Climate and Nature

How a nature-forward global economy can tackle both instability and inequality

Nowhere is the importance of nature more acutely evident than in Brazil.

Nowhere is the importance of nature more acutely evident than in Brazil. Image: Matthias Koch/Unsplash

Achim Steiner
Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Tatiana Rosito
Secretary of International Affairs, Ministry of Finance of Brazil
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Economic-environmental balance can yield $10 trillion business value, generate 395 million jobs by 2030 and alleviate inequality.
  • The UNDP's Nature Pledge and Brazil's Amazon Security Plan showcase progress towards a nature-positive economy.
  • Empowering Indigenous communities can aid conservation, addressing inequality for planetary survival.

Human life on Earth is currently at odds with the survival of the planet itself. Human activity – from conflict to commerce and construction to farming and fossil fuel use – is depleting the very natural resources upon which all of us depend.

Destructive, extractive and unsustainable practices have meant wildlife populations have plummeted by around 70% since 1970, and natural ecosystems like wetlands, lakes and rivers by nearly 50%. Remarkably, almost one-third of freshwater species face extinction.

Threats to the sustainable supply and security of our natural resources are contributing to rising levels of instability and growing social and economic inequality. Half of global GDP – $44 trillion – is dependent on nature to some extent. Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse are cited by the WEF Global Risks Report 2024 as one of the top three risks over the next decade and could result in a decline in global GDP of $2.7 trillion annually by 2030. Such an economic downturn would have a devastating effect on poverty, security, social well-being, and equality.

Ending the current trade-off between the economy and the environment is therefore fundamental to a new paradigm for global development that will not only preserve the world we live in but improve it for everyone.

Nowhere is the importance of nature more acutely evident than in Brazil. The country’s diverse ecosystems – from the Amazon rainforest to the Pantanal wetlands and the Cerrado savannah – play critical roles as environmental bellwethers and as the lifeblood of Indigenous communities and local economies. They also support Brazil’s agricultural productivity, which helps feed the world. The Amazon alone provides an estimated $317 billion in ecosystem services to Brazil and beyond.

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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

The need to reconcile economic goals with environmental protections underpins Brazil’s ambitious Ecological Transformation Plan, announced in August 2023, which has the backing of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The plan includes significant investment in the bioeconomy and an energy transition to drive jobs and productivity with leadership in environmental sustainability and social justice.

As Brazil takes on the presidency of the G20 for 2024 and COP30 climate talks in 2025, the country has an opportunity to lead by example with a new, nature-forward model for development that sustains the environment as well as the economy to tackle instability, inequality and planetary survival. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has already set the stage for such a transition that delivers across three interconnected priorities for Brazil’s G20 presidency: fighting hunger, poverty and inequality; the energy transition and sustainable development; and global governance reform.

Achieving this kind of shift starts with enshrining protections for nature to help rebalance rights and access to natural resources around the world, minimising conflict and instability.

Legal, policy and financial tools can act as deterrents and incentives to reduce the destruction of nature, and initial steps in this direction were recently made at the UN General Assembly, where the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment was formally recognised. In Brazil, new initiatives such as a sustainable taxonomy, the enactment of a regulated carbon market and the launching of sovereign sustainable bonds, among other incentives, are setting the stage for an economic development that is also in harmony with nature and decarbonization.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about nature?

Last year, the Brazilian government announced a new Amazon Security and Sovereignty Plan to help protect the rainforest from land grabs, illegal mining and logging, part of ongoing efforts to curb deforestation that fell to a five-year low in 2023. This included the creation of the National Public Security Force's Environmental Operations Company.

However, more governments and international agencies must adopt and enforce meaningful environmental protections to prevent nature from becoming collateral damage in the global economy. Not only does this reduce the threat of economic instability but properly managed natural ecosystems are also critical to reducing the risk of disasters and shocks such as floods and forest fires.

UNDP’s Nature Pledge was launched in 2023 to support countries to fulfil the goals of the Global Biodiversity Framework in a way that also supports their national development priorities.

By restoring the balance between economic and environmental goals, countries worldwide would be better placed to reduce inequality.

A new nature-positive economy could generate more than $10 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs by 2030, helping to end poverty, which exacerbates inequality. That is being advanced through efforts like the G20 Sustainable Finance Working Group, which aims to help set the conditions to channel game-changing finance to the Sustainable Development Goals and key areas like nature. Indeed, new bonds tied to climate change and nature also hold enormous potential, exemplified by Brazil, which has issued its first-ever green bond valued at $2 billion, raising vital finances that can be invested in nature. A future-ready economy is even more important for regions where the youth population is rising fastest, such as Africa, and in countries like Brazil where more than 40% of the population is under 30.

Moreover, addressing inequality can help reduce environmental degradation. Empowering Indigenous peoples, and especially women, can have positive effects on conservation. For instance, look to the Instituto Zág, an Indigenous youth-led organization in Brazil whose efforts focus on the reforestation and preservation of traditional knowledge of the valuable Araucaria tree.

With reductions in both instability and inequality, a nature-forward economy would therefore ensure planetary survival, providing for the global population while also helping to mitigate climate change, reverse biodiversity loss and protect natural resources for generations to come.

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How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

UNDP and the Government of Brazil are aligned in transitioning to a nature-forward economy to lay the foundations of a new, successful era for global development, which is now more urgent than ever.

Brazil’s new Amazon dream and UNDP’s Nature Pledge are the first steps in a journey towards a secure, prosperous and liveable planet for all living beings.

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Climate and NatureDavos Agenda
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