Nature matters — now is the time to act

Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International.

As millions around the globe turn off their lights for Earth Hour this Saturday, the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment is set to unite people in showing their commitment to their home, Earth.

Nature underpins all life, but it is in crisis. This is not “doom and gloom” rhetoric — it is the reality we face. We have a choice — to either safeguard the future of our planet for all its inhabitants or watch nature disappear in our lifetime, along with all we need and use for our own lives. The need for action has never been greater. The choice is ours.

What is encouraging in recent WWF research is that more than 70 per cent of people feel they are personally responsible for protecting nature. Earth Hour’s #Connect2Earth campaign is therefore an amazing opportunity to build a movement for nature and start changing the planet for the better, joining millions around the world including youth groups to turn off the lights and speak up on why nature matters.

Earth Hour takes place on Saturday 30 March at 8.30pm. Speak up for the planet and find out how you can #Connect2Earth by visiting www.earthhour.org/now

The staggering loss of nature

Our living planet is in the red. The proof of destruction is overwhelming. In the last year alone, we have seen deadly heat waves across Japan, devastating hurricanes in the US, record droughts in Cape Town and forest fires in the Arctic, to name just a few.

In October last year, a landmark UN scientific report warned that the world has at most 12 years to prevent climate catastrophe. Never before has the threat of irreversible damage been so close or so clear.

Climate change remains a huge challenge for us all, but another urgent threat now demands our attention: the loss of nature. These two combined threats mean we must act — and now.

We are the first generation to know we are destroying the world. And we could be the last that can do anything about it.

We’re using the planet’s resources faster than nature can restore itself. WWF’s latest flagship Living Planet Report 2018 provides clear-cut evidence of the ever-accelerating loss of nature and how it puts everyone’s future at risk. The population abundance of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have, on average, plummeted by 60 per cent since 1970 — less than a lifetime. That’s because people are destroying habitats and creating more waste than our planet can absorb. We are wiping out life on Earth and we are fast approaching the point of no return.

Climate change is exacerbating biodiversity loss but the causality goes both ways: nature plays a crucial role in trying to keep climate change in check. Many affected ecosystems — such as oceans and forests — are important for absorbing carbon emissions.

Nature matters

Not only do we have the moral responsibility to live in harmony with nature, but it is vitally important to everyone’s daily lives; nature underpins our economic prosperity and development, and our very survival. But what exactly does nature give us? At their simplest, nature’s services are things people often take for granted — the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat all ultimately rely on nature and biodiversity.

But others are less obvious: nature is the bedrock for the production of the most common goods and much of our way of life (products from coffee to cotton rely on biodiverse environments). Oceans and coral reefs provide food and livelihoods to hundreds of millions of people. Forests clean the air, regulate the local climate and retain water for rivers. Healthy soils are essential to grow crops. Mountains and glaciers are key sources of water for major rivers. Increasingly, the fragility of ecosystems poses huge risks to societal and economic stability. Quite simply, nature is the foundation for a healthy society, fair economy for all, and global security.

Nature is also linked to our well-being. Being in nature reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes us feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.

While you could say nature is literally priceless, these services provided by nature that people depend on are estimated to be worth US$125 trillion per year — around two-thirds higher than global GDP. Too big to fail, you could say.

People must hear this vital truth

We need nature close to us. This is why, in our increasingly urbanized lives, we bring plants and pets into our homes.

But too few people currently understand the vital importance of nature — and the huge threats it faces. Recent WWF research in 10 of the world’s most bio-diverse countries, home to half the world’s population, shows that only 40 per cent of people associate the benefits of biodiversity and nature with necessities of life such as food, water and fresh air.

Most people take nature for granted. For others, nature feels distant and irrelevant to their lives. Millions of people who live in megacities may only experience nature on a screen and remain disconnected and unaware how nature is impacting and underpinning their lives.

This must change.

We have an opportunity in the coming two years to set a new direction for our society — to create a New Deal for Nature and People universally endorsed from political and business leaders to communities and individuals. If we get it right, we will create an unstoppable movement for nature similar to when the world came together to tackle climate change.

We already know the solutions

What we need is a new response, backed by a new narrative that recognizes how healthy natural systems are indispensable to a healthy society. We need ambitious global nature conservation targets that focus and unite the world around concrete commitments from countries, businesses and individuals to tackle nature loss, climate change and development in an integrated way.

Current efforts to halt nature loss are simply not enough. Only by connecting the dots between issues like climate, food production and nature loss do we stand a chance of reversing a downward spiral and restoring our precious natural world.

The solutions already exist. We can be smarter about how we use our oceans, freshwater and land, and how we produce energy, food and other resources, with a lower footprint on nature and climate. We have the knowledge, technology and capability to move towards a better future for people and nature. We’re already making great progress in meeting our energy demands with clean technologies. Now is the time to get behind these solutions to ensure that everyone gets a fair share without destroying nature.

We also need an unprecedented cultural revolution in the way we connect with our planet, our home. The science has never been clearer on how we can secure a stable climate and reverse the loss of nature. We need a fundamental shift in mindset that positions the environment as a primary concern and not an afterthought — one that will redefine our relationship with the planet and its natural systems. There won’t be a prosperous and secure future for us on a depleted planet.

The need for action has never been greater

We now have a unique opportunity to act. The time is now, this is the moment it can change. Earth Hour shows millions around the world expect it.

There is no time to lose. The next few years are, in fact, critical to put the planet on the path to a better future and kick start a global programme of recovery. 2020 sees a historic moment when key decisions will be taken on the future direction of climate action, development and nature. These decisions will set the agenda for decades to come. We need governments, businesses, financial institutions, civil society and people to commit to halting and start reversing the loss of nature. The unified voice of many millions of people will be needed to challenge decision-makers to ensure the loss of nature is top of the agenda.

To achieve a New Deal for Nature and People we need to raise our ambition and scale up our action. The way we produce our food on land, we fish our oceans, we use forests and river systems, we extract minerals and build infrastructure, are today’s drivers of nature loss. Using technology and a mind-shift towards long-term planning that benefits us all, will allow us to do all these things but in balance with, and not at the cost of, the natural environment.

It all starts with Earth Hour 2019

Earth Hour 2019 is a powerful opportunity to start an unstoppable movement for nature. Join millions around the world to turn off the lights and speak up on why nature matters.