2021 must be the year we take action to secure a nature-positive world

By Li Lin, Director of Global Policy and Advocacy at WWF-International

Exploring the mangroves outside La Boquilla, Colombia © WWF-US / Keith Arnold

As we enter a new decade, we need to make sure it is a ‘decade of action’ for nature and people to bring a nature-positive, carbon neutral and equitable future for all life on the Earth. It is time to re-evaluate our targets, and put nature on the road to recovery, by halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 to achieve a nature-positive world. 2021 has to be the new ‘Super Year for Nature’.

The past year has seen the world disrupted by a global pandemic, record breaking temperatures, and devastating wildfires. Our destruction of nature is causing a global extinction crisis and unprecedented harm to both people and the planet.

These interconnected crises underline our reliance on, and responsibility for nature. Research shows that habitat loss and the destruction of nature are linked directly with the emergence of new zoonotic diseases. Our activities are causing the climate crisis, and the continued loss of nature and degradation of ecosystems has dire consequences for our own well-being and even our survival.

At the same time, $44 trillion, half global GDP, is moderately or highly dependent on nature’s resources, while nature provides at least $125 trillion worth of services annually. Without action on nature, we are at risk of failing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

If the last year has made one thing clear, it is that we urgently need to change course. We need leaders to come together and put in place ambitious plans and actions that set nature on the path to recovery to safeguard people and the planet for generations to come.

Drying rice in the Bhakarjung area of Nepal © Karine Aigner/WWF-US

Greater ambition

In 2021, UN biodiversity talks are scheduled to take place in Kunming, China, under the auspices of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. This must be the turning point when world leaders secure a global agreement on biodiversity — a Global Biodiversity Framework — that is at least as ambitious and comprehensive as the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Countries have already made some progress on negotiating a plan to protect nature. However, the draft text is neither ambitious nor comprehensive enough to address our global nature crisis.

WWF is today publishing its proposal for what a comprehensive and ambitious Global Biodiversity Framework looks like. Our discussion paper, Nature Positive by 2030: Kunming Plan for Nature and People, shows that it is possible to reverse biodiversity loss and secure a nature-positive future this decade, while achieving other societal goals, but only if we act with urgency and bring the whole-of-society with us.

Tackling the drivers of nature loss

To reverse nature loss, the world must protect and restore land, freshwater and marine natural habitats through a rights-based approach. But conservation measures alone are insufficient without action to address the drivers of biodiversity loss. We urgently need to move to sustainable practices in agriculture and food systems, forestry, fisheries, energy and mining, infrastructure and construction. These efforts should go hand in hand with the efforts to utilize nature-based solutions to address societal challenges. The current draft biodiversity agreement must be strengthened to include a goal of halving the footprint of production and consumption.

Our food systems in particular, while providing food and nutrition to human populations, remain one of the biggest threats to nature. They are both the single biggest user of natural resources and the single biggest greenhouse gas emitter. Half of all habitable land and 70 per cent of our freshwater is used for agriculture, and it is the main cause of deforestation and other habitat loss.

Despite the food systems’ sizable contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, the vast majority of national commitments to the Paris Agreement make no specific reference to agriculture and food systems reform and none address a transition to healthier, sustainable diets. Moving forward, national commitments and multilateral agreements like the Global Biodiversity Framework must promote, incentivize and deliver transitions to sustainable food production and consumption.

Agroecological production practices based on science and traditional knowledge can deliver benefits for people and the planet. Communities in Mexico and Paraguay have each formed collectives to grow native plants (such as yerba mate in Paraguay and vanilla and coffee in Mexico) as part of reforestation and restoration of degraded areas. The diversity of plants and trees improve soil quality, water flow and biodiversity, while the agroforestry approach provides productive lands and restores degraded areas. What’s more, the livelihoods of these communities have improved, with yields and profits increasing.

Evidence is growing that agroecological methods can be used at scale without reducing yields, so there must be a concerted effort to shift to these nature-positive practices.

Women of the cooperative carry the harvested mate leaves out of the Atlantic forest © Sonja Ritter / WWF

Aligning financial flows

Finance and investment, public and private, fuels many of the drivers of biodiversity loss, such as changes in land, freshwater and sea use, and climate change. We need greater scrutiny and regulation of public and private financing and investment to better align the movement of money, to reduce harmful effects and increase financial support of nature-positive practices and nature-based solutions.

For too long unsustainable agriculture has been subsidised. Countries have seen the negative impacts of these perverse incentives, from overproduction to deteriorating soil quality. The elimination of subsidies and incentives that are detrimental to the environment is essential. Nature-positive practices, clear sustainability targets and supporting policy frameworks and incentives can offer economic, social and environmental benefits.

Many investors and financial institutions recognize the benefits of making investment decisions that help to tackle the loss of nature. A Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures is being set up to aid corporates and financial institutions in assessing, managing and reporting on their dependencies and impacts on nature. In addition, financial institutions with €4.8 trillion assets under management signed a Finance for Biodiversity Pledge. There is a clear need and aspiration for progressive steps towards a nature-positive economy that must be reflected in the Global Biodiversity Framework.

A rights-based approach

We will not be able to reach our goals and targets without participation from the whole of society. A rights-based approach must be the very foundation of conservation efforts. Supporting Indigenous Peoples and local communities to maintain and strengthen their cultural systems is one of the most important solutions to today’s challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Over 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity is found in the lands and territories of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Their knowledge and stewardship are critical to efforts to protect the world’s biodiversity and it is essential that the Global Biodiversity Framework recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ rights to lands and waters, recognizes and integrates the use of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices, and ensures participation from women, girls and youth.

More than a moral responsibility

A successful Global Biodiversity Framework will require a robust implementation mechanism to drive forward progress and ensure that countries meet targets. This includes a regular cycle of national and global check-backs and reviews, with provisions for ratcheting up action if progress is not on track. Clear roles and responsibilities are essential in this process. It will take the whole of society to effectively reverse nature loss.

Internationally all must commit to comprehensive resource mobilization to finance the Global Biodiversity Framework and to conserve and restore nature. This means that richer countries support the efforts of developing countries and work together to reverse nature loss. The equitable sharing of nature’s benefits is also essential to securing an inclusive agreement, supported by all.

Our dependence on nature is clear, as we have seen dramatically from the last year. At the same time, we also witnessed collective leadership and strong determination by more than 80 Heads of States and Governments endorsing the Leader’s Pledge For Nature, united to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 for sustainable development. It is not just a moral duty to reverse the loss of biodiversity, it is a question of survival. It is not enough to put just commitments on paper, rather it is critical to translate these into a Global Biodiversity Framework that can guide actions by state and non-state actors during the “decade of action”. Future generations rely on the decisions, and actions, that are taken by world leaders now.

Read WWF’s discussion paper, Nature Positive by 2030: Kunming Plan for Nature and People 2021–2030.

Building a future in which people live in harmony with nature.

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