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A blueprint for business to transition to a nature-positive future

Pathways for business to play a key role in the transition to a nature-positive economy

By: EBR - Posted: Friday, July 17, 2020

"Our response will determine the health of our businesses, our societies and our planetary systems for decades. Ecological, societal and economic priorities should not be competing interests."
"Our response will determine the health of our businesses, our societies and our planetary systems for decades. Ecological, societal and economic priorities should not be competing interests."

by Akanksha Khatri and Dominic Kailash Nath Waughray*

The average person today is 4.4 times richer and lives 25 years longer than in 1950.

The Great Acceleration, however, has been brought to a screeching halt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is clear that our economic and social structures are untenable without resilient nature. Scientists have warned that important biomes such as the Amazon are fast approaching the cusp of irreversible tipping points. Business-as-usual is no longer an option.

The disruption presents a chance to build a better future – to launch a Great Reset.

The World Economic Forum’s New Nature Economy Reports provide pathways for business to play a key role in the transition to a nature-positive economy. The second report, The Future of Nature and Business, shows how 15 strategic transitions can halt nature loss by 2030.

Here’s what business needs to know about the report and how to support the transition.

There is no future for business-as-usual.

As a result of COVID-19, more than half a million people have died worldwide, 305 million full-time jobs (and counting) are at risk and the IMF projects global growth to contract by 4.9% in 2020. With some of the world’s biggest economies still battling the pandemic, the outlook remains uncertain.

But the crisis and our response make two things crystal clear: we must urgently move away from business-as-usual, and we can do so with the speed required.

The need to move away from business-as-usual was evident even before the pandemic. May 2020 set new records for both temperature and CO2 concentrations. The 2019 IPBES report revealed that we are driving 1 million species towards extinction. Nature Risk Rising highlighted that $44 trillion – more than half of the global GDP – is at risk due to business’s dependence on nature.

The pandemic is an unprecedented clarion call – and opportunity – to fundamentally change how we live, eat, grow, work, build and power our lives.

Tackling climate change is critical but not enough.

Combating climate change is vital but will not be sufficient to halt the nature crisis.

Climate change is currently responsible for 11-16% of biodiversity loss, a proportion expected to rise. But the remaining 85% is caused by other drivers – the most significant being land, sea and ocean use conversion.

To prevent a collapse of the Earth systems upon which all economies depend, governments, businesses and citizens must tackle all major drivers of biodiversity loss, and collectively evaluate and optimise land use, especially for agriculture and urbanisation.

Transforming three systems can transform our world.

Addressing the nature crisis requires a critical shift in three key socio-economic systems: food, land and ocean use; infrastructure and the built environment; and extractives and energy.

Together, these systems endanger almost 80% of the threatened and near-threatened species on the IUCN Red List. They also represent more than one-third of the global economy, generate up to two-thirds of all jobs and contribute the most in terms of business opportunity and profitability. Transforming these three systems would transform our world.

This transformation is essential. The global food, land and ocean use system represents around $10 trillion (12%) of global GDP, but the hidden costs of inefficient operation total $12 trillion. Animal products provide only 18% of calories but account for more than 80% of farmland and 58% of food-related GHG emissions. More than 80% of wastewater is discharged untreated into watercourses. And almost half of all large mines are located in biodiversity-rich forests; nickel mining alone has caused 10% of deforestation in the Amazon since 2000.

15 transitions to halt nature loss by 2030

Fifteen systemic transitions could generate up to $10.1 trillion in business value and 395 million jobs by 2030. This pragmatic action agenda could pave the way to a nature-positive global economy more resilient to future shocks.

Transforming the food, land and ocean use system has the potential to create business opportunities worth almost $3.6 trillion and 191 million new jobs over the next 10 years. For example, if regenerative ocean farming was practiced across 5% of US waters, it could absorb 135 million tonnes of carbon. Expanding the model to just 1% of the global ocean could create 50 million jobs.

Five transitions across infrastructure and the built environment could generate $3 trillion and 117 million jobs by 2030. Capitalising on the COVID-driven surge in demand for flexible working models is a prime example. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that “sharing” office models could reduce urban sprawl in Europe by an area the size of Belgium.

The business opportunities linked to transforming the energy and extractives sector are immense. About $3.5 trillion and 87 million jobs could be generated by 2030. In the automotive sector, for example, circular models – maximizing reuse and recycling of materials – could save $870 billion a year by 2030.

Turning business opportunity into nature-positive reality

It is time for businesses to lobby for nature and seize this unique moment of global disruption to make change. With governments facing severe budget constraints and the immediate impacts of COVID-19, it’s vital that business steps up more proactively.

To spearhead the transformation, business leaders should identify the transitions most relevant to their operations and the mix of enablers – including new capital investment and smart Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies – needed to unlock success.

Policy with people and planet at the core

While businesses can bring leadership, innovation and capital, this shift can only be sustained with complementary policy and regulatory measures. Bold policy and decisive political leadership will send a signal that business-as-usual is no longer viable.

The nature-positive transformation requires $2.7 trillion in public-private investments by 2030 to catalyse change at the scale needed. That’s a lot of money – but compare that to the United States’ $2.2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package, or the up to $3.3 trillion expected to be lost by the global tourism industry.

A global stimulus programme focusing on protecting and restoring nature, driving resource productivity and scaling up new, regenerative value chains could deliver jobs, economic growth, public health and societal equity.

This is a critical juncture for humanity. Our response will determine the health of our businesses, our societies and our planetary systems for decades. Ecological, societal and economic priorities should not be competing interests. COVID-19 – a zoonotic disease that spread through human society and brought the global economy into crisis – is a critical example of our interconnectedness.

Now, we need a bold vision for a more sustainable, inclusive, safer future – with business playing a leading role in the transition.

*Head, Nature and Biodiversity Initiative, World Economic Forum and Managing Director, World Economic Forum
**first published in: www.weforum.org

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