OPINION: For a liveable planet, time for action at Davos

by Marco Lambertini | WWF International
Wednesday, 25 May 2022 08:23 GMT

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola, Ireland's Prime Minister Micheal Martin, President of the European Central Bank Christine Lagarde, Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger take part at the panel discussion hosted by Borge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum 2022 (WEF) in the Alpine resort of Davos, Switzerland May 25, 2022. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

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Leaders attending Davos must juggle shocks and stresses, while increasing resilience and securing a liveable planet for future generations

Marco Lambertini is Director-General of WWF International

More than two years after its last face-to-face meeting, the World Economic Forum’s annual get-together in Davos is back.

It convenes at a point when our planet is witnessing record-breaking levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and India and Pakistan are experiencing the consequences of record-breaking heat waves.

At the same time, deforestation remains alarmingly high, and nature is declining at a rate unprecedented in human history: one million species are threatened with extinction and global wildlife populations have dropped by a staggering 68% since 1970.

In the face of growing geopolitical tensions and economic instability the world over, leaders meeting at Davos must balance both the short-term and long-term actions needed, while increasing resilience and securing a liveable planet for future generations.

This means urgently cutting emissions and scaling up climate solutions, transitioning to sustainable food systems, and stepping up efforts to conserve the ecosystems and biodiversity left on the planet, while restoring what’s possible.

While it is important to recognize the progress that has been made on key environmental issues in the last year, including an historic mandate to develop a global treaty to tackle plastic pollution in our oceans, the world remains on course for environmental catastrophe. That is unless it takes urgent and unprecedented action to address the climate and nature crises.

Political and business leaders meeting in Davos are expected to discuss the world’s shifting geopolitical landscape and recovery from the pandemic. Action to create more sustainable and resilient food systems, for example, is a pressing issue, and is essential to long-term food security and reducing our vulnerability to pandemics.

As we already know, unsustainable food systems - both because of what we eat and how we produce it - are the major cause of biodiversity loss and contribute around 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

We must ensure current food shortages are not tackled through unsustainable intensification of food production. Instead, we must reduce the amount of food that is wasted - around 40% of all that is produced - and focus on shifting to nature-positive food production practices that ensure long-term growth in yields.

The only way to solve these problems is through integrated action. Fortunately, later this year, leaders are scheduled to adopt a global plan to tackle nature loss at the COP15 UN biodiversity conference.

To provide a sustainable future for people and wildlife, it will be essential that they secure an ambitious ‘Paris-style’ agreement - one that delivers a nature-positive world this decade, while supporting food security and supporting efforts to tackle the climate crisis.  

And of course, an integrated, systemic approach to reverse nature loss must include private sector investment and action at scale.

The business case for action should be obvious. Natural disasters caused by climate change and human ecosystem disruption already cost more than $300 billion per year. According to the World Economic Forum, transitioning to a nature-positive economy could generate annual business opportunities worth over $10 trillion and create 395 million jobs by 2030.

Companies can also commit to protecting, restoring and investing in nature, including through Science Based Targets (SBTs) for climate through the Science Based Targets initiative, and by preparing to set SBTs for other natural systems through the Science Based Targets Network.

Forward-thinking companies should therefore future-proof their business by acting for nature. This could involve investing time and money in priority landscapes, seascapes, river basins and natural systems, especially those where they operate or from which they source commodities like palm oil, or where their value chains have significant impacts.

At the heart of all of this is a need to protect the natural spaces left on the planet - the forests, wetlands and rivers which we know play such a critical role on local climate, nature, water regulation and quality. At the same time, we need to restore degraded lands so that we can provide benefits for both people and nature

Now is the time for political and business leaders to agree on, and invest in, sustainable solutions that lead to prosperity for people and the planet. There is otherwise no value or profitability in a system that collapses under pressures it creates.

If we continue on this path, we will only face more frequent and more damaging crises, be they pandemics, conflict over resources like food and water, or major climate disasters that wipe out food supplies and destroy lives.