Setting the stage for a global deal for nature.

Bård Vegar Solhjell, CEO WWF Norway

WWF
WWF
Jul 2 · 6 min read

It’s time for politicians to lift the issue of nature out of the hands of conservationists, and put it on the tables of decision makers world wide.

© naturepl.com / Andy Rouse / WWF

If you happen to have a powerful position in society, chances are that you’ve started taking the climate crisis seriously into account. After all, it might alter your business model, decide if the best people would want to work for you, or determine the outcome of your next national election. Luckily, you know quite a bit about what to do with the climate issue. No one is saying it’s easy, but the direction is given.

But nature protection? Isn’t that a subject for outdoorsy romantics, bird watchers and the odd biologist? Everyone agrees it’s somewhat sad to see a species or two going missing, and we all love the orangutan, but if you’ll excuse us, we have to get back to work.

Well; think again — and think fast. If you’re not concerned about the findings in this year’s report from the biodiversity panel IPBES, it’s only because you haven’t read it. This international scientific panel does for nature and species what the much better known IPCC is doing for the climate. Both panels consist of scientists from across the world, gathering evidence from published scientific papers, and presenting their main findings in summary reports.

The sobering take-away message from the launch of the IPBES report is not only that one million species are threatened with extinction, but that “we are undermining the entire natural infrastructure on which our modern world depends”. The quote comes from senior scientist Sir Robert Watson, who compares the biodiversity crisis to the climate threat, concluding that the former is just as catastrophic as the latter. Having headed both the IPCC and the IPBES, his assessment is worth taking seriously.

© Kevin Schafer / WWF

Nature is our life-support system. From the fresh air we breathe to the clean water we drink, nature provides the essentials we all rely on for our survival and well-being. It also holds the key to our prosperity, with hundreds of millions of livelihoods and much of our economic activity also depending on the natural world. These immense benefits to humanity, estimated to be worth around US$125 trillion a year, are only possible if we maintain a rich diversity of wildlife.

Currently, we are exploiting nature faster than it is able to replenish. The threat is, well, existential.

Comparing the biodiversity crisis to climate change, we find that the science is just as clear, and the time frame no more comforting. But there’s one striking difference: While there is a strong and growing momentum in politics and business to counter climate change, the nature crisis has not yet become a daily concern for the people taking the relevant decisions.

The Paris agreement on climate change has left the world with a strong and understandable imperative: We have to limit Earth’s temperature rise to well below two degrees. This message is gradually reshaping the strategies of politicians, businesses and finance institutions. When they’re acting too slowly, which they are, kids fill the streets telling them to speed up.

In contrast, competition over natural resources is largely going on unchecked. Science tells us that as long as this goes on, it will inevitably lead to everyone’s loss.

The answer is again common understanding and organization. The Paris agreement grew out of a long process of international political negotiations, dating back to Rio 1992, where world leaders signed two major conventions: One for climate, the other for biodiversity. The climate convention got its big breakthrough in Paris. The biodiversity convention will hopefully have its greatest moment next year, in the Chinese city of Kunming, where world leaders will agree on new nature targets for the coming decade.

It’s difficult to expect anything quite similar to the two degree target coming out of Kunming. Biodiversity targets are by nature a complex lot, addressing the protection of species and spaces, restoration of nature as well as the need for sustainable resource management, production and consumption.

We need an integrated, holistic set of targets that are informed by science, inspire governments to act, and protect natural spaces, drive sustainability, and prevent the loss of species. WWF proposes that, within a decade

  1. Zero loss of natural spaces, effectively ensuring that 50% of the planet is effectively protected, restored and sustainably managed in a natural state. This can include 30% of all terrestrial, freshwater and marine areas under effective and equitable protection and conservation, and 20% sustainably managed. In all cases, the rights and role of indigenous and local communities will be key in achieving this goal, ensuring that nature thrives for the benefit of all humanity.

In summarizing up a set of targets such as those suggested above, it is vital that a convergence and consensus emerges. To that end, we very much welcome the views and ideas of others, and see WWF as one voice among many in this conversation.

In short the takeaway is not very complicated: We need more nature.

More nature will help us maintain vital ecosystem functions, meet human needs, preserve biodiversity and limit climate change. We need to protect more areas, and protect them better. But ecosystem functions cannot be upheld in protected areas alone. We need more nature outside such areas too.

Aiming for more nature must guide our decisions in agriculture and fisheries, in landscape management and city development. We need more nature in strategies for climate mitigation, in long term planning and investment programs, and in developing business models all through the value chain. Companies as well as societies need to analyze for and take measures against nature risk. Just like the climate risk concept coined by Bank of England, nature risk could be physical, related to political or market transformations, or regarding liability. The understanding how loss of nature represent economic risk would likely speed up the measures to protect and restore nature and the ecosystems upon which our whole society depends.

To all this, one could safely add that most of us could benefit from experiencing more nature in our own, personal lives.

In what must be one of the most ambitious footnotes in history, the IPBES calls for “A fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

© Emilio White

Coming to terms with nature is a transformational work that will go on for decades. In the coming year, political leaders have a huge responsibility for getting this work going. Just like the Paris agreement from 2015 established new standards for global climate work across all sectors, The Kunming meeting 2020 must set the standards for nature protection and management. We need a new, global deal for nature and people, and 2020 is the year to put it in place.

Preparing for the meeting in Kunming must be a top political priority. One of the first major events in the preparation process is a huge biodiversity meeting in Trondheim, Norway this first week of July. Ministers and leaders from international organizations will take part in discussions on ambitions and measures of implementation. We need the commitment of the finance sector, local communities and the industries and authorities managing nature for resource purposes.

Change must come from those who influence nature the most.

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