For security and survival, business must go all-in on nature
Cristianne Close, Leader of WWF’s Global Markets Practice
Eva Zabey, Executive Director at Business for Nature
Global supply chains rocked by climate change, the pandemic, and war in Ukraine are driving fuel, fertiliser, and food prices to all-time highs, threatening supplies of wheat and sunflower oil, and triggering a global food crisis.
In responding to this perfect storm, governments and businesses must balance meeting immediate needs with creating the conditions for long-term stability, including tackling the climate emergency and nature loss.
No quick fix
Delivering the change we need is no easy task, and there is no quick fix.
Government and business leaders meeting in Davos, Switzerland at the end of May must signal an all-in pursuit of food system transformation and nature-positive production, a foundation for which must be creating deforestation- and conversion-free supply chains.
This is especially true in Brazil where last year we saw more than 40% of all recorded primary forest loss and where environmental measures continue to be undermined alongside the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities — the very people who do the most to protect biodiversity. A recent report from the FAO found that Brazilian agriculture stands to lose $1 billion per year due to deforestation of the Amazon between now and 2050.
Land use change like deforestation has also led to the loss of more than half of the total species’ occurrence areas in the Cerrado, and 15% in the Amazon.
Beyond peace, collaboration, and open markets, long-term security depends on maintaining healthy ecosystems that provide the natural capital and services on which food production, our economies, and our survival rely.
We need a new nature-positive model for global food production that rewards producers for sustainability, optimises production and livelihoods, fosters cross-sector collaboration, and enhances natural systems.
This includes adopting agroforestry and regenerative agriculture practices that reduce pesticides and pollution, decrease water and energy input, maintain ecosystem services, improve soil health and yields, and restore degraded land. In the Cerrado, there is enough degraded land in the region to triple soy production. Globally, rehabilitating the 52% of farmland that is currently degraded or disused would alleviate much of the pressure for further conversion of natural ecosystems and support the transition to sustainable production. And reforming the $1.1 trillion spent annually on subsidies given to fossil fuels and agriculture would free-up substantial government resources to support social needs, and accelerate innovation to reduce greenhouse gases in all parts of the economy.
Restoration and farming with nature can also contribute more than one-third of the cost-effective climate change mitigation needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C, as well as supporting biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction, and human health.
Transitioning to planet-based diets high in human health benefits and low in environmental impacts, and reducing food loss and waste, are also vital. One third of all food produced is never eaten, yet nearly 900 million people go hungry every day.
The need to mobilise a wide range of actors in complex supply chains remains a key challenge. And globally, longstanding business commitments to eliminate deforestation from supply chains for beef, soy, palm oil, and wood by 2020 remain unmet while commodity-driven deforestation and habitat conversion continue on a massive scale.
But importantly, solutions, tools, and approaches abound. The Accountability Framework, offers companies best-in-class guidance on shaping ethical agricultural and forestry supply chains. And a recent report sets out what manufacturers and retailers can do to influence traders, incentivise producers, and develop new business models that halt deforestation and conversion. Delivering means ensuring transparency and traceability, first providing producers and suppliers with technical and financial support but also avoiding those who continue to contribute to deforestation and conversion.
Companies and financial institutions can also commit to protecting nature by setting ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets through the Science-Based Targets initiative, and by joining the Science Based Targets Network, which is helping companies develop and set targets for nature.
Financial institutions also have a responsibility and must actively reduce nature-related risks in their portfolios, incentivise the switch to more sustainable production, develop innovative financing, and help small and medium-sized producers with limited access to finance or markets.
Stand up for nature
Supply chain transformation also depends on coherent policies and incentives from governments that reward investment in nature protection. Here, business advocacy for nature can play a vital role.
Leading companies have already called out bad practice through high-profile initiatives such as the Amazon Soy Moratorium and the Cerrado Manifesto, and more recently threatened a boycott of products from Brazil.
Through the Business for Nature coalition, more than 1,100 companies including the likes of DSM, Natura & Co, Suzano, and Boticário are urging governments to adopt ambitious policies now to reverse nature loss by 2030 for a nature-positive world at the COP15 Biodiversity Conference coming up later this year.
Consumer demand for sustainable products is growing, and investors are increasingly interested in how companies are reporting on impacts and dependencies on nature and addressing ‘double materiality’ — reporting on finance and non-finance matters which are of equal importance, such as nature impacts and risks.
This is the moment for business leaders in Davos to help put nature on the path to recovery and protect the very foundations on which peace and economic stability depend. The global pandemic unleashed breakthroughs on vaccine development — we must ensure that the current crisis doesn’t negatively impact global food security and instead focus efforts on transforming supply chains and food systems to increase their resilience.
If we restore nature’s bounty, then instead of living beyond our planet’s means, we can thrive within its limits.