A Nature Positive Future for All Life on Earth

2021-11-25 17:32LiLin
当代世界英文版 2021年4期


Humanity is facing unprecedented and intertwined crises. Strong political will, determination and global cooperation to collectively tackle these challenges are urgently needed. Integrated, healthy and resilient ecosystems and rich biodiversity is the cornerstone for humanitys survival and thriving. Being Nature Positive by 2030 is a global goal that can ensure we halt and reverse biodiversity loss at the pace necessary, in support of climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals as well as the aspiration of ecological civilization. An ambitious and robust post 2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF) provides an opportunity for humanity to be led by this global goal to put global collective efforts together. A groundswell of political momentum has started, joined by movements of non-state, non-governmental actors. With the political commitments to reverse the loss of nature by 2030 for sustainable development loud and clear, the impact lies in translating these commitments and political will into decisions and actions, including the GBF and implementation of Paris Agreement, among others. China has stepped up its efforts to play a global leadership role. China should and can join the global community to play an even more active role in sharing its domestic practices for the Ecological Civilization and exploring more transformative paths for a nature positive, climate neutral, healthy and equitable future. The path of global cooperation on biodiversity will rely on the political will, global cooperation, and delivery of positive impact to nature on the ground.

Intertwined Crises

Humanity is facing unprecedented and intertwined crises. Climate change and nature loss are two sides of the same coin. Humanity is experiencing the detrimental impacts in the form of epidemics, pandemics, forest fires, floods and droughts, as well as lost lives, jobs and economic prosperities. While the year 2020 was 1.2°C above pre-industrial era with two-thirds of the warming occurring since 1975, the accelerating trend shows that the past six years being the warmest on record since 1880. At the same time the foundation of our survival - biodiversity (at genetic, species and ecosystem levels) and ecosystems - have been seriously weakened. The populations of wildlife had declined by two-thirds in the past 5 decades, with 75% of Earths non-ice surface significantly altered, 85% of wetland lost and most of the oceans polluted. One million species are now facing the risk of extinction.

It is getting clearer that some of our basic assumptions may be challenged. The 1.5 °C climate pathway assumes that nature remains intact, is able to sequestrate enough carbon and at the same time sustain us and all life on Earth. However, the assumption may not hold true anymore if the current trends continue. The world has observed many accelerated upward trends in addition to carbon emission, be it population size, global integration via the rise of the internet, human consumptions of Earths renewable productivity, and fish captured. However, the indicators on nature are alarmingly all going negative, be it biodiversity abundance, composition, and distribution, as well as increased extinction risk. We are approaching a tipping point of no-return where nature and ecosystems may lose their capacity to remove and store more CO2 and the ability to sustain us to survive and thrive. A 1.5°C pathway is only possible if loss of biodiversity is halted, reversed, and then reaching net-positive (in relation to 2020) by 2030.

Biodiversity is the Cornerstone for SDGs and Ecological Civilization

Rich and balanced biodiversity makes production systems and livelihoods better able to withstand shocks and respond to environmental, social and economic changes. Integrate and well functioned ecosystems are more resilient to climate hazards as they create natural buffers (forests, wetland) allowing a quicker bounce after the shock. Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the targets related to nature are the cornerstones for achieving all the rest. Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems threaten the progress of 80% of measurable SDG targets.

Biodiversity and ecosystem services are natures benefits to human beings. Biodiversity is fundamental for food security. Protection of natural ecosystems can strengthen our ability to feed populations. Well protected ecosystems can provide better water management and easier access to clean water. The economic benefits of nature water purification is worth up to 31bn euro/year in Europe alone. Nature provides us with medicines and helps us combat pollution.

Nature provides cultural and spiritual values to both urban and rural communities. Green spaces and tree canopy percentage are associated with lower depression, anxiety and stress symptoms. With 35% of jobs in developing countries comes from ecosystem services, conserved ecosystems generate revenue and create sustainable jobs for local communities especially women and youth.

Nature is at the heart of economic strength. Half of the world's GDP is highly or moderately dependent on nature. For every $1 spent on nature restoration, $9 of economic benefits can be expected. Changing the way we farm and produce food could release $4.5 trillion per year in new business opportunities by 2030.

Recognizing the fundamental role of nature to people, many new discourses have been emerging. A relatively new concept parallel to the SDGs that attempts to interpret the relationship of nature with humanity is the Ecological Civilization, a concept raised by China in 2007 and pioneered since then. Ecological civilization was written into the Chinese constitution in 2018. China has been exploring and practicing paths of ecological civilization since the context was conceived, with more intensity in recent years.

Ecological Civilization refers to improved human and nature relationship: human beings thriving within the ecological limits, treating nature with a civilized and rational attitude and restoring and protecting the ecological environment in the development process. Broadly, the Ecological Civilization calls for a reestablished culture value system, promoting new lifestyles and reformed social structure, i.e. embedding the ecological value into all key sectors of society. Chinas practice on “Lucid water and lush mountains are invaluable assets” and on peaking carbon emission by 2030 and being carbon neutral by 2060 are some prominent examples of practicing Ecological Civilization.

The 15th Conference of Parties (COP) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), with a mission in 2050 of “Living in Harmony with Nature”, took this concept as its theme: “Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth”. This signifies that the concept that originated and practiced in China starts to gain global attention and recognition.

Direction of travel: a nature positive, climate neutral, healthy and equitable future

A global goal on nature is much needed such as the goal of net zero emissions by 2050 and keeping global warming below 1.5°C for climate change. This clear time bound goal for nature should ensure that the biodiversity loss is halted and reversed at the pace necessary, in support of climate action and the SDGs. A group of organizations including WWF proposed “Nature Positive by 2030” as a global goal for nature (see graph below), entailing that through improvement of the health, abundance, diversity and resilience of species, populations and ecosystems, nature is restored, so that by 2030 it will be recovered beyond the baseline in 2020.

The Global Goal for Nature would commit governments to taking action now to halt biodiversity loss and ensure that the world is nature-positive by the end of this decade. To achieve this global goal for nature, conservation is critical, but not sufficient. Science has told us, from a land use angle, if we are to reverse the loss of nature, interventions on all levels are needed: sustainable production and consumption, and more ambitious conservation measures, as shown in the following graph.

Efforts for reducing the loss and restoring biodiversity will need to 1) increase conservation and restoration, 2) increase climate action, 3) increase sustainable production, 4) reduce consumption, and 5) reduce other drivers.

Achieving a nature positive future is essential for SDGs, Ecological Civilization, and all other humanitys attempts to relook and transform our relationship with nature. The Post 2020 GBF to be agreed in April/May 2022 at CBD COP15 Part 2 is a once in a lifetime opportunity to correct our relationship with nature. The world needs to agree on an ambitious GBF that can reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 for a nature positive future, by protecting nature, addressing underlying cause of biodiversity loss, building a robust implementation mechanism, ensuring enabling conditions include removal of harmful investment and incentives, mobilization sufficient resources, and ensure participation of all stakeholders from the whole of society.

Political momentum

As the impacts of biodiversity loss and ecosystem deterioration are beyond country borders, the highest level of attention and commitments from top decision makers will be essential for global collective efforts. During the past three years since 2019, the world has witnessed a groundswell of momentum for nature. World leaders have expressed their concerns and made their commitments. Heads of governments/states, ministers, international organization leaders and business leaders, coming together at the Nature Champions Summit in Canada, Leaders Event on Planetary Emergencies and Pledges for Nature at UN in NYC, One Planet Summit series, Davos, and the UNFCCC COP26, to declare planetary emergencies, made commitments and deliberate actions to tackle the challenges of biodiversity loss.

To date, 94 world leaders (93 heads of state or government and the EU president) have joined the Leaders Pledge for Nature (LPN) committed to reversing the loss of nature by 2030 for sustainable development. In September 2021, the LPN joint force with the High Ambition Coalition and Global Ocean Alliance at the margin of UNGA 76, converged their global efforts to work together on nature. This represents 120 countries, covering 42% of global GDP and representing 31% of global population. More than 100 world leaders at the LINFCCC COP 26 have committed to ending and reversing deforestation by 2030.

Country leadership is also noteworthy. Canada has initiated a Nature Champions Summit in 2019 kick-started the high-level political mobilization on nature, inspired by the discussion at the China Council of International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), a top level international think tank for China on environment and development. The French government, through its One Planet Summit series, shared their ambition on nature. The UK has committed to increasing their funding support to biodiversity and put nature high up in its UNFCCC COP26 presidency. Columbia, as the initiator of LPN, HAC and the president of CBD PreCOP, expressed their ambition to strive for a positive nature by 2030. Many more world leaders are putting nature higher on their agenda and committing to reversing the loss of biodiversity. The momentum is strong.

Other sectors are joining the momentum. The UN Food System Summit in 2021 focused on action trackers that are critical to SDGs and building a carbon neutral, nature positive and equitable future. In Sept 2021, 75 financial institutions committed to doing no harm to nature by their $1.2 trillion assets, and 9 philanthropists committed the biggest ever biodiversity fund ($5billion by 2030) to protect nature. The Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) members convened for the first time on the 6th of October 2021 to kick off their work on a risk management and financial disclosure framework to support a shift in global financial flows away from nature-negative outcomes and towards nature-positive outcomes.

Non-state actors have not been left behind in their actions. More development, humanitarian, faith based groups, youth, and business actors join hands with environmental groups issuing multiple Calls to Actions for nature, seeking policies to reverse nature loss and transform our relations with nature.

People are also waking up to these challenges. Research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in 2020 found that hundreds of millions of people across 54 countries globally share a rising concern about nature and more and more people are taking actions on their one hands.

We must now harness these political commitments and ‘eco-awakening to ensure the critical actions needed for climate and nature, and to translate these commitments and call-to-actions into national actions and in global decision making.

While political and public momentum is strong and commitments ambitious, the observed gap between global leaders' commitments and the strength of the GBF is still wide, with significant gaps include:

(1) Translating leaders commitments into national actions;

(2) Reflecting leaders ambition and non-state actors call to action into the GBF ambition;

(3) Addressing drivers of biodiversity loss, in particular the indirect drivers;

(4) Integrating biodiversity and climate agenda into COVID-19 response and economic development;

(5) Channeling financial flows away from detrimental to nature, noting that there is still 10 times more investment harmful to nature than in biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.

More push is needed, now and fast.

Chinas role

China is now the second largest economy in the world, although in per capita terms China still ranks below the 70th in the world. China has gone through a development-with-all-costs phase where the deterioration of environment and ecosystems have been experienced in many parts of the country. A new development model focusing on green, low carbon, and circular development guided by the ecological civilization thoughts is taking shape and moving fast forward.

Chinas carbon goals, peaking by 2030 and carbon neutral by 2060, sent excitement to the global climate change community and sent a clear signal of Chinas determination on jointly working with world communities to combat climate change. The Chinese government has also played an active role in high-level global outreach regarding global collaboration on biodiversity and CBD, through high level meetings on biodiversity ahead of the UN Biodiversity Summit and CBD COP15 Part 1.

With the concluding of the CBD COP15 Part 1 in Kunming in Oct. 2021, the world has observed Chinas leadership role in the following aspects:

(1) China officially assumes the Presidency for the CBD COP15, which gives China an opportunity and mandate to step up and start to play a global leadership role.

(2) Adoption of the Kunming Declaration indicated Chinas reaching out to the world and provided a direction of travel for the CBD community. The consultation process included not only environment ministers, but also the finance, agriculture, development and other ministers. This is a significant step towards mainstreaming biodiversity and taking a whole-of-government approach.

(3) Chinas President Xi Jinping initiated the Kunming Biodiversity Fund with initial funding of 1.5 billion yuan ($233 million) to support developing countries efforts on biodiversity protection. Other countries are invited to inject funds to join the effort. This is significant, as this is the first time a developing country takes such initiative and leads a global effort.

(4) The mobilization of Chinese actors has gained tremendous momentum. With the Ecological Civilization Forum at the COP15 Part 1, many sectors in China are stepping up their efforts on climate change and on biodiversity. More than 60 Chinese and international bank branches in China committed to the Finance for Biodiversity Declaration applying agreed principles to their operations. If all these principles are adopted by all financiers in their operations, the impacts on nature will be significant.

Mobilizing domestic and international non-governmental and non-state actors in China is pivotal in elevating ambition and mobilizing resources, and effectively implementing the global agreements. It will be very helpful for China to engage with these organizations that have nature and biodiversity at the center of their agenda. Working together with non-governmental and non-state actors, China can fully utilize the advice and influence of these players and can get support to help Chinas communication on the global stage.

Even though China has stepped up its leadership on biodiversity at the global stage, the expectation from the global community on Chinas leadership role is still very high. China can join the momentum on biodiversity together with progressive political leaders. With thousands of years of thoughts and experiences on living in harmony with nature, China can share with the world and point a direction towards a nature positive future for the ecological civilization that will sustain humanity and all life on Earth.


Humanity is at a crossroad. The decisions that we make now and in the coming years will determine our collective fate for generations to come.

Intertwined crises cannot be dealt with in silos. The world needs to work together, taking all the climate, nature, and health crises at hands, while building forward better and through greener COVID-19 recovery. Working together for a nature positive, climate neutral, healthy and equitable future should be our common efforts and destination.

It is encouraging to see that heads of states and governments have expressed their commitment and determination to reverse the loss of nature, to combat climate change, to build forward better, for sustainable development. However, if commitments cannot be turned into global collective decisions, country actions and bring needed results, words will remain only words.

The world leaders and practitioners need to strive towards highly effective implementation of the GBF 2021-2025. Biodiversity should be mainstreamed throughout all walks of life, in transformational development models in countries, synergies among multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), cooperatively working to promote nature-based solutions on a much larger scale and in nature-positive economic and social development.

To get a GBF that is ambitious and can bring the needed changes to be nature positive in the next decade, to use nature-based solutions to tackle societal challenges including climate change, the determination and endeavor from all walks of life will all be needed.

Li ?Lin is Director of Global Policy and Advocacy, WWF International