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Thomson Reuters

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Global Risks require urgent action on Climate and Nature

Marco Lambertini

19 Jan 2019

“These services provided by nature that people and businesses depend on, such as clean water, pollination or protection against floods, are estimated to be worth US$125 trillion per year – around two-thirds higher than global GDP. Too big to fail, you could say.”

While climate change captures most of the dramatic headlines, there is an underlying systemic risk building in the systems which support life on earth.  In this piece from Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, we hear from one of the leading organizations bringing together the full picture of both the natural and economic risks building all around us.  As dramatic increases in transparency emerge from investors, regulators, orbital measurement platforms, citizen science and the consuming public, the stakes will only continue to  increase for  those who do and do not take this wise message seriously.  Timothy E Nixon, Managing Editor, Thomson Reuters Sustainability.

The biggest risks are environmental

As the world’s most powerful political and business leaders gather in Davos next week to discuss the world’s most pressing issues, now is the time to act for nature.

In its latest Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum once again identified environmental risks as the biggest challenges currently facing humanity, with extreme weather and climate inaction of greatest concern to businesses and governments. This is hardly surprising when in the last twelve months alone we have seen deadly heatwaves across Japan, devastating hurricanes in the US, record droughts in Cape Town and forest fires in the Arctic.

In October last year, a landmark UN scientific report warned that the world has at most 12 years to prevent climate catastrophe. Never before has the threat of irreversible damage been so close.

Climate change remains a huge challenge for us all, but another urgent threat now demands our attention: the loss of biodiversity and nature. These two combined threats mean we must act – and now.

We are the first generation to know we are destroying the world. And we could be the last that can do anything about it.

The staggering loss of biodiversity and nature

WWF’s latest flagship Living Planet Report 2018 provides clear-cut evidence of the ever accelerating loss of nature and how it puts everyone’s future at risk. Population sizes of our planet’s wildlife have plummeted by 60 per cent on average since 1970 – less than a lifetime. That’s because people are destroying habitats and we’re using the planet’s resources faster than nature can restore itself. We’re also creating more waste than our planet can absorb. We are wiping out life on Earth and we are fast approaching the point of no return.

Climate change is exacerbating biodiversity loss but the causality goes both ways: nature plays a crucial role in trying to keep climate change in check. Many affected ecosystems—such as oceans and forests—are important for absorbing carbon emissions.

Nature matters

Biodiversity and nature are vitally important to everyone’s daily lives and its services are fundamental to our economic prosperity and development. But what are these services? At their simplest, they are things people often take for granted – clean air, drinking water and healthy food.

Oceans and coral reefs provide food and livelihoods to hundreds of millions of people. Forests clean the air, regulate the local climate and retain water for rivers, while healthy soils are essential to grow crops. Mountains and glaciers are key sources of water for major rivers. Increasingly, the fragility of ecosystems poses huge risks to societal and economic stability. Quite simply, nature is the foundation for a healthy society, fair economy for all, and global security.

These services provided by nature that people and businesses depend on, such as clean water, pollination or protection against floods, are estimated to be worth US$125 trillion per year – around two-thirds higher than global GDP. Too big to fail, you could say.

We understand the problems, we know the solutions

Our planet is in the red and the proof of destruction is overwhelming, but what is also evident is that current global efforts to end this crisis are failing. What we need is a new response, backed by concrete commitments from countries, businesses and individuals to tackle nature loss, climate change and development in an integrated way.

Only by connecting the dots between issues like climate, food production and nature loss do we stand a chance of reversing a downward spiral and restoring our precious natural world.

This new approach requires a fundamental shift which tackles the biggest threats to the planet together, as the systems that underpin life on Earth are interlinked. For too long we have considered them separately and searched for individual solutions, and while there have been many success stories and battles won, we are still losing the war.

The solutions already exist. We can be smarter about how we use our oceans, freshwater and land, and how we produce energy, food and other resources. We have the knowledge, technology and capability to move towards a better future for people and nature. And we’re already exploring new ways to feed our growing population, meet our energy demands and manage our water supply. Now is the time to get behind these solutions to ensure that everyone gets a fair share without destroying nature.

To fully capitalize on the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution, we also need an unprecedented cultural revolution in the way we connect with our planet, our home. The science has never been clearer; the undeniable truth is that we continue to do great damage to the planet, we are obsessed with short-term gains over long-term benefits, and we haven’t learned how to grow our economy without harming nature. We need a fundamental shift in mindset that positions the environment as a primary concern and not an afterthought – one that will redefine our relationship with the planet and its natural systems. There won’t be a prosperous and secure future for us on a depleted planet.

WEF’s Global Risks Report demonstrates how high the stakes are if we continue to push the planet to the edge – act now and, together, and we have the opportunity to protect and improve our way of life. Do nothing and ecosystems will collapse, and take so much more down with them.

We need an ambitious New Deal for Nature and People

We need an ambitious New Deal for Nature and People that reverses the trend on nature loss and recognizes the intrinsic link between the health of nature, the well-being of people and the future of our planet. Like the world came together around the Climate Agreement in Paris in 2015, we need governments, businesses and society at large to support a new deal for nature and people in 2020.

The next few years are, in fact, critical to put the world on the path to a better future and kick start a global programme of recovery. There is no time to lose and we now have a unique opportunity to act. 2020 sees a historic moment when world leaders will take key decisions on the future direction on the climate change Paris agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Convention on Biological Diversity. These decisions will set the agenda for the next decade. We need governments, businesses, financial institutions, civil society and everyone to commit to halt and start reversing the loss of nature. A new deal for nature and people will not only unite the issues, it will unite a new movement behind it that can and will halt nature loss and avert a major risk for our civilization.

At WEF’s annual meeting in Davos, WWF will be inviting business and political leaders to come together to achieve this aim. We need:

  • A compelling narrative that positions nature at the centre of economic security and the sustainable development 2030 agenda – as the foundation for a healthy society, fair economy for all, and global security;
  • Ambitious targets around solutions that focus on underlying drivers, able to galvanize clear commitments from governments and businesses to tackle their global footprint on the natural world;
  • A framework with a strong implementation and ratcheting mechanism that allows governments, businesses and individuals to clearly contribute to the achievements of the targets;
  • A much stronger integration between key conventions and agreements dealing with biodiversity, climate, forests, land degradation, ocean, rivers, wetlands, species etc, all contributing and converging to deliver the new deal;
  • Multi-stakeholder and cross-sectoral coalitions that support the new deal for nature and people and commit to its implementation. This must include, in a significant way, the private sector and industry as well as civil society.

The need for action has never been greater

Nature underpins all life but is in crisis. This is not “doom and gloom” – the risk is real. We have a choice – to either secure a new deal for nature and people, and safeguard the future of our planet for all its inhabitants, or watch nature disappear in our lifetime, along with all we need and use for our own lives. The need for action has never been greater. The time is now. The choice is ours.



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