WWF’s Markets Practice Leader, Cris Close, takes stock of the recent Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity, and explores why the private sector should call for an ambitious global agreement for nature that restores natural systems and unlocks business opportunities.
Recipe for change
In his recent Review on the Economics of Biodiversity, commissioned by the UK Treasury to inform the international response to nature loss, Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta reminds us of a simple truth: we are part of nature, and embedded within it, not separate from it. Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all depend on this most precious asset. And yet our failure to recognise this relationship is costing us dearly and putting our future at risk.
As WWF’s Living Planet Report shows, nature is in freefall, presenting significant material risk for business and finance. Using up natural capital faster than natural systems can replenish it, and not accounting for its value or destruction, we’re putting $44 trillion in economic value generation at risk — more than half of global GDP — and our own health and prosperity are suffering.
At the heart of the problem, says Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, lie deep-rooted, widespread institutional and market failures. Globally, we subsidise activities that damage nature to the tune of $4–6 trillion each year, with agriculture the leading driver of biodiversity loss.
Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta entreats us to temper our demands on nature and restore its bounty, transform our finance and education systems — so business and finance may fully integrate nature-related considerations into decision-making, and future generations may make better choices — and move beyond using only GDP as an indicator of wealth and economic success. If we adopt more inclusive metrics which measure natural and social capitals, and track well-being and prosperity across generations, instead of living beyond our planet’s means, we might prosper within its limits.
Collective responsibility and opportunity
This is an agenda for change, responsibility for the delivery of which lies with all of us — not just with governments but also with business, finance, and civil society. And this year, we have an extraordinary opportunity to pursue it.
As the world stands on the threshold of recovery from COVID-19, a pandemic born of our destructive encroachment upon nature, we face a choice. The most expensive thing we can do is to return to business as usual. We must imagine another, better future.
2021 must be the new super-year for nature, and when nations gather in Kunming at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), our leaders have the opportunity to adopt a Paris-style global agreement for nature that could help secure a nature-positive world by 2030. If they do, it will be a lynchpin, shaping how governments, and ultimately business and finance, invest in, protect, use and benefit from nature and natural resources.
Business and finance have both a responsibility and an opportunity to help ensure governments adopt an agreement that not only supports their own efforts for nature and sustainability, and that unlocks new business opportunities, but that quite simply saves life on Earth.
Nature means business
Lest there be any doubt, nature means business. Some of the best opportunities for stimulating economic recovery and job creation lie in ‘green’ industries. Addressing climate change could create 65 million new low-carbon jobs by 2030. Every million dollars invested in renewable energy, for example, could create 7.5 jobs compared to 2.7 jobs for the same investment in fossil fuel projects.
Similarly, increasing public and private investment in nature-based solutions which harness ecosystems to address key societal challenges will contribute to food security, disaster risk reduction, urban regeneration, and help tackle climate change and nature loss.
In Africa, for instance, 21 countries and international organisations are developing the Great Green Wall Project, which aims to restore 100 million hectares of land and halt the advance of the Sahara Desert. This joint initiative aims to provide food security for 20 million people, create 350,000 jobs and remove 250 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere. And in Germany, the Emscher Landscape Park, an urban forest and ecosystem restoration project across 19 German cities has so far created over 100,000 jobs.
Transitioning the systems responsible for the most significant business-related pressures on biodiversity — including food, land and ocean use, and construction — towards a ‘nature-positive’ economy through ecosystem restoration, regenerative agriculture, and circular business models, could generate over $10 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs by 2030.
And the forthcoming Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) will provide a framework for corporates and financial institutions to assess, manage and report on impacts and dependencies on nature. Companies that embrace the transition to a net-zero, nature-positive economy, through setting science-based targets for nature and reshaping markets, will prosper.
Forging an agreement for nature, people, and business
An ambitious Paris-style global agreement for nature would help scale business action and investment for nature and create a nature-positive economy.
Negotiations are ongoing. While there have been promising signs — more than 50 countries have formed the High Ambition Coalition to protect 30% of the world’s land and sea, and more than 80 have endorsed the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature — a clear business voice, like that which helped shape the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, can help ensure that what is agreed at COP 15 in Kunming drives real action.
For companies looking to engage in the negotiations, help is on offer. WWF’s Kunming Plan for Nature and People sets out our vision for an ambitious agreement; WBCSD’s business summary places the Dasgupta Review in the context of other landmark reports and global policy events; and Business for Nature’s guide to the CBD explains why COP 15 is so important.
And after consultation with more than a 100 companies around the world who recognise their dependence on nature, Business for Nature has also made nine suggestions for negotiators’ consideration. These include calling for action to reverse nature loss by 2030, and global goals and targets, informed by science, that are relevant for and deliverable by all actors, including business.
A robust agreement would shape national legislation and help mainstream nature in all decision-making. In turn, this would provide long-term certainty and a level playing field for companies investing in nature-positive business models. It could also drive public and private research and innovation. And replacing harmful subsidies with nature-positive incentives would encourage sustainable use.
Together, in 2021, business, finance and civil society have an unprecedented opportunity to forge a collective response to the interconnected crises of climate breakdown, nature loss, and inequality, and deliver a just, green, resilient recovery. We must seize it now.