By Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International
That nature is in dire crisis is clear. Any number of metrics are tracking the decline of species, of biological diversity, of habitat loss and ecosystem degradation. The evidence has never been greater. Not only of the impact we are having on the planet, but also of the consequences this is having on us, our lives, our economy, our society, our health.
We are beginning to understand that we can’t continue to dominate the natural world, take nature for granted, exploit its resources wastefully and unsustainably…without consequences. Today we know that there are consequences. Some of them are already here: loss of lives and economic assets to extreme weather, aggravated poverty from droughts, zoonotic pandemics able to bring the whole world to its knees.
Nature loss is not only perceived as a moral or an ecological issue, but also as an economic, a development, a human health issue. It is also a justice issue, as the most vulnerable populations are affected the most, and an inter-generational justice issue, as we are leaving a terribly complicated legacy to our children, their children and future generations to come. This is the new moral argument for halting nature loss and climate change.
The global economy is “embedded in nature”, as the UK government’s Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity argued. Around half of global GDP is generated by sectors that directly depend on nature, and 1.2 billion jobs are in sectors depending on healthy nature according to a report we jointly published with the International Labor Organization. Nature provides services — such as the provision of food and fibers, regulation of water and its quality, fish from the ocean and rivers, pollination, and control of pests and disease — worth an estimated $125 trillion to the global economy each year. Not to mention the inspiration, happiness and serenity nature is able to inject in us.
Nature is of existential value to us. Any prospects of a prosperous, equitable and sustainable future depends upon healthy and productive nature. Many of humanity’s challenges captured by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, from poverty to anger, malnutrition and health, will simply be unattainable if we continue to degrade natural systems; poorer communities, particularly in rural areas, depend heavily upon natural resources for their livelihoods.
What is still underappreciated is how important nature is in the fight against climate change. The world’s oceans, forests, wetlands and soils are critical carbon sinks, absorbing half of global carbon emissions. Enhancing those sinks could deliver around one third of the cost-effective carbon mitigation we need by 2030. Indeed, the continuing degradation of nature puts our climate change goals at risk: the climate models on which future emissions trajectories are based assume that natural systems will continue to absorb carbon much as they have in the past. If our continuing degradation of nature means those assumptions no longer hold true, the world will warm faster than we are currently expecting.
It is time for the international community to agree on a clear global goal and plan to halt and reverse nature loss. This June, negotiations are set to continue in Nairobi on a Global Biodiversity Framework which can ensure a nature-positive world by 2030. That means a world that by the end of this decade has more nature than at the beginning: more forests, more fish in oceans and rivers, more pollinators in our farmlands, more biodiversity overall. Such a framework, under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, could mirror the Paris Agreement for climate.
The Paris Agreement on climate change is remembered for the adoption of a clear, easily understood headline goal: to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, above pre-industrial levels. That temperature rise, which can be implied from the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, has provided a benchmark against which policy measures and practical efforts can be measured. Critically, it has provided a rallying call to galvanize action.
If it is true that the impacts on nature are more complex to measure, it is also true that a land-use metric is probably what could better drive and measure a nature-positive goal. Seventeen organizations have recently called on political leaders to incorporate in the draft Global Biodiversity Framework a mission of reversing biodiversity loss and achieving a nature-positive world by 2030. This mission would be assessed against metrics such as the number and populations of species, the extent and integrity of natural habitats, and the health of natural processes, such as river flows.
We believe that a clear commitment to a nature-positive world within the Global Biodiversity Framework will represent the guiding light, the shared goal behind which governments, civil society and the private sector could rally. Corporate leaders, in particular, are calling for clearer measures to help them reduce their impacts on nature, such as those being developed by the Science Based Targets Network. The finance sector, too, is increasingly concerned about the risk of affecting the health of natural systems. Major investors are helping to draft reporting guidance from the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures, while central bankers have acknowledged the need to address risks posed by biodiversity loss. All need targets against which progress can be assessed.
We are encouraged to see that references to a nature-positive goal have been suggested in the mission of the latest draft of the Global Biodiversity Framework. It is vital that this is embraced by governments, made clearer and more explicit and, indeed, survives subsequent rounds of negotiation to appear in the final text, which is expected to be agreed in Kunming, China, later this year. Countries whose Head of State and Government has endorsed the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature can and must be champions in this process.
Working towards a nature-positive world by 2030 would give us a measurable mission, a clearly delineated goal against which everyone’s efforts could be judged. It is vital that we begin to reverse nature loss and protect the systems on which we all rely. Nature positive by 2030 must become our clarion call.