- We know we must tackle our environmental crises within the next decade.
- This Earth Overshoot Day, however, nature has never been higher on the business and finance agenda.
- Here are three reasons to be optimistic.
Today marks Earth Overshoot Day – the date when our global demand for nature’s resources in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate. This year, that date is 22 August, meaning that as of today, we’re in the red.
It’s clear that nature is at a tipping point. More than 1 million species are threatened by extinction, 75% the world’s land and 66% of the marine environment is significantly altered by humans, and the temperature is expected to rise between 2.6°C and 3.9°C. The science is clear; the environmental crisis must be tackled within this decade if we are to build a thriving future.
To meet the urgency of this crisis, 2020 was supposed to be a ‘Super Year’ for nature. Key negotiations were planned, at which international agreements to reverse nature loss would be adopted, similar to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
But 2020 brought other challenges. COVID-19 has demonstrated the consequences of a world that lives beyond the planet's limits and the need for resilience in our systems. It has become clear that the crises of nature, climate, human health and social inequality cannot be addressed in isolation.
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Despite the postponement to 2021 of those key negotiations, reversing nature loss is gaining attention as we emerge from these interconnected crises. Here are three signs of hope for our future.
1. Some countries are leaning on nature to Build Back Better
The current pandemic has been linked to the overexploitation of natural resources and wildlife. Some governments are greening their COVID-19 recovery packages in order to strengthen resilience to future shocks by incentivizing nature and climate-friendly solutions and adopting nature policies.
This year, for example, China and Viet Nam have banned the wildlife trade. South Korea’s newly elected government secured $130 billion for a 'New Deal'. Pakistan is hiring out-of-work labourers to plant trees, while India's stimulus package includes a $780 million fund to support the rural and semi-urban economy through afforestation. Malawi has announced it will dedicate 1.5% of its domestic budget to a Youth Forest Restoration Programme.
In Europe, the 'Next Generation EU' recovery plan will direct 30% of the plan's total €750 billion ($895 billion) budget towards green initiatives. Its Farm to Fork Strategy will contribute €20 billion per year towards the creation of a “fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system” which includes a target to increase organically-farmed land by 25%. Germany will dedicate a third of its €130 billion recovery budget to sustainable investments.
2. Nature is climbing up the business agenda
Thriving businesses and resilient economies rely on nature. According to the World Economic Forum, $44 trillion of economic value generation is moderately or highly exposed to nature loss and addressing the nature crisis could generate 395 million jobs by 2030. Despite the current pandemic, leading companies are bringing nature higher up their agendas and are committing, acting and advocating to reverse nature loss. Business for Nature currently knows of 400 companies that have made ambitious and time-bound commitments and more than 1,200 companies with concrete actions on nature.
Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen many companies paving the way for transformation. Microsoft announced a new 'Planetary Computer' aimed at aggregating global environmental data to aid in decision-making. In June, Unilever launched a €1 billion Climate and Nature Fund and committed to a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023. Cosmetics giant Natura&Co have released their 2030 Vision, pledging to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and zero-deforestation in the Amazon. Kering unveiled its new Biodiversity Strategy, which includes a commitment to a net-positive impact on biodiversity by 2025. Danone became the first listed company to adopt the French legal framework 'entreprise à mission', leading to a new governance arrangement to oversee the progress of its environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. And 11 French companies such as Vinci, EDF and LVMH have increased the ambition of their biodiversity commitments through Act4Nature International.
Similar movement can be seen in the finance sphere. In response to the crisis, we are seeing an investment increase in ESG funds that attracted net inflows of $71.1bn globally between April and June 2020. In these three months, ESG investments exceeded the combined flows of the previous five years.
3. Businesses are calling for collective action and on governments to raise the ambition level for nature and climate
These government policies and examples of business action are promising, but they are not enough. We need to urgently scale and speed up efforts to address the interconnected emergencies of nature loss, climate change and inequality together. Neither governments nor the private sector can solve these crises in isolation, and thus political leadership is needed to spur more business action and ambition.
Earth Overshoot Day is a strong reminder that we are collectively putting the earth under ever-increasing pressure. Businesses are uniting and calling upon governments to adopt a new deal for nature and people with accompanying policies to reverse nature loss that would help create a level playing field, contribute to a stable operating environment and unlock new business opportunities. In April of this year, 37 companies and business associations showed their support for the European Alliance for a Green recovery, which calls for an acceleration of the transition towards climate neutrality and healthy ecosystems. In May, 90 French and international companies called on governments to deliver a recovery plan driving an ecological transition. In July, investors managing a combined $4.6 trillion in assets urged the Brazilian government to stop deforestation in the Amazon.
In addition, companies are calling for policy ambition and collective action to reverse nature loss by 2030, through Business for Nature’s Call to Action: “Nature is everyone’s business.” If you are a company, sign up to the Call to Action by 1 September to demonstrate a strong business voice for nature at the UN Biodiversity Summit on 30 September and beyond.
These are real reasons for hope. But now governments have the responsibility to prepare for both the short-term and long-term together. They need to make their recovery plans more targeted towards greater resilience and environmental sustainability, as well as adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework to reverse nature loss by 2030. Businesses have the responsibility to value and embed nature in their decision making and disclosure processes to protect, restore and sustainably use natural resources.
As a result of the economic slowdown of COVID-19, this year’s Earth overshoot day is 24 days later than in 2019 - however, “true sustainability can only be achieved by design, not disaster”. Let’s work collectively to contribute to this design, and to ensure that by 2030, Earth Overshoot Day is an event of the past.