The signs that we are damaging the planet are everywhere. Denuded forests empty of animals, plastic pollution clogging the oceans, and fewer bees to pollinate our crops, are all testament to the failure of our model of production and consumption to build a society in balance with nature. If we add the impacts of runaway climate change, it all seems very bleak.
We have to act now to stop the loss of biodiversity before things get out of control. The world has agreed to take steps to do this. In 2010, governments around the world adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. This plan and its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets represent a roadmap towards a sustainable future and are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Eight years on, many countries have translated these targets into actions that will make a difference for nature and biodiversity at the national level. But we know now that this is not enough to ensure that targets will be met – additional action is required.
The world needs to live up to the promises already made. We have a gap between ambition and implementation. The steps that have been taken to save biodiversity are not enough relative to the tremendous pressure we see, a pressure that will increase in the years to come.
In addition, responses to the biodiversity crisis have not yet connected biodiversity to major aspects of national economies. The actions taken across governments do not reduce impacts coming from sectors that are major drivers of biodiversity loss.
There needs to be greater work to engage with these sectors, to raise their awareness of the importance of biodiversity to their activities, and mobilise them to fulfill their role in building a sustainable future.
The conservation and sustainable development community needs to work more with the business sector to demonstrate the importance of healthy ecosystems and keeping nature intact for profits and productivity. Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems can disrupt supply chains.
At the same time, reputational risk from practices that are harmful to biodiversity can be a driver for better business practices. As the demand for sustainable supply chains increases, and consumers opt for more sustainable products, the risk of destroying biodiversity can become an issue for a company’s bottom line.
While many early adopters and business leaders are aware of these connections, we need to scale up the visibility of biodiversity in the wider business community in all countries of the world.
Even as the world moves towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its focus on disruptive technologies, there are opportunities to invest in innovative nature-based solutions, such as natural infrastructure for our burgeoning cities; and for the finance and insurance sector to support healthy ecosystems, to reduce the cost of natural disasters.
As Marco Lambertini, of WWF International said: “There is no human technology that can completely replace ‘nature’s technology’, which has been perfected over hundreds of millions of years in delivering key services to sustain life on Earth.”
There are pathways that can take us to towards a sustainable future. But these require transformational change, including changes in behaviour at the levels of producers and consumers, governments and businesses.
The societal and disruptive technological developments that we are witnessing now as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution can contribute to sustainability, or they can lead us away from it. We are all going to need to work more to understand the motivations and behaviour changes that can facilitate a shift towards sustainability.
However, reaching these joint objectives requires changes in society, institutions, organisations and individuals, the efficient use of land, water, energy and materials, and the rethinking of consumption habits.
Transformation of food systems can be a first step in this rethinking. Drivers linked to agriculture make up 70% of the projected loss of terrestrial biodiversity. Solutions for achieving sustainable farming and food systems are present, but need to be carried out. We need to restore ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes, reduce waste and losses in our food production and distribution systems, and try to shift consumption patterns towards the eating of less meat.
The solutions to agriculture are just one example of the need for coherent policies that take into account politics, culture and social norms, as well as economic incentives. We also have to be flexible, to be ready to address unexpected outcomes.
Technological solutions will be needed but these need to be chosen carefully. Disruptive technologies that we see in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – genetic sequencing, blockchain and others – can help bring about transformational changes, but relying on technological solutions alone has risks. Remember that biodiversity itself offers solutions. Green infrastructure for water supply, biological pest control, ecological restoration and other solutions are not only cost effective, they also provide additional benefits.
Above all, we need broad engagement and support from all parts of society, and both public and private actors working towards more sustainable production and consumption patterns. This is why it is exciting that the World Economic Forum now has an Environment Systems initiative and that biodiversity is a key part of this.
Leaders and influencers within the global environmental system need to collaborate to create a strategic, action-oriented agenda from 2018-2020. We need to correct our course by 2020, so this agenda must be more than just adding together individual initiatives from different sectors.
The next two decades will define the fate of our world, so the choices we make for the pathway to 2020, and 2030, will be extremely important. Between now and 2020, we have clear milestones for action on climate, oceans and biodiversity. We need to have better coordination across these agendas, and we need to start to develop the roadmap for a pathway to 2025 and 2030.