Together we can transform our relationship with nature and build a sustainable future for all life on earth

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© Karine Aigner/WWF-US

The signals are clear: we are facing a planetary emergency.

The world is on fire, from the Amazon to Australia, the seas are rising, and we are losing nature that provides important ecosystem services every day. But this is not only affecting wildlife and nature, it is also impacting on human well-being and livelihoods. 

Rising temperatures continue to melt records.  The past decade was the hottest on record.  Scientists tell us that ocean temperatures are now rising at the equivalent of five Hiroshima bombs a second. One million species are in near-term danger of extinction.  Our planet is burning.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General


Several recent reports have raised alarm bells for our planet and our economies. A 2019 UN assessment revealed that 80% of the Sustainable Development Goals’ targets are undermined by the current trends and these will impact our ability to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including in areas of poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land. Increases in poverty and food insecurity will inevitably also exacerbate conflicts and undermine peace and security worldwide.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020 tells us that we are facing a ‘planetary emergency that will include loss of life, social and geopolitical tensions and negative economic impacts’. “Failure of climate change mitigation and adaption” is the number one risk by impact and number two by likelihood over the next 10 years. “Biodiversity loss” is rated the ‘second most impactful and third most likely risk for the next decade.’ ‘Biodiversity loss has critical implications for humanity, from the collapse of food and health systems to the disruption of entire supply chains’.Youths and millions of people in the streets are demanding actions from the leaders they have elected; the UN Secretary-General and at least 40 heads of states and key stakeholders called for action on climate and nature loss; eight heads of states and government called for an emergency declaration for nature and people at the high-level week of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2019; 31 ministers of environment and the EU started a movement calling for action on nature loss in 2019; several countries have already declared a climate and nature emergency; the Global Risks Report talks about a planetary emergency; a growing number of businesses are committing to the importance of helping reverse nature loss through the Business for Nature coalition.

Business as usual is just no longer an option!

© Luis Barreto / WWF-UK

The 2020 Super-Year – a year for courage but ambition is still too low

I recently read an article that argued that our times are neither times of despair nor hope but that they must be times for courage. Indeed, 2020 is a super year for the environment and the planet. World leaders and governments will meet to make key decisions that will shape the future of humanity on oceans, biodiversity and climate. 

Yolanda Joab Mori, Founder and Executive Director of Island PRIDE, and One Young World Ambassador, Micronesia reminded us at the High-Level Political Forum for SDGs in 2019 that “We need to start thinking differently and welcome disruption, business as usual is not progress. Gone is the time for doing “just enough”. We are making up for lost time so If you think you are doing enough do more. If you think you are moving fast move faster. And if you are thinking of which decision to take next, take the one that requires more courage. So that when we ask ourselves how far are we from the sustainable development goals, we won’t have to wonder anymore, we’ll already know.”

On Monday, UN negotiations for a new global biodiversity plan will kick off in Rome, Italy, with the final negotiated plan expected to be adopted in October in Kunming, China. The level of ambition in the draft plan that arrives in Rome is currently too low and does not match the courageous decisions the world needs to address this planetary emergency and transform our relationship with nature for the prosperity and well-being of both people and planet. 

The world must instead seize this opportunity to secure a global plan that sets nature on the path to recovery by 2030. We need a biodiversity agreement at least as comprehensive, ambitious and science-based as the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. 

Now is the time for ambition and bold decision making, and we call on all governments to put short term interests aside and think of the bigger picture, including the sustainability of growth and development, as we enter the negotiations. The WWF position and response to the zero draft outlines key areas, such as the setting of ambitious science-based targets, that will be essential to address the planetary emergency.

A whole of government and whole of society solution to this planetary emergency

Next week will be an important moment, but not the only one. We know that to address the planetary emergency, we need to make bold decisions that address the direct and indirect drivers of nature loss with concrete actions across multiple sectors, with a focus on key sectors of agriculture, infrastructure, forestry, extractives, fisheries, towards a whole of government approach. And that signal also needs to be sent by the Heads of States and Government themselves, recognising the importance of reversing nature loss to be able to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Reducing the negative impact of our production and consumption footprint will be key to going beyond business as usual, along with economic and financial sector reforms that re-direct and align financial flows to nature- and climate-positive actions and solutions. This has to come hand-in-hand with clear plans that consider how the transition will be just and continue delivering on important goals of reducing poverty, continuing creating jobs while protecting and restoring nature toward a more sustainable model of living, development and income generation.

The crisis is planetary and the response needs to be planetary too – that also means action across the whole of society.

Heads of State gathering in New York in September on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the UN have a duty to send a strong political signal to the world at the Heads of State Summit on Biodiversity towards the Future We Want and leave a legacy we can be proud of for our children and grandchildren.

Governments need to make decisions that are transformative and courageous for the agreements of the global biodiversity framework, the treaty of the high seas, the review of the high-level political forum on sustainable development, the November climate talks in the UK.

Businesses need to start shifting their practices with bold actions to ensure our short term development does not lead to our demise as humanity.

Youth need to keep raising their voices and show us solutions that go beyond the current paradigm that has created the current emergency.

Cities should lead the way in scaling up effective solutions at the local level towards reversing the loss of nature.

Everyone can make a difference at an individual level by calling for more action, making lifestyle changes like shifting to a more plant-based diet, stop using plastic bags and use reusable bags instead, switch to renewable energy sources for household consumptions, and many other changes that can make a big difference if we all do it.

Authored by:

Claire Blanchard

Head of Global Advocacy at WWF-International

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