Nature is declining at an unprecedented rate, with nearly 1 million species at risk of extinction because of human activity. Earth system scientists have warned that the Amazon rainforest, the world’s coral reefs and the boreal forest biomes are all fast approaching the cusp of irreversible tipping points with far-reaching effects on the economy, society and life as we know it. The consequences are just as alarming for business and humanity as they are for the environment. The first report of the World Economic Forum’s New Nature Economy Report (NNER) series, Nature Risk Rising, highlighted that $44 trillion of economic value generation – over half the world’s total GDP – is potentially at risk as a result of the dependence of business on nature and its services. Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse ranked as one of the top five threats humanity will face in the next 10 years in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Risks Report.
The window for action is narrowing at an alarming rate, while the cost of inaction is increasing. At the time of writing, the breakout of the COVID-19 crisis in early 2020 is tragically impacting the lives of millions and disrupting the livelihoods of billions of people around the world. Addressing this humanitarian and health crisis is a clear priority. And yet the impact of the crisis on livelihoods is already putting additional strain on nature. Governments are redirecting funds away from conservation activities causing revenues of parks and nature reserves to dry up, and the rising rural poverty and reverse migration from urban areas is bringing additional pressure on wildlife and ecosystems. As the global focus turns from the health crisis to economic rebuilding and recovery, concerns for the health of the planet risk being side-lined.
This would be a mistake. COVID-19 is a stark reminder of how ignoring biophysical risks can have catastrophic health and economic impacts at the global scale. If recovery efforts do not address the looming planetary crises – climate change and nature loss – a critical window of opportunity to avoid their worst impact will be irreversibly lost. Decisions on how to deploy the post-COVID crisis stimulus packages will likely shape societies and economies for decades, making it imperative to “build back better” and not return to an unsustainable and dangerous business-as-usual approach. There is ample evidence that adopting green stimulus measures can generate even more effective economic and employment growth and build more resilient societies by aligning the global economy with planetary boundaries.
The World Economic Forum’s NNER series set out to highlight the materiality of nature loss for businesses, what transitions are needed to move towards a nature-positive economy and how businesses can be part of the solution paving the way for new opportunities. Now, more than ever, a dire need for leadership from all quarters is evident. This report provides a pragmatic agenda for business to contribute to the development of practical roadmaps that address the most important drivers of nature loss and build a nature-positive future. To successfully address this challenge will require tackling the indirect forces that underly the drivers of nature loss – such as global trade, production and consumption patterns, governance mechanisms and the values and behaviours of society – something business alone can seldom do. Even as lasting transformational change will often require enforceable and coherent regulatory and policy mechanisms and a shift in societal values, business leadership can help shape the agenda and move the goalpost of what is politically possible.