Biodiversity on nature’s own terms and coexistence
Population centres have always challenged the landscape and nature around them. Like beavers, humans have sought to tame rivers to make them less capricious and more reliable as a resource. For nature to grow, it needs space on its own terms, connectivity and a reversal of overexploitation and chemicals flowing into land, rivers and sea.
Different visions for the way we use land in the future emerge, and they can exist side by side and strengthen each other. One way involves nature taking its course, with human influence restricted to a minimum, also called rewilding. Another way involves a rich biodiversity co-existing with human activities, in managed open and forest landscapes, and even in cities. When we promote the return of the wild, it is important to work with communities consider potential conflicts between wildlife and people.
Against the backdrop of diminishing arable land and growing environmental challenges, the world looks to agriculture and agribusiness to increase productivity and efficiency. To nourish the 815 million people who are hungry around the world and the additional 2 billion people at risk of being undernourished by 2050, investments in agriculture and food production are crucial.
Increased efficiency and productivity of agriculture and innovative bioeconomy are also essential for releasing some agricultural land back to nature for recovery and improving the chances of adapting to unavoidable climate change. Producing more food with fewer inputs, the use of by-products and waste recovery will support competitiveness, resilience to climate shocks and sustainable value chains.
There are also agricultural approaches that restore the health of soil and its water retention capacity, yielding multiple benefits. At the core of these approaches, we must manage the simultaneous transformation of the land and the livelihoods of people that depend on it, creating supply chains that share the benefits more equitably.
Some of the key challenges to be overcome are entrenched ownership and land valuations inflated by subsidies, slowing down progress on the transformation of land use, even where the opportunity cost in terms of other economic activity is low, for example where land is already degraded.
Working with nature brings new opportunities and risks
Much of the world’s biodiversity stands to be lost in the coming decades, and that has economic implications as well as natural ones. We need to build a sustainable economy and financial system with new opportunities and risks. Our approach to land should not be determined by history. Rather it must be about active choices grounded in the present and a tangible recognition of the costs involved in developing and maintaining nature.
Investing in nature’s own infrastructure for climate regulation is a necessary component of climate mitigation and adaptation, and for reversing the large-scale release of carbon from degrading natural carbon stores. Working with nature to regulate water and heat will also be an important tool for maintaining liveable environments on regional and local levels, such as in cities. Restoring and releasing areas back to nature on land and at sea will be essential for improving the chances of ecosystems to adapt to inevitable changes in climate.
When we work with nature we tap into life’s connections and synergies. It is up to us capture the multiple benefits. Finance can become an enabler of transformation if the timescales and specific risks relating to natural outcomes can be managed. The EU is at the forefront of exploring new sustainable financial approaches, such as the Natural Capital Financing Facility, which is yielding lessons for a future architecture around biodiversity and nature-based solutions.
We have the knowledge and understanding to create a future where our actions are in balance with natural processes and in which the fruits of nature are distributed more evenly. To gain time for the innovations that will transform our economies to a low-carbon future, we must invest in natural solutions now.
Innovation and technology can work for the benefit of efficiency and equity—alongside nature.