In the coming months, the world will watch as leaders come together to further discuss and define the future of climate and nature on Earth. While more and more organisations and leaders have started to use the term ‘Nature Positive’, the question arises whether this is just a new buzz word or holds hope for climate action, mitigating biodiversity loss and fast-tracking the transformation of food systems?
The signatory countries of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will meet in Kunming, China, for the 15th time in October this year. At this convention, the signatories will agree on a new set of nature based goals over the current decade, in what is called the ‘post-2020 framework process’. A draft framework is on the table, but for many, it is not specific enough. For instance, the WWF criticises that it
“lacks both the ambition and urgency required to reverse biodiversity loss and secure a nature-positive world this decade”.
They propose that actionable nature targets must be agreed upon, similar to those for climate change which tie emission targets to temperature thresholds for global warming.
Driven by similar concerns, a coalition of conservation and business organisations have published a paper called A Nature-Positive World: The Global Goal for Nature, ahead of the Kunming Conference. Co-authored by ex-Unilever CEO Paul Polman and Johan Rockström, who was at the helm of introducing the concept of planetary boundaries, as well as Harvey Locke and senior leaders of organizations like IUCN, WBCSD, World Resource Institute, WWF, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, the paper puts forward the scientific foundations for building a nature-positive world by 2030. The authors argue that nature is at a tipping point, with more than 1 million species threatened by extinction and more than half of the world’s GDP – USD 44 trillion – being dependent on nature and its services. They explain that biodiversity, climate and development goals – as well as our collective failing of them — are interconnected and propose an overarching direction for global agreements aiming at an equitable, nature-positive, carbon-neutral world.
What does ‘Nature-Positive’ mean?
The term has gained prominence through the G7’s recent announcement of its 2030 Nature Compact. In the announcement, the G7 recognises that nature, and the biodiversity that underpins it, ultimately sustains our economies, livelihoods and well-being. At the same time, they acknowledge that the economies of the G7 states have had a negative and unsustainable impact on nature and wildlife globally. As a solution, the above-mentioned publication on a nature-positive world tries to operationalise the disruptive idea of a global goal for nature by setting three milestones: (1) zero net loss of nature from 2020, (2) net positive by 2030, and (3) full recovery by 2050.
The WWF takes it a step further in its Kunming Plan for Nature and People 2021 – 2030. Their discussion paper sets six broad goals for a nature positive world: ecosystems, species, sustainable consumption, equitable and fair sharing of nature’s benefits, use of genetic resources and public and private investments. These are underpinned by 23 measurable objectives and are presented within the framework of a theory of change. These objectives include e.g. the restoration of at least 50% of the total area of degraded ecosystems by 2030, with special attention to increasing connectivity and restoring areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services; or eliminating / repurposing 50% of incentives that are harmful to biodiversity, including subsidies, by 2025, and 100% by 2030, to be nature-positive through the development and implementation of national action plans.
Marrying the idea of ‘Nature-Positive’ with that of planetary boundaries, the Earth Commission of the Global Commons Alliance is working on science-based targets to preserve the stability and resilience of Earth’s life support systems. The Commission will produce an anchor report, evaluating the latest science and defining scientific targets for a stable planet. It is due to be published in 2022.
So what does ‘Nature-Positive’ mean for agriculture?
While the idea of ‘Nature-positive’ is still to gain its final shape, any plan for operationalising it will have far-reaching implications for the way we farm: Global agriculture is currently responsible for 25% to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and a major driver of the current mass extinction of endangered plant and animal species. Nature-positivity will hardly be possible without a radical re-orientation of agriculture towards farming systems that do not only preserve natural ecosystems but rather integrate our managed and natural ecosystems into one. Regenerative agriculture springs to mind as an approach that aims at exactly that, by trying to work in natural cycles, focusing on the resilience of soils and trying to (re-) generate rather than to degrade our global life-support systems.
The concept of Nature Positive has the potential to bring climate, biodiversity and sustainability goals under a single framework with an ambitious and outcome-oriented perspective.
However, time is pressing, so actionable and agreed targets for achieving Nature-Positivity – however defined – are needed fast. The G7’s Nature Compact, the CBD conference in Kunming in October, the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021 and the Earth Commission’s report in 2022 could be the steps to galvanise sufficient consensus among governments and businesses to transform ‘Nature-Positive’ from an idea to a movement. Regardless of whether this happens or not, the urgent imperative to re-orientate our food systems in a sustainable way remains unchanged. If the world agrees on a nature positive approach, this may give both momentum and direction to the transformation of our food systems – in a more radical way than many of us imagine today.