October 19

Racing to reverse the loss of nature

Axel Kravatzky

The world is coming together to debate climate, nature, and biodiversity over the next month. Losing one part of nature, means losing all.  We review what is at stake at COP15 and COP26 and why they are critical at the start of this ‘last-chance’ decade.

We can be fairly confident that at the beginning of November this year, at the COP26, the ‘Climate COP’ in Glasgow, 196 of the world’s governments will commit collectively to reverse the current trend of still increasing greenhouse gas emission and that they will agree on a target of 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It’s an extremely tough challenge, but the number of companies, businesses, regions, investors, and many more who are signing up to the UN’s “race to zero” is increasing by the day. Momentum is building!

There are many worries about and challenges with COP26, but at least there is fairly wide-spread agreement on the scale of the target we need to achieve, and all around the world, including the Caribbean, we are discussing the rules and conditions of the ‘race’, nationally determined commitments, what companies need to report. Countries are putting monitoring, reporting, and verification systems in place, and Ministries are making plans for the just transition of the workforce. Estimates have been made for how much financial support for the transition is necessary and commitments have been made in the past. Unsurprisingly, action has not yet matched words but it is clear that costs will rapidly escalate, and matters will get a lot worse - fast. We can say that the world as a whole is largely clear that the days of incremental adjustments and business as usual are over.  

People are less aware of the fact that in addition to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, there is also the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Conference of the Parties to that Convention (COP) is starting tomorrow, 11 October in Kunming, China. That is COP15, the ‘Biodiversity COP’. This convention encompasses biodiversity as well as land, water, and oceans. COP15 problems are somewhat different from those of COP26. Many experts, associations, and companies believe that the COP15 (biodiversity) draft targets put forward for discussion are far too low, and jeopardize not only reaching the climate targets, putting half of the worlds GDP, $44 trillion, to moderate or severe risk, but biodiversity is at the core of what makes the earth habitable.

As with climate change, the challenge we are facing is enormous and we are already seeing and feeling the effects. At present about one million of the worlds estimated eight million species face extinction. That decline is putting the future of the planet and humanity at risk. About 70% of biodiversity loss comes through land-use change, habitat fragmentation, overexploitation, illegal wildlife trade and invasive species. To realize the scale of the challenge, and the opportunity, consider that over the next 30 years the world will need to produce 50% more food than today in order to feed the 10 billion people that will exist by then. At the same time, we will need to reduce the impact of food production by almost 70%.

These are staggering statistics and challenges. But it gets worse: in 2010, the 194 parties to the convention (the world’s governments) agreed to 20 targets – named the “Aichi targets” after the Japanese prefecture in which Nagoya located, the city where the signatories gathered. These target were as important as the Paris Climate Agreement – signed in 2015. However, none of these conservation targets to safeguard global biodiversity were reached and six only partially. Now, with the world in a worse state than it was eleven years ago, scientists and businesses are alarmed by the fact that governments - instead of increasing the targets so as to compensate for the additional damage - want to discuss targets that are substantially lower than those of eleven years ago.  

One of the biggest signs of hope comes from the fact that just like in the lead-up to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015, when the ‘We Mean Business Coalition’ mobilized leading business voices, we now have ‘Business for Nature’ which is doing the same, but for nature and biodiversity. The central message for climate change is to limit the earth’s warming to 1.5-degrees. When it comes to biodiversity, the central target for COP15 needs to be to reverse nature loss by 2030.

So far more than 900 companies have signed the ‘Nature is Everyone’s Business’ call to action – to reverse nature loss in this decade. For the avoidance of doubt, this means in the case of Trinidad and Tobago, nature loss is to be reversed during the course of this current and the next administration.

What we need is a ‘race to reverse the loss of nature;’ not least because without that, the ‘race to zero’ cannot be won. As with all races, there needs to be an agreed target and rules for the race. In the case of nature, the targets need to be clear and science-based, subsidies that are harmful to biodiversity eliminated, resources mobilized and allocated, and businesses innovating. Non-financial effects of organizations must be measured and assured to the same level of rigour as financial ones, and  socio-economic systems must be inclusive and create prosperity for all.  

This article is part of the "Purpose with Profit" Column and an earlier version was published in the business section of the Newsday (Trinidad & Tobago), Business Authority (Barbados). our.today (Jamaica), and The Voice Newspaper (Saint Lucia) in October 2021.

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