OPINION: Our future needs to be both net-zero and nature-positive

Thursday, 29 July 2021 07:33 GMT

A worker replants a germinating coffee seed at a coffee plantation, in Grecia, Costa Rica, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

To support business efforts to protect the planet, companies are calling for joined-up political action on the climate and biodiversity crises

Eva Zabey is executive director of Business for Nature and Maria Mendiluce is CEO of the We Mean Business Coalition (tweets @mendiluce).

Earth Overshoot Day feels like a birthday: the older you get, the quicker it comes around. However, there is no reason to celebrate. COVID-19 has been a stark reminder of our economic system’s fragility and the interrelationship between our planet, health and economy.

Today, human activities have already used up the total amount of natural resources that Earth can regenerate this year. For the remainder of 2021, we'll be living on ecological credit. We are depleting nature to a state of planet emergency. Meanwhile, biodiversity loss and climate change continue at breakneck speed.

However, we know it is possible to change course. The growing level of business, policy and consumer action for nature and climate demonstrates an appetite for systems transformation to live within planetary boundaries.

Thousands of companies have come together under the We Mean Business and Business for Nature coalitions to reduce their emissions and help reverse nature loss.

G7 leaders promised a “strong and integrated global action on nature and climate”, and 88 Heads of State and the EU support the Leaders Pledge for Nature, showing that politicians have put nature and climate on the agenda. This is coupled with a new generation of consumers, investors and employees demanding change and increasing interest in sustainable products and services.

But Earth Overshoot Day is a reality check. The actions most governments and companies are taking on climate and nature are not enough. Now the private sector needs the climate and nature agenda to come together to accelerate business action. 

In the real world, these issues are intricately connected. Cut down a forest and you push up atmospheric carbon. As a recent UN-backed report concludes, trade-offs between biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation might be needed. But the danger of continuing with the current siloed approach is we fail on both climate and nature.

In the world of policymaking, governments all too often fight climate change with one hand and biodiversity loss with the other. Businesses need a clear pathway to help create a nature-positive, equitable and net-zero emissions future.

Joint nature and climate policy can accelerate business action by creating a level playing field and a stable operating environment while delivering co-benefits for nature, climate and people. With international conferences on nature (COP15) and climate (COP26) coming up, now is the perfect moment to ensure climate policies work in favour of nature, and vice versa.

CLEAR DIRECTION

So, what might a more integrated climate-nature policy framework look like?

First, ensure interlinked goals and targets are clear, and backed up with clear timelines. For example, a global goal to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030 aligns with efforts to make sure nature-based solutions contribute 30% of the emissions reductions needed in the coming decade to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. This global goal will give business the confidence to act and invest in changing and adapting their business models.

Second, strengthen disclosure rules in line with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations and upcoming Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD). Transparency is the only way investors and consumers can effectively distinguish those companies that are doing the right thing, not greenwashing.

As the Dasgupta Review outlined, the value of nature needs to be visible and considered in decision-making. This requires governments to implement mandatory disclosure regimes and clear pricing signals that incentivize business to act positively for nature and climate.

Third, ditch environmentally harmful subsidies and perverse incentives that encourage high-impact sectors and companies to keep polluting the atmosphere and destroying nature. For example, more than $700 billion in agricultural subsidies each year contribute to habitat loss in the world ‘s most biodiverse ecosystems while simultaneously driving 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Such subsidies need to be redirected towards sustainable activities delivering long-term outcomes for the planet and societies.

Fourth, make ambitious climate and nature action core to a sustainable economic recovery. Public finance must be aligned with sustainability priorities with clear policies that catalyze private sector investment.  While National Resilience and Recovery Plans in the European Union are delivering on climate, they are unfortunately woefully inadequate in leading a nature-positive recovery. We must do better.

Finally, align the separate U.N. conventions on climate, biological diversity and desertification. This will simplify the agenda in support of the Sustainable Development Goals, bring to light opportunities for overlapping solutions and provide business with certainty to scale up private-sector action that benefits both climate and nature.

Climate and nature are two sides of the same coin. Through forward-thinking decisions and humanity’s ingenuity and innovation, we can turn around natural resource consumption trends, postpone Earth Overshoot Day and build a safe and prosperous world where everyone can thrive.

Our future needs to be both net-zero and nature positive.

Read the new report: 'Building Integrated Policies for the Planet’