This year didn’t start with a good omen for the planet. Meanwhile, 2018 came in as the fourth-hottest year since records began, and the second-costliest year ever for extreme weather impacts. Previous years don’t provide solace either. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the 20 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1995; the five hottest have all come in the 2010s.
For climate change, it means the stakes couldn’t be higher and the need to act couldn’t be clearer. The final wake-up call came from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report late last year, which told us we have just 12 years to keep global warming within 1.5˚C if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.
That raises two important questions: One, how, if at all, can we meet this crucial deadline? And two, if we do, does it mean that all will be well with Planet Earth?
On climate change, the good news is that many studies, such as the New Climate Economy and the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, note that a more environmentally sustainable economy will also create jobs and secure better growth for the future. This work shows there is a win-win to be had, if we can organise ourselves better across business, government and civil society to work together more smartly.
Given the scale, urgency and interconnected nature of the environmental crises we face, these sorts of new collaborations will be vital. Everyone agrees that it will take more than Ministries of Environment alone to fix these problems, no matter how much money they are given. The entrepreneurism and resources of businesses large and small, civil society groups, innovators, banks, investors, mayors and many, many others also need to be tapped into.
To help do this, mobilising commitments to act - in line with the science - from the private sector, the finance community, cities and states, as well as from governments and NGOs, is key. Each of our organisations is deeply involved in making this new environmental action agenda come alive, as are many others too.
Climate action in 2019 will be mobilised around the UN Secretary General’s September Summit and then later in 2020 when the Paris Agreement on Climate is due to begin. The ocean agenda is getting significant mobilisation from initiatives such as the Friends of Ocean Action and the High-Level Panel on the Ocean, in time for a large UN Ocean conference likely in 2020; the food and land-use agenda is being spearheaded by the Food and Land Use Coalition; and the Tropical Forest Alliance and other related public-private forestry action agendas are working to speed up delivery of deforestation commitments, also due in 2020.
However, when it comes to the wellbeing of Planet Earth, we have been concerned that momentum around the biodiversity agenda has been slow, relative to these other environmental action agendas. Unlike the take-offs in climate, ocean, food or forest action, there has been less success so far in getting leaders from business, investors and innovators to work alongside governments and civil society and make things happen in biodiversity.
It’s not because a similar urgency for the planet’s ecosystems is absent. Our ocean - which absorbs 30% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions - is warming and becoming more acidic faster than any time in the last 300 million years. We are seeing catastrophic impacts on our coral reefs as the first indicator of rising temperatures. As acidification increases, it will make only things worse. The equivalent of one garbage truck’s-worth of plastic waste is dumped in the sea every minute, adding to the intolerable stress we are placing on life under water.
But there is more. Much of life on land is facing mass extinction too – analysis from the WWF 2018 Living Planet Report shows, incredibly, that the size of vertebrate populations across the Earth has declined by 60% on average between 1970 to 2014.
Cristiana Paşca-Palmer, the Executive Secretary of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) also raised this concern with us. With her leadership, the “Sharm-el-Sheik to Beijing Action Agenda for Nature and People” was launched at the most recent CBD conference. This important initiative aims to catalyse a groundswell of action from all sectors and stakeholders in support of biodiversity conservation and its sustainable use, while enabling the mapping of current global efforts to assess its impact and identify any gaps.
Against this backdrop, we need 2019 to be the year that sees a step-change in mobilising a wider public-private biodiversity action agenda. We need a “New Deal for Nature” to emerge.
What will this look like?
From our various discussions over the past few months with leaders from across the public, private and civil society sectors, many cite the success of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference and how wider groups of non-state actors, including businesses, mobilised to provide more momentum, innovation and political confidence ahead of it. This created a can-do feeling around the Paris meeting that captured the imaginations of heads of states, as well as leading climate negotiators and environment ministers.
Could a similar push on biodiversity action from across business and civil society be mobilised in time for the 15th CDB COP meeting in Beijing in 2020? This is a very important conference, as targets for nature for the decade 2020 to 2030 are to be agreed.
Further, a mobilisation would essentially redefine the biodiversity agenda (in a slightly different manner than the climate action agenda did), such that the rather technical frame of protecting biological diversity becomes broadened into a movement that sets out a “New Deal for Nature” – something that captures wider public, business and political imaginations, given the threat that our interconnected natural environment is under.
A movement has the combined power and influence to be able to identify a simple set of targets for action on nature that everyone can aim for – so-called “science-based targets” to which every business, investor, NGO, city and government can contribute by 2030, such that meeting them will slow down the damage we are doing to nature, and ultimately restore it to the level science says we need.
Ahead of the meeting, we will produce a report that sets out the risks we face to ourselves and our economy if we continue to destroy nature; and that sets out the opportunities to be had – especially for developing countries - if we slow down our destruction and restore the natural world.
We know first-hand that it is difficult for business and political leaders to find a simple, common and compelling approach to nature conservation which has benefits for society and the economy. Could such analysis help to bring together all the non-climate “biosphere” sustainable development goals (such as wetlands, forests and oceans) into a practical joined-up action strategy for business, investors and others to get behind?
Have you read?
This would help turn today’s lack of momentum around biodiversity into a wider movement; something that can rally many new actors from outside of the environmental community behind both a common storyline on the need for a nature action agenda and a common set of science-based targets, to which everyone can contribute.
This movement could gear itself up for a crescendo at the CBD COP in Beijing in 2020; and it could use that important conference as a springboard for a decade of delivery between 2020 and 2030 – 10 years of action that will slow down and then reverse our currently destructive relationship with nature, while promoting new pathways for growth, innovation and sustainable development.
This then is the New Deal for Nature. We are looking forward to using the 2019 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos to invite others to join and help shape it - and to get going. We don’t have time to stand still and watch whilst the nature around us literally burns.