Nature and biodiversity are declining faster than at any other time in history, with successive major reports highlighting the huge scale of nature loss. 1 million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, many within the next few decades. The value per capita of the world’s natural capital stocks has declined by 40% since 1992. Meanwhile, climate change accelerates, with greenhouse gas emissions and average temperatures continuing to rise. The two problems are interconnected and share the common drivers of inefficient, poorly governed natural resource use.
Given the intimacy of their relationship, coherence between global targets for climate and biodiversity is of paramount importance. 2021 has been hailed as a ‘Super Year’ for the environment, with UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow setting new global climate goals, and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in Kunming doing the same for biodiversity. COP26 and COP15 need to coherently develop solutions and implementation plans for nature and biodiversity together: calls for action aiming to influence COP15 are equally relevant for the COP26 nature theme.
To halt and reverse these catastrophic trends, it is essential that the root drivers are addressed - especially as doing so also brings opportunities and benefits including enhancing human health and wellbeing and creating green jobs. The way natural resources (land, biomass, fossil fuels, metals, minerals, and water) are managed has a big impact on the largest drivers of our most significant planetary challenges. Land use is a key example of natural resource management influencing both climate and biodiversity: not only is land use change the biggest driver of terrestrial biodiversity loss, an estimated 23% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions in the last decade were from agriculture, forestry, or other land use.
The International Resource Panel (IRP), hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), highlights the relationship between natural resource use and the global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. A new think-piece from the Co-Chairs of the UNEP’s International Resource Panel, Izabella Teixeira and Janez Potočnik, outlines how implementing natural resource management principles can address the fundamental drivers of biodiversity loss, and highlights examples of how they are already delivering for nature in a whole range of different contexts.
Address the drivers of biodiversity loss – and building the nature we need - through implementing four natural resource management principles
How can better natural resource management bring about a positive results for biodiversity, and therefore create the resilient natural world that is so crucial for managing climate change? The root drivers of nature destruction can be addressed through knowing the true impact of economic activities, bringing actors together to integrate competing needs into spatial plans, implementing nature-based and circular solutions, and recognizing nature’s true value.
Know your impact
By knowing their true impact on nature, consumers, producers, investors, and policymakers can prioritize and incentivize sustainable models. Value chain transparency enables decision-makers to identify key points of intervention, where environmental impacts along the value chain caused by production and consumption can be reduced. Ideally, value chain transparency would be made a reality through strong scientific data and consistent international standards. These would incentivize producers to invest in traceability – knowing that the resulting transparency would be accepted by any country they wanted to import to.
Technology is already improving transparency: satellite services are being used to trace the origins of cocoa in chocolate supply chains. Chocolate producers, such as Barry Callebaut, are using this information to reduce drivers of deforestation directly or indirectly associated with their supply of cocoa. As well as producers themselves, governments are also driving value chain transparency: for example, the German Federal Government intends to pass a supply chain act this year, requiring companies to meet due diligence standards on human rights and environmental impacts. This can drive investment: portfolios are taking an increasing interest in biodiversity but have found it difficult to invest directly because positive impacts are difficult to measure. The Zoological Society of London have developed an online platform to help with this: it details the activities of soft commodity producers, enabling proactive investors to avoid companies who have particularly damaging impacts, and to identify specific natural resource management strategies improving how activities like deforestation are managed. This tool is already being used by first-mover fund managers.
Negotiators at Kunming and Glasgow should commit to finding mutually accepted science-based standards as soon as possible, for tracing biodiversity (and other) impacts through the value chain, so that policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs and consumers can support nature-positive products and services along entire value chains. COP26’s Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) initiative, which is bringing together diverse stakeholders in dialogue to accelerate sustainable production of forest commodities, represents a real opportunity for progress in this area and would be strengthen by a globally consolidated, science-based standard, for example based on the impact footprint methodology.
Over-exploitation of natural resources is a significant driver of biodiversity loss and nature’s climate resilience and carbon sink services. A major contributor to this is the fact that countries have incomplete pictures of how their natural resources are being used, and how their uses impact each other. For example: a forest provides water retention and protection through its catchment for a nearby city, but it could also be a source of income for a community reliant on local timber. Without an integrated strategy, these conflicting demands will not be balanced. Having such a strategy enables decision makers to conserve biodiversity – through early identification of biodiversity hotspots – and to achieve multiple benefits from areas of land or ocean. Laying out all the demands together makes it easier to consider the natural resource needs of different stakeholders, highlighting where there are trade-offs and where there could be win-wins: for example, marine protected areas increase fish populations at the same time as providing livelihoods from sustainable tourism. In 2019, the IRP analysed over 350 integrated spatial planning initiatives from around the world, and found that a large proportion had positive impacts on agriculture, ecosystems, and livelihoods.
A large-scale example of integrated landscape planning is the intelligent eco-zoning approach taken by China. For the past 10 years, China has been developing the Ecological Conservation Red Lining system. When the devastating Yangtze flood of 1998 claimed over 3,000 lives and made over 15 million people homeless, China recognized that its severity was the result of deforestation and environmental degradation. This triggered the development of technologies and scientific methods to assess biodiversity and ecosystem services, including resilience to natural disasters. Using these methods, areas are selected for protection from pressures such as industrialization and urbanization. Buy-in from local authorities has been essential for the scheme’s successful implementation; currently an area greater than France, Spain, Germany, and Italy combined is earmarked for protection based on its ecological value.
In Glasgow and Kunming, true leadership can be demonstrated by committing to science-based mapping of biodiversity hotspots, land use and carbon capture potentials; to enable the understanding of all competing demands on landscapes, and bringing stakeholders together to arrive at shared, strategic solutions – as well as to enable further transparency for agricultural and nature investors. To implement this principle, COP26 should call for mandatory inclusion of integrated spatial plans in countries’ climate action plans.
Grow with nature through nature-based and circular solutions
Production can be made more sustainable through the implementation of nature-based and circular economy solutions – using nature’s inherent regenerative capacity to produce materials and enhance ecosystem services simultaneously. These practices avoid ecosystem degradation, minimize waste, and assist the recovery of ecosystem functions. One example is the planting of bamboo to support poverty alleviation; it re-greens degraded landscapes while providing livelihoods, shown by examples from diverse locations including China, Ethiopia, India, Ghana, and Tanzania. In Tanzania, over 1,000 jobs were created, bringing additional household income to communities.
As well as being an important part of CBD’s proposed post-2020 targets, investing in nature-based solutions is a stated aim of COP26: parties can maximize the effectiveness of such investment by ensuring that natural resource management underpins planning of nature-based solutions.
The intrinsic value of natural assets and the services they provide is not recognized by economic systems, and this contributes to the mismanagement of natural resources. Integrating nature into economic decision making is not the same as merely putting a price on nature; The Dasgupta Review, published earlier this year, makes the case for basing economic decisions on an inclusive measure of wealth, based on human, produced, and natural capital, thereby incorporating ecosystem extent and quality into central government decisions.
Although instruments valuing ecosystem services are still relatively rare, there are an increasing number of examples. One such initiative is the Araguaia League in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Aiming to improve the region’s environmental assets, it financially compensates activities encouraging sustainable intensification of cattle production, including conservation, and emissions reduction.
At COP26, and in coherence with CBD COP15, leaders need to capitalize on recent progress, which includes approval by the UN of a comprehensive framework for natural capital accounting (UN’s System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA)). National governments should commit to using this internationally agreed statistical framework to increase the spread and depth of natural capital accounting around the world.
Make biodiversity and nature targets bold and implementable
Both Glasgow and Kunming are huge opportunities for the world’s climate, and intersecting global challenges including biodiversity. Addressing common drivers of our biggest environmental challenges through the natural resource management principles highlighted here is key to achieving effective solutions.
The G7 recently agreed to set the world on a pathway to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, and to keep temperature rises to a limit of 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels. They now need to make good on that pledge, by agreeing ambitious targets in Glasgow and Kunming, and making meaningful commitments to secure their implementation. Beyond this year’s events, leaders should commit to further multilateral discussions on value chain transparency standards, mapping technologies, nature-enhancing production methods, and building capacity for natural capital accounting.
Read the IRP Co-Chairs opinion piece Building Biodiversity: The Natural Resource Management Approach.