Nature and Biodiversity

Biodiversity: 5 'nature-positive' trends to watch out for

Nearly 190 countries agreed to halt and reverse nature and biodiversity loss at COP15 in Montreal.

Nearly 190 countries agreed to halt and reverse nature and biodiversity loss at COP15 in Montreal. Image: Unsplash/Ivars Utināns

Jack Hurd
Executive Director, Tropical Forest Alliance, World Economic Forum
Nicole Schwab
Co-Head, Nature Positive Pillar; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
Akanksha Khatri
Head, Nature and Biodiversity, World Economic Forum
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One Trillion Trees

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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This article was has been updated. It was originally published on 12 January 2023.

  • ‘Nature positive’ broadly means halting and reversing nature loss by 2030 and last year we saw the term gaining traction.
  • A new study, published in the Royal Society journal, Proceedings B, has analysed trends in populations of more than 600 different species of birds and mammals.
  • The findings show that we may be further down the line towards biodiversity loss than previously thought.
  • Here are five trends that we can expect to see over the course of 2023 to accelerate the protection, management and restoration of nature.

‘Nature positive’ broadly means halting and reversing nature loss by 2030 and last year we saw the term gaining traction. Its implications for our planet are a hotly-contested topic right now, but it's becoming nature’s version of net zero – a term which is firmly in the public consciousness when it comes to climate change.

Most recently, a new study, published in the Royal Society journal, Proceedings B, has analysed trends in populations of more than 600 different species of birds and mammals, showing that we may be further down the line towards biodiversity loss than previously thought.

The landmark Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which came out of the UN’s COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal in December 2022, is a step in the right direction, with almost 190 countries agreeing to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, including protecting a third of the planet by the same date.

This is an ambition which needs every government and every industry to contribute to in order for the nature-positive agenda to succeed. Targets for what’s been dubbed the ‘Paris Agreement’ for nature and biodiversity will be turned into national action plans and business contribution plans. There is no time to waste.

As the world shifts towards achieving the targets agreed in Montreal, we will see some key trends that will quicken the protection, management and restoration of nature. The private sector’s role in this global movement will be discussed at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

Now more than ever, business must have an in-depth understanding of biodiversity trends and its role for action in nature.

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Integrated approaches to stopping deforestation will increase

There is no way to reach our goals of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC without stopping and reversing deforestation and the conversion of other ecosystems. This means transforming our food and land use systems.

Despite some positive trends, such as the declining rate of deforestation in Indonesia, the overall picture remains bleak. For example, research tells us just how dangerously close we are to a 'tipping point' in the Amazon, where large swathes of rainforest will shift to a drier savannah-like ecosystem.

In the same way that we have to take carbon out of the energy sector, we have to take deforestation out of the food system – and particularly the production of agricultural commodities.

Many corporate commitments have been made in this regard, but to truly de-couple commodity production from deforestation requires new models that integrate public policy, corporate practice and innovative finance.

Transparency within supply chains is also critical so that organizations can be held accountable. At COP27, 14 companies with substantial control over the global trade in cattle, palm oil and soy released a roadmap to de-couple the production and sourcing of these products from deforestation.

Reaction to the roadmap was mixed, but it is important because it embodies cross-sector action and because it lays out commodity-specific implementation plans to eliminate deforestation from supply chains by 2025, without which these commitments remain vague.

The roadmap is one part of a wider puzzle that requires action from governments, the financial community, civil society groups and other supply chain actors. Taking an integrated approach to developing production models is something we must see more of in 2023.

As consumer country initiatives like the EU’s new legislation on deforestation take force – and multiply – the need for taking an integrated approach is even stronger. Corporate action, public policy and innovative finance mechanisms must be designed and implemented in a way where all stakeholder needs are considered.

Pace, scale and quality will increase in forest restoration

The momentum around conserving and restoring one trillion trees by 2030 is building, but the quality of restoration projects cannot be compromised by speed and scale. Projects gone wrong and accusations of greenwashing have increased the focus on project quality, including native biodiversity, survival rates and long-term resilience.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the Trillion Trees movement started; the idea of planting trees as a means of combating climate change and promoting environmental sustainability has been around for many years.

However, the specific focus on planting trees and restoring degraded forest landscapes has gained significant attention and support by all aspects of society, including the private sector, in recent years.

In support of the UN Decade of Restoration, hundreds of companies, governments and not-for-profit organizations have pledged to conserve and restore trees in every corner of the globe.

China committed last year to aim to plant and conserve 70 billion trees, and in the Sahel the African Union’s Great Green Wall initiative aims to restore 100 million hectares of land, both by 2030.

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Through the 1t.org platform alone, more than 80 companies have pledged to conserve, restore and grow more than 7 billion trees in over 65 countries.

In 2023, we will start to see results on the ground, as forestry teams around the world turn growing climate pledges into real forests. Companies are beginning to move away from funding tree plantations with very few native species, bearing little resemblance to real, biodiverse forests and towards better quality restoration.

This means more diversity of planted species, better consideration of the ecosystem, and planning for the long-term resilience of forests to environmental shocks such as drought or fire.

As more pledges are made next year, under greater scrutiny, there will be a chorus of forestry teams, businesses and communities ensuring the trillion trees movement is backed by quality restoration programmes bringing long-term benefits to ecosystems and people.

Biodiversity credits will increasingly finance the nature-positive agenda

To protect and restore nature, it has been estimated that there is an annual financing gap of around $700 billion dollars – for which a mix of public, private and blended finance interventions is needed.

One of the promising ways that businesses can support the protection, restoration and sustainable management of nature and the acceleration towards meeting the targets in the Global Biodiversity Framework is through biodiversity credits. These are a type of environmental credit that aim to protect or enhance biodiversity, such as reforestation projects, habitat banks or the protection of critical habitats.

These credits are different from current carbon or biodiversity offsets, which are based on a perverse mechanism whereby organizations can get financial value by extracting and subsequently restoring nature, but they don’t have a financial incentive not to extract and protect it in the first place.

Since offsets require “like-for-like” transactions and, unlike CO2 emissions, biodiversity is not fungible at the global scale, biodiversity credits serve as an additional or parallel step in the mitigation hierarchy. Biodiversity credits allow companies to fund longer-term resilience measures in the ecosystems on which their sourcing and production activities depend.

In 2023, we can expect progress in defining the new rules and governance that will be key for the emerging biodiversity credits market. To do so, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and can learn from the drawbacks and opportunities of the carbon market, and from existing conservation and restoration initiatives.

The World Economic Forum along with key partners will be setting out principles for high-integrity biodiversity credits, as well as building a coalition of those willing to invest in biodiversity credits not to offset their negative impact but to mitigate risks and build long-term resilience.

The power of urban environments to restore nature and improve public health will be unlocked

The exponential growth of our towns and cities have provided economic opportunity to billions of people, but it has come at the cost of the health of ecosystems both locally and globally. Some 80% of cities face climate risks ranging from extreme heat and heavy rainfall to drought and flooding.

Cities, through initiatives such as BiodiverCities by 2030, are now taking on these challenges, understanding the potential of nature-based solutions as infrastructure, and making better use of their natural systems, such as urban forests and wetlands, for example, to tackle urban heat islands or better control floods.

An increasing number of governments are integrating nature into their urban planning. There are many cities around the world that are using urban forests as part of their strategy to address heat islands and inequalities. For example, the city of Los Angeles is using urban forests to provide shade, improve air quality and reduce the urban heat island effect, alongside improving tree equity in poorer communities.

Between now and 2050, our planet will welcome an additional three billion people, and nearly 70% of this global population will live in cities. Despite proven benefits, less than 0.3% of current spending on urban infrastructure goes into nature-based solutions.

2023 will see more town planners, in partnership with the private sector, than ever before incorporating the protection and restoration of natural habitats, the use of green infrastructure and transport, and sustainable land use into their work.

Indigenous knowledge will better guide conservation and restoration

One-third of the world’s territories are owned or governed by Indigenous peoples and local communities, with 91% of that land classed as being in good or fair ecological condition. Not partnering with these communities is no longer a viable option for anyone engaging in these landscapes, who must use that local and cultural knowledge in both the conservation and restoration of this land.

Investment decisions of the future are more likely to succeed when it is recognized that society is nature and nature is society, and that Indigenous peoples and local communities are best able to speak for that relationship, as they bring with them the culture, wisdom and science that informs it.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about nature?

More and more businesses are understanding and acknowledging the power imbalances and inequalities of the past and present. Of the utmost importance is the need to ensure that any investment project respects both the rights and responsibilities of Indigenous peoples in their landscapes.

This year, we will see the value and importance of Indigenous peoples’ perspectives on nature increasingly being discussed on the world stage – a trend which has grown in recent years.

And we’ll see more businesses paying attention to these perspectives. A new report by the World Economic Forum aims to support leaders to do this, setting out the reasons why Indigenous people should be at the heart of solving the nature crisis.

Clear goals for the restoration of nature

Thanks to Montreal we now have clear goals for the protection and restoration of nature by 2030, as a fundamental complement and key prerequisite for limiting global warming to 1.5ºC.

Right now, one-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest companies have already committed to net-zero targets on greenhouse gas emissions. But businesses must also make commitments to nature.

Securing a nature-positive world means more nature must exist in 2030 than there was in 2020. Every part of society is responsible for this, and the above five trends will help to steer our collective course towards our goal.

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