Nature’s Endless Gifts and a Call for Unprecedented Actions
Ecosystem services are the gifts from nature that keep on giving. Coupled with the mobilization of global actions at scale, the combination can disrupt the current destabilization of the Earth’s climate system. This level of unprecedented actions is imperative to curb the staggering loss of biodiversity and to determine pathways to recover and restore what’s already been lost. In the last 50 years, more than 60 percent of the monitored wildlife population has declined. (Figure 1). At this rate, the irreversible and permanent losses to biological diversity across all systems will have far-reaching and grave impacts. Importantly, while many losses are permanent, “... immediate action will also lower the cumulative loss of biodiversity and shorten the time to recovery.”
Figure 1: Pathways to Biodiversity Recovery by Mid-Century
Source: Global Council for Science and the Environment; data taken from https://livingplanetindex.org/data_portal
These actions are also critical for the survival of humanity as biodiversity provides the required natural ‘infrastructure’ that supports all life on earth and provides ecosystem services including water purification, nutrient recycling, air purification, oxygen to breathe, healthy food production, waste management, soil health, pest control, micro-climate regulations, climate resilience and many more, worth around US$125 trillion a year (Almond et al., 2020). Conservation scientists widely agree that only now have we established a clear understanding of the value of nature and our impact on it. And importantly, now may be the only opportunity to take action at scale to reverse the pace of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss.
What Sort of Unprecedented Actions?
Actions on biodiversity conservation and protection are in place, especially after the establishment of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). However, there are no significant improvements observed in biodiversity loss (Figure 1). One of the important observations made by leading scientists is the interconnected relationship that biodiversity and climate change share which requires equal and integrated consideration of both to ensure comprehensive mitigation(Pörtner et al., 2021).
Biodiversity-integrated climate solutions present a range of concrete opportunities that are complex yet accessible today, including:
- ecosystem protection and restoration;
- transitioning to regenerative agricultural practices; and
- adoption of sustainable production and consumption practices.
A recent nature publication suggests what one example of unprecedented action could do; “restoring 15% of converted lands in priority areas, could avoid 60% of expected extinctions while sequestering 299 gigatonnes of CO2—30% of the total CO2 increase in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution” (Strassburg et al., 2020).
Industrial agricultural practices focused solely on agricultural productivity are one of the major contributing factors to biodiversity loss. One the other hand, regenerative agricultural practices based on the principles of diversification, integration of perennials, minimization of soil disturbances, efficient resource use management, integrated crop-livestock management, agroforestry, etc., promote soil biology, increase soil organic matter, biodiversity, and minimize the cost of cultivation by reducing the cost of insecticides and fertilizers, and provide more healthy/organic production. (Newton et al., 2020) analysis of 229 journal articles and 25 practitioner websites to characterize the term “regenerative agriculture” has shown that adoption of regenerative agricultural practices can lead up to 17%-46% improvement in biodiversity.
Conserving our existing biodiversity and recovering biodiversity losses will only be possible by inculcating sustainable production and consumption practices across all economic sectors; food production, electricity, transportation, buildings, waste management, etc. Reducing food loss across the supply chain, adoption of plant-rich diets, avoiding land use conversion for economic growth, etc. are some of the key measures that can greatly increase biodiversity. A paradigm shift is required that allows economic growth with the adoption of biodiversity-integrated climate solutions, as these solutions are financially viable, provide net returns over the period of time, and help to achieve sustainable development goals (Frischmann et al., 2021).
The Secret Sauce to Harnessing Nature and Unprecedented Actions: Science Diplomacy
Engaging nature-based solutions and unprecedented actions at global scale requires a level of diplomacy between nations and cooperation by all peoples (Figure 2). Science diplomacy is essential to moving this ambitious approach forward.
Currently efforts to combat climate change and address biodiversity issues are taken separately at various levels of government. Aligning the work offers immediate and multifaceted benefits. Just as these two issues are closely linked, the approach to systematically address these global challenges should be integrated. Parties to the CBD and many stakeholders have noted that, “the links between the action targets and the outcomes in terms of biodiversity need to be made clearer. Scientific input on these links can clarify how and where we must invest in the 2030 action targets to achieve the 2050 goals.”
Strong international collaboration and commitments from all nations has happened before, even most recently at the UN Environment Assembly in March 2022. UN member nations voted unanimously to effectively address plastic pollution by passing the End Plastic Pollution resolution. Science diplomacy provides a seat at the table for all nations. Further, science diplomacy facilitates evidence-informed deliberations to effectively address complex environmental issues with equal consideration for all stakeholders most especially underrepresented and vulnerable populations.
Figure 2: Stakeholder Engagement on Nature Based Solutions
Source: Ferreira et al., 2020
The science tracking the pace of biodiversity loss and the changing climate system is clear. Nature continues to give in spite of its weakening. By harnessing biodiversity-integrated climate solutions and the power of human ambition and action, we have a chance to reverse the current course we are on. Science diplomacy contributes to formalizing the outcomes and enabling the necessary policy structures to ambitiously implement biodiversity-integrated climate solutions and unprecedented actions. While not simple, this trifecta is immediately accessible and possible today.
- Almond, R. E., Grooten, M., & Peterson, T. (2020). Living Planet Report 2020-Bending the curve of biodiversity loss. World Wildlife Fund.
- Pörtner, H. O., Scholes, R. J., Agard, J., Archer, E., Arneth, A., Bai, X., ... & Ngo, H. T. (2021). IPBES-IPCC co-sponsored workshop report on biodiversity and climate change.
- Strassburg, B. B., Iribarrem, A., Beyer, H. L., Cordeiro, C. L., Crouzeilles, R., Jakovac, C. C., ... & Visconti, P. (2020). Global priority areas for ecosystem restoration. Nature, 586(7831), 724-729.
- Newton, P., Civita, N., Frankel-Goldwater, L., Bartel, K., & Johns, C. (2020). What is regenerative agriculture? A review of scholar and practitioner definitions based on processes and outcomes. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 4, 194.
- Ferreira, V., Barreira, A. P., Loures, L., Antunes, D., & Panagopoulos, T. (2020). Stakeholders’ engagement on nature-based solutions: A systematic literature review. Sustainability, 12(2), 640.
- Frischmann, C. J., Mehra, M., Allard, R., Bayuk, K., Gouveia, J. P., & Gorman, M. R. (2021). Drawdown’s “System of Solutions” helps to achieve the SDGs. In Partnerships for the Goals (pp. 321-344). Cham: Springer International Publishing.
Opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the GCSE or its members.