COVID-19 has given us a stark warning of the risks, vulnerabilities and inequalities of our systems – and what is at stake if we cannot mobilize radical action to reset the world towards a carbon-neutral, nature-positive future.
Climate change, nature loss and social inequalities need to be tackled together to achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.
Encouraging global signals emerge
It’s positive to see the progress being made on the global stage. In September, China announced a commitment to achieve peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and to become carbon neutral before 2060. In doing so, it joins the EU, the UK, Canada and many others in adopting the climate targets set out in the Paris Agreement.
President Xi Jinping’s announcement at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly was welcomed by several world leaders. This gave a strong signal that China takes its responsibilities seriously and will deliver a solid green economic recovery plan post-COVID-19.
Because of the uncertainty caused as a result of the pandemic, for the first time in decades, China has announced that it will not set a target for economic growth this year. Not setting such a target may enable policy-makers to prioritize innovative ideas for improving the environment and wellbeing, and slowing down the economy could well mean less of a burden on the environment.
Nature is our ally in the fight against climate change
In order to meet its ambitious climate target, China (and indeed any countries making net-zero commitments), must consider protecting and restoring nature alongside the roll-out of nature-based solutions. These could provide around one-third of the solution to climate change, while helping people become more resilient, and are one of the most powerful ways countries can enhance their national climate commitments.
New research from the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) reveals the major benefits of an integrated approach. The report says that if we conserve 30% of land in strategic locations, we could keep around half of the world’s vulnerable terrestrial carbon stocks in the ground and reduce the extinction risk of nearly nine out of 10 threatened terrestrial species.
There are potentially huge economic gains to be made as a result of shifting towards a nature-positive economy. According to the World Economic Forum report The Future of Nature and Business, transitioning towards a sustainable economy could create 395 million jobs by 2030 and generate $10.1 trillion in business opportunities.
"It is necessary to establish dialogues between business and policy to transform our economic growth model. Rational use of natural resources, restoration and protection of the natural ecological environment are essential to boost economic prosperity. The need to achieve sustainable development and reconstruct the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature is inseparable from the extensive participation of the business community."
—Cui Shuhong, Director-General, Ministry of Environment and Ecology (MEE), China
2021 presents a unique opportunity
Next year presents two major opportunities for both nature and climate. The first is the fifteenth UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) in Kunming, China. This is when the international community will hopefully agree to a new Paris style agreement but for nature, called the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.
The second is the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP26 that will take place in Glasgow, UK, in November to discuss how to make global progress on climate change. Nature and the role of nature-based solutions is one of five key areas identified as requiring particular attention.
A positive outcome at both COP15 and COP26 has the potential to scale and speed up the action and investment needed in order to generate clean jobs and potentially unlock trillions in new business opportunities. The delay caused by the pandemic to these meetings, meanwhile, provides a unique opportunity to inform and strengthen the links between climate and nature and how businesses and governments can respond accordingly.
Businesses are embracing the challenge
As we move towards a greener, fairer and more inclusive future, no government can act alone. Forward-thinking businesses understand why building a carbon-neutral, nature-positive future makes economic sense and despite the current pandemic are committing, acting and advocating to reverse climate change and nature loss in this decade. Business for Nature knows of at least 530 major companies that have made ambitious and time-bound commitments to help reverse nature loss and more than double this number are acting in some way to reduce their negative impacts on nature, investing in protecting and restoring nature, and scaling up products and technologies with a lower impact.
In China, the Green Supply Chain Action (GSC) Action project has engaged 100 real estate companies and nearly 4,000 suppliers to establish green procurement standards across raw material mining, production and processing.
For example, at the largest petrochemical platform in Asia – the Shanghai Chemical Industry Park (SCIP) – water treatment firm Suez won a contract that involves implementing a new wetland concept known as the Zone Libellule (meaning Dragonfly Zone). This involves rehabilitating and expanding 13 hectares of wetland and thereby strengthening the treatment capabilities of the natural environment, which both restores biodiversity and ensures more refined water treatment.
Meanwhile, one of the largest wood flooring and furniture brands in China, Nature Home (China) Co. Ltd, has successfully planted 24 ecological forests, covering more than 1 million square metres in 17 areas both within and outside China.
Each of these businesses, whatever their moral or ethical stance towards nature, recognizes that protecting it has a compelling justification.
Set up by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment of China and other international partners, the BRI International Green Development Coalition also provides a platform to bring key stakeholders together in order to accelerate the transition to a greener, more sustainable future as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Governments need to provide strong policy signals
In order to invest in adapting their business models, businesses need governments to provide strong policy signals. Just recently, more than 600 companies with combined revenues of $4.1 trillion – including many Chinese businesses such as Cofco International, Fosun International, JD.com and Tencent Holdings – urged governments to adopt policies now to reverse nature loss in this decade. I would encourage all businesses to sign this Call to Action, called Nature Is Everyone’s Business, and join a powerful collective business voice calling to reverse nature loss in this decade.
China already has several flagship biodiversity policies in place, including ecological conservation red lines – a land-use planning strategy that protects up to 28% of land for nature – and the concept of ecological civilization, which is embedded in its constitution. Through its Business and Biodiversity Partnership, the Foreign Economic Cooperation Office (FECO) affiliated to the Ministry of Environmental Protection in China, along with other associations is leading efforts to integrate biodiversity into decision-making. And China’s recent commitment to achieve carbon emissions peak before 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 is estimated to be the single largest climate commitment to-date.
At WBCSD, we welcome China’s leadership to accelerate the transition to a greener, more sustainable world. And in my new role as Business for Nature’s Chief Advisor in China, I look forward to working more closely with businesses of all sizes and across all sectors on why embracing nature as a solution makes good business sense. After all, only by working alongside nature, will we create healthy societies, resilient economies and thriving businesses.
Wei Dong Zhou is Director, WBCSD China and Business for Nature Chief Advisor in China
This article was originally published by the World Economic Forum