Climate Action

Why 2020 is the year to reset humanity’s relationship with nature

A man watches a bushfire burning on the Kurnell Peninsula, during an unseasonably warm start to Spring, on Sydney's southern coast, Australia September 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC18DF465EB0

This year's bushfires in Australia have been unprecedented. Image: REUTERS/Jason Reed

Marco Lambertini
Convener, Nature Positive Initiative
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Nature and Biodiversity

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Biodiversity loss is in top-5 global risks in authoritative new survey.
  • In 2020, raft of big decisions to be taken on our relationship with nature.
  • Business has a big interest in ensuring we stop degrading environment.

The pace of change over the past 50 years has been extraordinary. The global economy has expanded four-fold, over a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, we live significantly longer and childbirth mortality had significantly dropped. However, this 19th and 20th century model of economic growth has come at a significant cost to nature.

Globally, nature is declining at rates unprecedented in human history, with up to 1 million species at risk of extinction due to human activity. Unprecedented forest fires - from the Arctic to the Amazon, Africa, Australia - have killed billions of animals, destroyed lives and wiped out huge areas of forest. Since 1970, there has been a 60% average population decline across all vertebrate species. Over the same period, we have lost more than half of the world’s coral reefs and over a third of all wetlands. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, both intensifying extreme weather events and nature loss and putting efforts to meet the goals of Paris Agreement further off course.

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It is then no surprise that the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020 ranked biodiversity loss as one of the top five risks in terms of impact and likelihood over the coming decade. For the first time in planetary history, humans are the driver of climate and environmental change or what is being called by the scientists as the Anthropocene. Earth system scientists and researchers predict that if current rates of nature destruction continue unabated, some biomes (e.g. tundra, grasslands, coral reefs, forests, deserts) may cross irreversible tipping points. For example, nearly 17% of forest cover in the Amazon has been destroyed since 1970. If the rate of forest loss continues, and 20% to 25% of the forest is lost, scientists warn that the region will get pushed into a state of savannah, releasing billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and leading to increased droughts and huge losses in agricultural production.


How does the World Economic Forum encourage biological diversity?

UK economist Partha Dasgupta has acknowledged, “we economists see nature, when we see it at all, as a backdrop from which resources and services can be drawn in isolation”. We couldn’t agree more as challenges of nature loss are both wicked and non-linear. No single business and no single human on this planet can decouple its dependency from nature. The report Nature Risk Rising: Why the Crisis Engulfing Nature Matters for Business and the Economy shows that $44 trillion of economic value generation – over half the world’s total GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services, and therefore exposed to risks from nature loss. Intensive monocropping, industrial-scale fisheries and unsustainable construction have further exposed economies and societal well-being to nature-related risk.

Human activity is eroding the world's foundations
Nature is declining at rates unprecedented in human history Image: World Economic Forum

There is an urgent need to reset humanity’s relationship with nature. Over the coming year, a series of decisions are set to be taken that will define the direction of our planet’s future. With an agreement on a new 2030 global biodiversity framework, the definition of national contributions to the Paris climate targets and the opportunity to embrace nature based solutions under the UN Climate Convention, a new treaty on the use of living marine resources in high seas, we have a chance to bring the environmental and sustainable development agendas together and deliver an ambitious and science based New Deal for Nature and People.

As world leaders gather in Davos under the theme of “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World” there is a unique opportunity to adopt a growth model that is fit-for-purpose in the 21st century. With an increasing number of countries and companies working towards halting and reversing nature loss and securing a zero-net-emissions world by 2050, there is a unique opportunity to use the year 2020 to set in motion systemic changes for the coming decade towards a nature-positive economy. We must identify new mechanisms for financing and collaboration that are public-private and inspire a shared-narrative for halting, restoring and reversing the current trajectory of nature loss and climate change. Businesses create value to support a well-functioning society which in turn exists in delicate balance with the rest of the living beings on the planet. It is imperative that our business and economic structures reflect the necessity of maintaining this balance.

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