From harnessing solar energy to mastering self-assembly and temperature regulation, nature beats human ingenuity and engineering hands down. Nature is amazing, beautiful, terrifying, nourishing, essential — and smart.
Harare’s Eastgate office complex climate control design is based on a termite mound. The nose of the Shinkansen Bullet Train is modelled on the beak of a kingfisher. Prairie-inspired agricultural systems can match yields from conventional farming while improving water and soil.
Beyond inspiring innovative biomimicry and enterprise, nature sustains us. We are part of it. We rely on it for the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. It not only underpins our well-being and survival but also business and the global economy.
In the red
The sixth mass extinction in geological history is underway. WWF’s Living Planet Report reveals that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012. And we could witness a two-thirds decline by 2020.
While we are uncertain about how much we can lose before triggering ecological collapse, of nine ‘planetary boundaries’ which define a ‘safe operating space for humanity’, biodiversity loss and nitrogen pollution are judged already to have been crossed.
Most of the top risks identified in this year’s World Economic Forum Global Risks Report at Davos, from biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse to water crises and extreme weather events, were environmental.
Ecosystem services are worth trillions in natural capital. Pollinators alone, for example, contribute more than US $200 billion per year to the global food economy.
Conversely, natural disasters caused by human ecosystem disruption and climate change already cost more than $300 billion per year. And the UN Environment Programme estimates the cumulative economic impact of poor ocean management is at least $200 billion per year.
In reality, nature is priceless, and worth more than the sum of its parts.
In need of business champions
While much unique wildlife and habitat are destroyed by land cleared for soy, palm oil, livestock and timber, neither sustainable sourcing, resource stewardship and meeting 1.5°C climate targets, nor nature reserves and protected areas, are sufficient solution.
Reversing nature loss requires an integrated and systemic approach in which conserving the diversity of life on Earth is the primary focus rather than a bonus. A reductionist approach to environmental risks and dependencies will not work. In contrast, a holistic approach will reap benefits across sectors and borders.
What is missing is commercial imperative and political will. And just as business opportunity and investment were a key factor in securing a climate deal in Paris, they could now shape the politics of biodiversity and supercharge global efforts to reverse nature loss.
Will Beijing be the next Paris?
The good news is that we have an opportunity to make good.
In 2020, world leaders will take key decisions on the environment, climate and sustainable development that will set the agenda for the next decade.
For the 2020 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Beijing, replacement of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets will be central alongside prioritising SDGs 14 and 15 on Life below Water and Life on Land.
While the CBD has for a long time played second fiddle to its sibling convention on climate change, it is the only international legal instrument that seeks explicitly to protect the natural wealth of the planet.
The challenge for WWF and civil society is to make the CBD material for business. When 196 nations gather for COP14 in Sharm El Sheikh in November this year, we must do just this, building on current efforts.
At the same time, businesses that already see materiality in biodiversity must seize the opportunity and call for meaningful global governance of nature that helps secure a stable environment for enterprise and prosperity.
For companies aspiring to be global citizens, saving life on Earth is a legitimate business goal and engaging with global biodiversity governance the new frontier.
Our greatest challenge is meeting all our needs within the means of the planet. The world has woken up to climate change. Now it must do so to the need to reverse nature loss.