It’s time for all governments to commit to a set of sustainability targets aimed at protecting nature and biodiversity across the globe, agreed environmental and business leaders at the World Economic Forum on Africa.

During a session titled The Nature Economy, panelists discussed the fragile condition of the planet and the alarming loss of biodiversity, and the need to ramp up efforts on sustainability across Africa and the world. They expressed the hope that world leaders would sign a new set of commitments.

“We need to include strong protection and sustainability targets for nature. Those targets need to be signed. There’s no debate about that. They have to be signed. On climate, we have very clear direction and clear global targets. By 2020, we want the equivalent of the Paris Agreement, but for nature,” said Marco Lambertini, Director-General of WWF International.

At the Fourth UN Environmental Assembly in Nairobi in March, WWF called for a New Deal for Nature and People. This transformational agreement, planned for 2020, would be a vital step to ramp up global efforts to halt unprecedented and dangerous biodiversity loss.

Image: WWF Living Planet Report 2018/BBC

There are great synergies between climate and nature, as many of the solutions to tackling climate change are related to nature, such as forest, water and ocean conservation.

While the loss of biodiversity is staggering, speakers discussed avenues for hope. There is a sense of urgency among some leaders and an understanding of both the problem and its consequences. There is a better grasp that this is an issue with wide-ranging impacts, from public health to the economy.

The way we produce and consume food needs to be changed, as it is polluting water, depleting soil and causing health problems. There needs to be a new and sustainable way of looking at urban design and buildings, as people move increasingly to the cities and demands for energy and water increase.

How sustainable is the World Economic Forum on Africa 2019?

Awareness is key, while sustainable building practices and materials need to become commonplace. Recycling is important, but it is better to use sustainable materials, like wood, in the first place. “When you look at a building, you need to peel back the façade and think about the supply chain,” said Alan Ricks, Founding Principal and Chief Design Officer for the MASS Design Group.

The private sector also has an important role to play, especially in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The private sector can partner up and put pressure on governments. Multilateral institutions have also taken on the issue of environmental sustainability, which is very positive,” said Saif Malik, Regional Co-Head of Global Banking for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered Bank.

An endangered baby high mountain gorilla from the Sabyinyo family eats inside the forest within the Volcanoes National Park near Kinigi, in northwestern Rwanda, January 9, 2018. Picture taken January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya - RC1F2770FA10
National asset: A Rwandan gorilla
Image: REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Countries like Rwanda can show how protecting the natural environment can benefit economies. The country has taken strict measures to protect its gorillas, and it has paid off.

Clare Akamanzi, Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Development Board, said this shift had led to a 26% growth in the gorilla population and contributed to a boost in tourism, which contributes 10% of Rwanda’s GDP.

Nature can provide great economic benefits, especially in Africa, which has the greatest concentration of natural resources in the world.

“Nature is not a cost. It is an opportunity,” said André Hoffmann, Vice-Chairman of Roche.