By Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International
The past 12 months will, of course, be remembered for COVID-19 and the terrible suffering and disruption it caused to millions of people. But, asks WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini, could 2020 also be seen as the year when humanity finally awoke to the crisis of nature loss?
As we entered 2020, we were calling it “The Super Year for Nature”. But the world’s most important agreement to combat today’s precipitous nature loss didn’t take place as scheduled. Another casualty of the disruption brought about by the pandemic.
But the agreement may still happen this or next year. And something also happened in 2020 that may just be as historic.
WWF’s review of the past year, published today, highlights how global conservation efforts have been strongly shaped by the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic, with its roots in environmental threats such as deforestation and the wildlife trade.
Many communities, reliant on nature-based tourism, have struggled to cope with the global lockdown. And decision-making meetings on vitally important environmental issues have frequently been deferred.
But 2020 like no previous year has also seen signs of progress and hope.
Alongside recent extreme weather events and shocking forest mega-fires from Australia to the Amazon, California and even the Arctic, the pandemic has provided ultimate proof of why humanity must reset its relationship with the natural world — from taking it for granted to valuing nature’s vital importance for people and planet.
And, in 2020, nature and biodiversity rose to the top of the global agenda like never before, with a growing recognition of the links between the nature, climate and health crises.
This new awareness was demonstrated at the first ever UN Biodiversity Summit, and in the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature — a commitment by over 80 world leaders to reverse nature loss by 2030, including putting nature at the heart of COVID-19 recovery strategies.
A number of reports also highlighted the risks for our economy from nature loss and opportunities linked to a nature-positive transition of major productive systems like agriculture, fishing and infrastructure — with half of the global GDP, as well as half of the global workforce, depending in some way on healthy ecosystem services.
The WEF’s Global Risks Report, for example, ranked biodiversity and ecosystem collapse amongst the top five risks for society, while another WEF report showed how transitioning to a nature-positive economy could provide up to US$10.1 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs by 2030.
This was a remarkable demonstration that perhaps the evidence of the loss and the understanding of the disastrous consequences for humanity is beginning to make us perceive nature conservation not only as an ecological and moral issue, but also an economic, development, health and equity issue. Now, I call this a true cultural revolution.
Action and fast
WWF’s supporters, partners and colleagues around the world have grown, as have coalitions and alliances bringing together business, finance, environmental, humanitarian, Indigenous and development organizations.
But our annual review acknowledges also that in order to reverse nature loss by 2030 and deliver a nature-positive economy, awareness and commitments need to translate into action and fast. The leaders’ pledge must be followed in 2021 by the UN Global Biodiversity Framework, with clear targets and means of implementation.
In 2020 we have seen nature rise to the top of the business and political agenda, recognized as a major element of our strategy to deliver a safe future for humanity, and all life on Earth. Now we need to take action to halt and reverse the destruction of natural spaces on land and in the ocean, curb the decimation of wildlife, and green our economy to deliver a carbon neutral, nature-positive and equitable society.
The coming years will be a crucial test of whether humanity truly values nature — and is ready to act and embrace a truly sustainable future where both people and nature thrive. If there has ever been an opportunity to heal our relationship with nature, and build a safe future for our children, that opportunity is now.