By Ramnath Vaidyanathan,
Our planet is at a crossroads — never has the world faced a more pressing crisis: climate change and the threat it poses to biodiversity, and through it, to human existence. While the efforts to combat the climate crisis are gathering traction slowly, the pace isn’t nearly fast enough as our ecosystems are collapsing and species are becoming extinct at an unprecedented rate.
Deforestation and forest degradation continue unabated, leading to significant nature and biodiversity loss. According to the 2020 The State of the World’s Forests – Forests, Biodiversity and People report by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization, “In absolute terms, the global forest area decreased by 178 million hectares between 1990 and 2020, which is an area about the size of Libya.”
The report has more distressing statistics. The forest-specialist index, based on 455 monitored populations of 268 forest mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds, fell by 53% between 1970 and 2014, an annual rate of decline of 1.7%. This highlights the increased risk of these species becoming vulnerable to extinction.
The extinction of a species may have unforeseen impacts and could potentially lead to the destruction of an entire ecosystem. Solutions that focus on protecting nature and ensuring biodiversity offer the best way to foster human well-being, combat climate change and protect our planet. Ultimately, saving nature is really about saving ourselves.
The pandemic impact
Covid-19 has been the biggest disruptor humankind has seen, thus far. Spreading across the world at lightning speed, the pandemic has caused unprecedented damage and destruction. While the global crisis did have a benign, and unintended, impact – as pollution reduced and air quality improved as industries and transport shut down due to lockdowns – new research points to a direct link between the destruction of nature and disease outbreaks.
The research also suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne illnesses could become more frequent due to the destruction of nature, biodiversity loss and threats to ecosystem health. The catastrophic effects of the pandemic have spotlighted the role of protecting and restoring nature to reduce the likelihood of another viral spillover.
As the world recovers from the global health crisis it is imperative that countries integrate biodiversity considerations into their pandemic response and economic recovery plans.
Governments must ensure that even as immediate social and economic needs are being addressed, the focus should not shift from building longer-term resilience and sustainability.
Towards this, we need to accelerate actions to implement the Paris Accord in letter and spirit. It is critical for our survival to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 to keep temperature rise close to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C.
According to the Nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation report by UNEP and the International Union for Conservation of Nature: equitable and resilient nature-based solutions can mitigate climate change while simultaneously strengthening both ecosystems and communities’ resilience to climate change, promoting biodiversity conservation and reducing the risk of climate change.
While nature-based solutions, which involve protection, restoration and sustainable management of natural carbon sinks and reservoirs, have a role to play, alone it is bound to fall short. Rapid, ambitious and sustained abatement of fossil fuels and other industrial emissions is required.
Role of corporates
Corporates too need to accelerate efforts to protect the environment and ensure biodiversity. The battle against Corona has shown that corporations are not driven solely by pecuniary motives. Instead, they have been contributing wholeheartedly to the fight, offering resources and material to protect essential workers while ensuring the safety of their employees.
With only part of the battle over, as the looming threat of the third wave could imperil public health, corporates must now look to economic recovery efforts that support communities and the environment. Businesses must increase investments in natural climate solutions, support climate stability and ecosystem resilience.
As the world looks to rebuild itself and prevent occurrences of emergency events in the future, our recovery plans of action will have to incorporate solutions conducive to the environment.
(The author is General Manager of Sustainability, Good and Green at Godrej Industries. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)