring a green & just recovery.
A huge and diverse business voice for nature has emerged in 2020 through Business for Nature, with more than 600 CEOs from around the world advocating for action and working to minimize the impact of their businesses through science-based target-setting. Building on this, the Finance for Biodiversity Pledge has also emerged, mobilizing financial institutions both public and private, for nature and a new initiative will soon launch to ensure better financial disclosure, to shine a light on nature-harmful investments so that they can be replaced with nature-positive investments.
The world’s religions — through various faith-based organizations — have called for more action on nature, and in 2021 will step forward with their own commitments to ensure their impact is nature-positive. Youth networks, humanitarian & development organizations and mayors of numerous cities are also beginning to raise their voice and demonstrate their leadership too. And to top it off, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres made a direct and impassioned speech in December imploring the world to recover better, calling for a clean, green transition, and for a biodiversity-positive world.
If 2020 was our winter of despair, then 2021 can be our spring of hope. Already marked in the calendars of all governments in 2021 is a gathering in Kunming, China, to agree a 10 year action plan for nature — through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Also in their calendars is a commitment to propose and to fund nature-based solutions to climate change, ahead of a key international climate meeting in Glasgow, UK. A special summit on Food, a new Oceans Treaty to help conserve the worlds high seas, and a treaty to prevent plastics spilling into nature are also in the pipeline. Coupled with this growing movement of people, faiths, NGOs, businesses, finance professionals and an increasingly strident youth, 2021 could well be a super year for nature and people.
If governments kick-start 2021 with new actions, new funding and new conservation commitments, beginning with a special One Planet Summit in Paris in January, then an unstoppable momentum can be triggered.
So in 2021 let’s make sure our leaders step up and grasp this momentous opportunity to transform our relationship with the natural world. On offer is a new deal for nature and people that will help avoid future pandemics, create 395 million new jobs to help reignite our economies, create US$10 trillion in business opportunities, provide reliable incomes for nature-facing communities and indigenous peoples, and will see magnificent creatures such as gorillas, grizzly bears, humpback whales, tigers, wolves and jaguars co-existing with us on this planet for generations to come.
We must go into 2021 with the hope, and the belief, that this nature-positive world is genuinely possible. The best of times are closer than we think.