- Radio Davos is podcasting regularly from the COP26 climate summit.
- On this episode: climate change and biodiversity loss.
- An African agro-forester on the Great Green Wall; cosmetics firm Natura on working with the Amazon; UN biodiversity chief on nature risk disclosure.
Every six seconds, an area of tropical forest the size of a football pitch is destroyed and over the last year an area of forest the size of the United Kingdom disappeared.
Forests provide habitats for nature, soak up and store carbon dioxide, and provide many other benefits to humanity - so stopping and reversing deforestation is vital in our fight against the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.
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On this episode of Radio Davos, we hear from leaders at the COP26 climate summit as they agree to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by the end of the decade, pledging $19 billion in public and private funds.
And we go beyond the conference walls to hear how people in the real world are combatting deforestation and biodiversity destruction: Tabi Joda, a forester in Cameroon who is helping plant the Great Green Wall - reforesting a strip right across the southern edge of the Sahara desert; cosmetics maker Natura & Co on how it sources ingredients from the Amazon without destroying it; and Elizabeth Mrema, the head of the UN’s biodiversity convention, on a new plan to get companies to report on their impact on the natural world.
Here are transcripts of this episode's interviews:
The forester: Tabi Joda
I went to school, I went to university partly with income that came from cutting down trees, selling firewood or selling timber. This is a challenge that affects almost every family in this region. So I felt very guilty when I came back from university - that I was supported by money from degradation of the landscape.
[I thought] why don't I become part of the solution to restoring this landscape? So that it can be a generational transition from the dominancy of cutting and leaving to degrade, to reviving, restoration and conservation. Reforestation still remains a very no-regret long-term solution. It is a cost-effective, most community-friendly, most climate-smart activity that the world can truly invest in.
Over the last five years, we have some critical milestones in the restoration of hundreds of landscapes that have held a critical mass of vulnerable people from migrating across the Sahara, where they are often dying in the Mediterranean.
We have a holistic solution, and part of that is the restoration mission that I am championing - the Billion Trees for Africa for the Great Green Wall - constitutes a huge opportunity for the global system to actually invest in.
How can forests create economic opportunities for people?
Once we restore lands, we create green growth opportunities and ecosystem services benefits that create a holistic set of opportunities. And in these opportunities lies the potential for jobs, especially in landscape restoration, where you see different forest services, products and practises creating demand and supply that necessitates different people to participating in the process. Once we match these green growth opportunities and ecosystem services benefits, we create those huge microeconomic opportunities wherein lie the jobs and the incomes and the dignity.
As an indigenous agro-forester, what are you hoping for from COP26?
The degradation in the Sahel in Africa also affects Europe and America. People are migrating, driven by resource scarcity or resource-driven violence. It should send a strong signal to our friends and partners and families and brothers in Europe that it is not only a challenge for Africa. It is a contagion that will probably leave from Africa for Europe and America - as we already see in the floods devastating communities. That is to tell you that when your neighbour's house is on fire, you have to participate in extinguishing that fire. Otherwise, the next one will be your house. So Africa is currently on fire. Europe, America and the entire world should be behind us or should be with us extinguishing this fire. Climate change is a huge risk multiplier, a risk driver that is affecting everyone. We've seen the floods in Europe. We've seen catastrophic destruction across the Sahel in Africa and in China and in Latin America and Asia. All of these should be the strong signals that remind our leaders that the COP should not be a talk shop. It should rather be a melting pot of new ideas and disruptive conversations that will drive the new momentum that we need for action in limiting the catastrophic effects and impacts of climate change this time around. So I say: No more talk. Listen to science. Be more realistic. Let the COP be the COP for the people, not the COP for the few.
The manufacturer: Natura & Co
Natura produces out of Amazon bio-ingredients 300 million bars of soap each year. We build products in a way that really takes into account the biodiversity and the connection that those products can have and should have with natural ingredients and with the forest as a whole.
Can you give us an example of an ingredient you source directly from the Amazon?
There is a tree in the Amazon called ucuuba. The ucuuba tree used to be a tree that was cut down by the communities to be sold to produce broomsticks and roofs in the richest areas of Brazil, and the community would get around 10 reals per tree that was sold for its wood. Natura was already there, sourcing castagna from that community, and studied the ucuuba tree and its seeds and understood that the seed had hydrating power that was even stronger than castagna. So the seed of ucuuba could become a new line of products, and we could pay the communities three times more for half of the seeds that a tree would produce per year than what the community would get for the wood of the tree that would be sold to the wood industry. When we proposed to buy the seeds instead of the tree, the communities stopped cutting the tree down and started to to plant new trees so they would get more money to sell more seeds. And then so the line was created. It was a big success with consumers, and the communities were planting more and more instead of cutting down. I think that explains quite well what the mindset of producing sustainably represents for Natura.
Can you give us an idea of how you get those ingredients that grow deep in the jungle?
It is important to state that it's not like they're living in a place where you have all the ingredients available at their hands. It takes weeks on boats to get where the products, where the fruits, come from. It's a very delicate and artisanal process that respects the cycle of nature. So it's super important for us to learn how to operate in that environment where you do not have everything you need available at all times. You have to respect seasonality, you have to respect that this will be available and sometimes won't be available. And to learn how to do things that will allow those societies to flourish in their own ways. So to create ways for them to get better health, better education and better connectivity as well so they can stay in their communities because they choose to do so and not because they were born there, and that's the only option that they had in life.
We operate close to Belem, which is a capital in the Amazon region, and that's where we produce in what we call the eco park - an industrial facility with the ultimate sustainable capacities. That's where the fruits and the seeds of the forest are taken to and the value is added by transforming them into bars and soap.
Has the pandemic taught us any lessons that we can now apply to climate change and biodiversity?
We live in a moment where we have a decision to make: if we want to bring the planet to many generations, or if we just want to keep on living and denying that there is a problem. I think we learnt something really important in the last two years with COVID. We had this problem that was invisible and suddenly it became not only totally visible, but it created many losses. And I speak from a region that has suffered a lot with the pandemic. It allowed us to create solutions that would take us into a different direction in record time. Vaccines that would take 10 to 15 years were developed in two years. I think that's probably what we should be thinking when we talk about the climate crisis and the nature loss crisis, and those crises are totally connected. The climate crisis is created by our capacity to expand consumption and to expand our way of living in a way that does not respect the planet's boundaries - we are seeing already the results of it with floods, fires. So our capacity to change that is totally connected to our capacity to regenerate the economy and to do things on a different way.
How important is COP26 to you?
Nature & Co will be in Glasgow, on different panels with one message to bring to COP, which is we should get the Amazon in the Paris Agreement: taking seriously the question of the laws of nature and how that impacts the whole carbon agreement.
When we hear things like 'we should take care of coal and cars and cash', we think actually what we should be doing would be taking care of people, nature and then coal and cars and cash. It's super important to restate the order of things. There is a lot of discussions on the carbon market. They are super important. They but they should really take into account where the planet is and how the planet boundaries are placed. And one of the biggest boundaries that we have is our capacity to remove carbon, and tropical forests are the biggest carbon removers on the planet. And we are not taking that discussion as serious as we should. If we keep on doing what we are doing with tropical forests, there will be no way for us to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius on global warming. There is the need to reverse the tipping point that the Amazon is reaching, and the Amazon is about to reach a tipping point where nothing will be able to be done after that. So it's time to act now.
The UN biodiversity chief: Elizabeth Mrema
Loss of biodiversity is at an unprecedented rate in the history of humankind? About 1 million species may be extinct by the end of this century. That shows the magnitude. Sixty-six percent of the ocean is polluted. Eighty-five percent of wetlands are being lost. Seventy-five percent of land is being degraded. So all of these statistics are really scary. Scientists are telling us this is our last decade: we either make it or perish with it, and I don't think me and you want to perish and leave our children with nothing.
What is the Taskforce on Nature Related Financial Disclosures that you co-chair?
Different businesses, especially when we look at agriculture, infrastructure, food and beverages - all these activities have an impact on nature or biodiversity. This taskforce intends to bring together financial institutions, corporates, insurance, asset management, investors, to look at the risks from their activities on nature. So 'nature-related risks' - how they can be effectively able to manage, measure their exposure to those risks and the impacts of their activities on nature. Assuming that able to do that, then to be able to manage and disclose or report on those risks. And this becomes even more important because recent studies clearly tell us half of global GDP - $44 trillion dollars - is highly or moderately dependent on nature. So there's a lot of money there, and this is where managing the risks and the impacts on nature comes in.
Companies disclose their financial accounts, things like profit and loss, assets and liabilities. What you're putting together would be a way for them to disclose the impact they're having on nature. How would that work?
Many companies are not yet aware or knowledgeable of the impacts of their activities on nature. What this taskforce will do to bring that information, to bring that knowledge, to enable companies to take an informed decision. And once they get that knowledge in a transparent manner, to be able to manage the risks, to assess those risks. And once they're able to assess their risks on nature it will mean also what impacts their activities [are having] on nature. As the result of those impacts, because of the economic value of their activities, what might they be losing as the result of not managing those risks? And how then can they manage those risks so that the impacts are less and yet continue to benefit from the opportunities that nature provides?
Why would a company want to adopt these guidelines?
The taskforce is composed of 30-35 members. Companies and financial institutions are seeing the benefits of their own engagement. Two: the taskforce is market-led and we wanted the market themselves, the operators of the markets, to be responsible for the development of the framework so that they can own it and be ready then to test it. Initially it will apply on a voluntary basis but we hope over time mandatory requirements can be imposed. And we see some countries have already put in place regulations pushing or urging companies to disclose their impacts on nature.
What would you say to a sceptic who would say this is a bunch of big businesses seeming to be doing something about it. The accusation from a sceptic would be: isn't this part of a campaign of greenwashing?
What I will say is: let us give them an opportunity in terms of time. One big positive from them is being ready to engage. And the fact that they are ready to engage is also accepting that they need to assess and manage their risks. So agreeing to do this, I think we need to give them benefit of doubt. What will happen once they've completed their work, the framework is in place, it has been tested, and how their voluntary application of the framework will be and how long it will take to move from voluntary to mandatory application. So I think we give them the benefit of doubt, but directions, the roadmap looks very positive, in view of the fact that they are already on board and ready to engage.
There's already a Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. How does your work on biodiversity fit with that?
The Taskforce on Nature Related Risk does not intend to reinvent the wheel. We are building upon and learning from the foundations from the task force on climate related risk.We don't want to duplicate. We don't want to reinvent the wheel. Even our governance structure has borrowed heavily from the task force on climate related financial disclosure. And we hope by the time we produce our framework after two years in 2023, then the two frameworks will be complementary to each other because we don't want companies to feel overwhelmed by too many frameworks.
How confident are you that the Taskforce on Nature Related Financial Disclosures will actually have an impact on the biodiversity crisis?
Whether that can happen soon is a question mark. But whether that can happen? I can say I'm confident. Because biodiversity, nature is for all of us - not just for those companies - it is for me and you and our children and families. So if we take that into context, all of us have an interest to ensure that we are all living in this clean nature environment. Two: the fact that now we are having the financial institutions and corporates engaged in the work of the Taskforce on Nature Related [Financial Disclosures' gives me that hope of seeing the shift of financial flows from nature-negative outcomes to nature-positive outcomes over time.
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