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UNDP Global

Treasured coastline in Tunisia
Nature provides not only the basis for achieving Goals 14 and 15, but is fundamental for achieving other global goals related to food security, water security, disaster risk reduction, health, sustainable energy, and poverty reduction. Credit: UNDP.

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We are facing a global biodiversity crisis. The Living Planet Report estimates that we have lost 57 percent of biodiversity since 1970, and we stand to lose 68 percent by 2020. This is a crisis for all life on earth, including human life. Here’s why.

First, achievement of the SDGs is predicated upon healthy biodiversity and ecosystems. Nature provides not only the basis for achieving Goals 14 and 15, but is fundamental for achieving other global goals related to food security, water security, disaster risk reduction, health, sustainable energy, and poverty reduction, among others. 

If we look at forests, we know from recent research by The Nature Conservancy that 80 percent of the world’s municipal water supply could be improved through forest protection, and indeed, one out of three of the world’s largest cities depend upon forest protected areas. 

We know that two in five people in the world depend entirely on forests for their heating and cooking fuel, and nearly three in five depend on forests for their medicine. 

Forest watersheds and wetlands are responsible for generating water for three fourths of all agriculture worldwide. 

Forests and forest products sustain the livelihoods of as many as 1.5 billion people, and more than $233 billion in export revenue alone. 

They are also essential for helping us achieve our climate goals – forests capture one fourth of all carbon emissions -- we cannot reach our goals in climate without forests. 

Forests also are the home to the vast majority of biodiversity – they harbour 80 percent of all plants and animals on earth.

If we look at oceans, we know that about one out of every eight people on earth depends on fisheries and fisheries trade for their livelihood. 

Nearly one out of every five grams of protein that we eat globally is from fish – nearly three billion people rely on fish as a major source of protein. 

This is especially true in many developing countries, and coastal and small island communities – where every other gram of protein is fish. 

Oceans are also a powerful tool to combat climate change – seagrass beds are as effective as forests in sequestering carbon. 

Put simply, healthy ecosystems underpin healthy, resilient nations and communities, and we cannot achieve our Sustainable Development Goals without safeguarding nature.

Second, looking through an economic lens, we must begin to understand the incalculable impact that the loss of biodiversity has already had, and will continue to have, on our global economy, and the profound imbalances in biodiversity finance. 

The full value of nature to global GDP is somewhere between 75 and 125 trillion dollars , on a par with global GDP itself, which is about 78 trillion dollars . The costs to sustain biodiversity and ecosystems are a miniscule fraction of this – between 150 and 440 billion dollars annually . 

And we know from the report by TEEB, (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) that when we invest in nature, the return can as high as 50:1 or more.

Yet today we invest only a tiny fraction of that amount in biodiversity, or around $50 billion dollars globally every year . This barely registers as what statisticians call a ‘rounding error’ – so small as to be insignificant.

Moreover, researchers estimate that we are losing up to $20 trillion in ecosystem services annually from the loss of biodiversity . Not only does this present us with a profound barrier to achieving many of the SDGs now, but it presents an even great challenge when considering the agriculture-water-energy nexus ahead of us. By 2030, we will add another 1.2 billion people to the planet, and we expect demand for food to increase by 35 percent, for water by 40 percent, and for energy by 50 percent. 

At UNDP, we view nature as a solution. We have already made a substantial investment in nature-based solutions – we support some 819 active projects, representing a US$2.52 billion investment, with US$11.2 billion in co-finance. 

As we look to the future, we see five major strategies for finding nature-based solutions to solve our development challenges.

First, we must focus on disrupting the social and economic systems that cause biodiversity loss. This includes tackling the market, policy and governance failures that drive unsustainable production. 

As an example, we are delighted to note the launching of the Good Growth Partnership earlier this month, a partnership of businesses, NGOs, government leaders and the Global Environment Facility focused on creating deforestation-free commodities. With the demand for soy, beef and palm oil expected to double by 2030, the Good Growth Partnership works across production, financing and demand to convene a wide range of stakeholders, in order to create lasting, transformative change throughout these key global commodity supply chains. This ambitious effort aims to balance the needs of a growing global population with social and environmental responsibilities.

Second, we need to support countries to fully implement their existing commitments to protect and restore of ecosystems. These include the 2020 CBD Strategic Plan, the New York Declaration on Forests, the Sendai Framework, the Paris Agreement and the Bonn Challenge, among others. Doing so, will help secure vital ecosystem services, including water security and food security, as well as promote poverty eradication and disaster risk reduction.

Third, we need to transform the underlying systems that maintain an unsustainable status quo – the systems of finance, tenure, land rights, and policies - by helping governments identify and access new finance solutions. 

Through UNDP’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative, we work with 30 countries around the world to help ministries of finance and environment work together to find creative and innovative solutions to fill their biodiversity finance gaps. We also work on promoting land rights, especially around mining and extractive industries.

Fourth, we must focus on strengthening resilience to climate shocks by promoting nature-based climate change adaptation and mitigation. By fortifying the front line of climate change – the forests, wetlands, mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs – we protect our own cities and communities from disaster.

And finally, we must help governments transition to green economies by supporting them to conduct green fiscal reform – to correct market failures, to phase out harmful incentives and subsidies, to shift consumption patterns and to drive private capital toward products and production processes with lower resource footprints.

Overall, to achieve the transformation we need, we must strengthen our partnerships at all levels. UNDP greatly values the work of The Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society in advancing nature-based solutions for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and the cutting-edge research at the University of California at Santa Barbara. We especially recognize the important role of the Science for Nature and People Partnership, in ensuring that nature-based solutions for sustainable development are credible, evidence-based and scalable. 

Clearly, we depend on nature to achieve our ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. However, nature also depends on us. We must commit ourselves to investing in nature, to protecting, restoring and sustainably using the biodiversity and ecosystems upon which all life depends. Only then can we achieve the future we all want.


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