Protecting nature and civic space will unlock prosperity.

By Delfin Ganapin, Leader, WWF Governance Practice and Marion A. Osieyo, WWF SDG Hub Manager.

© Rebecca Greenfield / WWF-US

As Ministers review progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in New York this week at the UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), Delfin Ganapin, WWF Governance Practice Leader, and Marion Osieyo, WWF SDG Hub Manager, argue that reversing nature loss, protecting civic space and enabling public participation are critical for success.

Nature matters

Our new briefing, ‘Nature in all the Goals’, shows how nature-based solutions can improve lives, reduce inequality and help deliver the SDGs — including those under review at the HLPF this week, such as Goal 8 on promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, Goal 10 on reducing inequality, and Goal 13 on combating climate change.

Agroforestry, for example — planting trees alongside livestock areas and crops — contributes to climate change resilience. Trees not only capture and store carbon dioxide, they also help regulate soil and water quality in the face of extreme weather.

Locally, sustainable farming by women protects nature and improves family diets through greater crop variety. And globally, more sustainable agriculture, combined with forest protection, could deliver over $2 trillion in economic benefits a year.

Natural systems underpin our well-being and prosperity, giving us vital resources such as food, clean air and water, and providing services to the global economy worth an estimated $125 trillion per year .

Yet there is mounting evidence that nature is in decline as never before. IPBES’ recent Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is the latest wake-up call. Despite growing recognition that environmental risks pose the gravest threat to human well-being and the global economy, we are not yet doing enough to reverse nature loss.

Hitting the poorest hardest

How we currently feed and fuel ourselves is not only pushing nature to the brink, it is also deeply inequitable. Nature loss affects us all but the most severe effects hit those already living in poverty and least able to access support, the hardest.

IPBES’ assessment reveals that current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% of assessed SDG targets relating to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land. Over-exploitation of nature to feed unsustainable consumption patterns means we are leaving many behind.

Nature loss is a developmental, cultural and moral as well as an environmental challenge that worsens existing inequalities within and across countries. And in many cases, the loss of heritage and social cohesion occurring alongside environmental degradation is irreversible.

© Simon de TREY-WHITE / WWF-UK

Governance for nature and people

Inequity and injustice are both cause and result of nature loss. Meeting this year’s HLPF ambition of ‘empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality’, and achieving the SDGs, requires a collective effort and the heightened pursuit of good governance.

Catalysing nature-based solutions for the SDGs that benefit everyone requires mainstreaming nature and people into policy- and decision-making, building multi-stakeholder partnerships that draw diverse experience and expertise, and facilitating intergenerational collaboration that enables young people to shape their own futures.

Above all, we need to hold governments accountable and establish processes and institutions that value and respect the priorities and perspectives of all people, giving them an active voice in decision-making, and empowering them as agents of change.

This must include recognising the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to decide how to manage their lands and waters, as well as how and when to involve others in the design and implementation of projects and solutions.

Core freedoms

Civic space is the bedrock of good governance in any open and democratic society. Yet with attacks on core freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression increasing in number and intensity, its erosion is becoming a global phenomenon.

In 2017 alone, more than 40 laws aimed at restricting civil society organisation registration, operation and funding were proposed or enacted by governments worldwide. And six billion people living in 111 countries — 80% of the world’s population — currently lack civic space or face substantial legal and political obstacles.

Environmental and Human Rights Defenders are increasingly targeted, and in 2018, more than three-quarters of the 321 human rights defenders murdered globally, were killed as a result of defending their land, environmental or Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

Strengthening civic space

This makes Goal 16on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice, and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions — perhaps the most important SDG of all in securing the good governance we need.

Reviewing it this week, Ministers have an opportunity to signal to Heads of State prior to the UN General Assembly in September that strengthening and protecting civic space and public participation is the starting point for leaving no one behind — the ‘glue’ across Agenda 2030.

Acknowledging April’s Belgrade Call to Action by global civil society leaders — asking for support to defend civic space, a halt to increasing attacks on human rights defenders and the undermining of democratic participation, and an inclusive Agenda 2030 — would be a good place to start.

We will only succeed in protecting and restoring nature by empowering people, and we can only empower people by harnessing and investing in nature in ways that deliver truly equitable societies.

Strong and open civic space is the catalyst that can unlock creativity, innovation, well-being and prosperity for all.

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

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