– Restoring damaged ecosystems is vital to avoid the collapse of nature’s most valuable contributions to people, but International Day for Biological Diversity 2020 should also be a wake-up call about the importance of addressing our social, economic and systemic values, because it is these that are driving the destruction of nature.
We are part of nature, but our choices and behaviours have pushed the rest of the natural world to the brink of disaster. Hunger, disease, loss of livelihoods and rising levels of risk and insecurity are the direct result of our own actions. To shift to a more sustainable future, the best-available expert evidence tells us that we need transformative change to reset our fundamental relationship with our environment.
This will require us to tackle the nature and climate emergencies directly and simultaneously, uniting behind both climate and biodiversity science. We have already hit ‘snooze’ for too many decades on the warnings of experts from every discipline and every region – further delays are entirely at our own peril.
Transformative change means a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors. It means addressing not just the direct and most visible threats to biodiversity – such as land-use change, overfishing, pollution, climate change and invasive alien species – but also tackling the values and behaviours that find expression through indirect drivers such as population trends, production and consumption patterns, weak governance and conflicts.
The way we lead our lives and do business has effectively been freeloading on the bounty that nature contributes to people, taking for granted the natural processes that revitalize our environment. Instead of living within our means, we’ve been using up more and more ‘natural capital’ – well beyond what nature can replenish – and it’s a debt that is now past due. This is one of the reasons that the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Risks Report recognized that the top five risks to business around the world are all environmental.
With the publication last year of the IPBES Global Assessment Report, science has spoken: the damage we do to nature can no longer ever be justified as an externality. When we harm nature, we directly hurt ourselves as well. When we fail to act as responsible stewards of the environment, it is our future that we jeopardise.
The good news, however, is that many sustainable solutions to these problems can also be found in nature – and are, therefore, still within reach. The efforts that many countries, organizations, communities and institutions have already put into recovering biodiversity are beginning to bear fruit.
It is important for us to learn from these good examples, and from our mistakes, to chart a realistic and rigorous path, with concrete actions, but based on our different national and regional circumstances.
Investing in nature holds great promise. Nature-based solutions to climate change, for instance, such as restoring degraded lands, can provide more than a third of the mitigation needed by 2030 to keep climate warming well below 2°C.
Implementing both existing and new policy instruments through interventions that are integrative, informed, inclusive and adaptive will enable the global transformation that we need.
Coordinated action at local, national, regional, and international levels is needed to safeguard remaining habitats, undertake large-scale restoration of degraded habitats, and more broadly to place nature at the heart of decision-making and sustainable development.
Importantly, this will also entail a change in our understanding of what constitutes a good quality of life – decoupling the idea of a good and meaningful life from ever-increasing material consumption and forging individual, collective and organizational actions towards sustainability.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unavoidable delay in the planned global negotiations on the post-2020 framework for biodiversity, but 2020 is still a “Super Year for Nature”. The world has had the chance this year to see very directly the importance of changing values, approaches and behaviours, and to better understand the vital connection between people and nature.
After this crisis we will confront a ‘new normal’ – hopefully this will also be a watershed moment with values, approaches and behaviours – the indirect drivers of change in nature – at the forefront of policy and action.
The available evidence makes it clear that going back to ‘business as usual’ – ignoring our collective impacts on nature – would be a grave mistake.
The burning question on this day to commemorate the importance of nature is if and when we will change and seriously face the emergencies unfolding around us.
Ana Maria Hernandez is the Chair of IPBES – the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which, much like the IPCC does for climate change, provides objective scientific assessments about the state of knowledge regarding the planet’s biodiversity, ecosystems and the contributions they make to people, as well as options and actions to protect and sustainably use these vital natural assets.