A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme warns that investment in nature-based solutions must double by 2025 if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5°C, as well as halting biodiversity loss and progressively increasing land degradation.
The report comes a week before world leaders will gather at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada, where they are set to negotiate an agreement that aims to halt and reverse biodiveristy loss by 2030. UNEP is calling on governments to agree on a clear framework for countries to require the financial sector to align its activities with ‘nature positive’ goals.
“The science is undeniable. As we transition to net-zero emissions by 2050, we must also reorient all human activity to ease the pressure on the natural world on which we all depend,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. “This requires governments, business and finance to massively step up investments in nature-based solutions because investments in nature are investments in securing the future for generations to follow.”
Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, manage, or restore natural ecosystems, and are already well-documented to be critical to any response to climate change. The World Bank estimates that nature-based solutions can reduce by 37% the carbon emissions reductions that are needed by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement goals. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also pointed to nature-based solutions, such as biodiversity preservation, as key to realistic emissions reductions.
“Phasing out coal and decarbonizing the energy systems will not be enough without adjacent massive investments into nature-based solutions,” the report found. “Politicians, business and finance leaders and citizens globally must transform their relationship with nature to work with it rather than against it.”
Nature-negative expenditures are 3 to 7 times higher than nature-based solution investment
While the world faces the overlapping planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, nature-negative expenditures are 3 to 7 times larger than current investments in nature-based solutions, the report found. With the impacts of these crises already being felt by millions of people around the world, particularly the most vulnerable, UNEP said immediate action is required to begin mitigating and reversing the most harmful impacts.
Government expenditures on harmful subsidies to fisheries, agriculture and fossil fuels is estimated at $500 billion to $1 trillion annually. Harmful subsidies are highest in the energy and agricultural sectors, estimated at $340 to $530 billion and around $500 billion per year respectively. By contrast, investment in nature based solutions (Nbs) currently are estimated at just $154 billion annually.
“These flows severely undermine efforts to achieve critical environmental targets,” the report warns. “Delayed action is no longer an option in the face of the devastating effects of climate change, the extinction crisis and severe land degradation globally.”
This warning is the latest in a series of dire calls to action by UNEP. Its adaptation and emissions gap reports equally stressed the need for immediate action if any hopes of averting climate disaster are to be kept alive.
“We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over,” Andersen said at a press conference launching the UNEP emissions gap report in late October, which benchmarked the gap between countries’ actual emissions and needed reductions to keep 1.5C alive. “Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating the climate disaster.”
Private sector must step up as governments faces overlapping crises
The UNEP report reveals that private capital represents just 17% of total investments into nature-based solutions. Governments currently provide the other 83%, but the report stresses they will be unlikely to be able to significantly scale up funding due to current global financial challenges linked to war, debt, and poverty.
As a result, private funding for nature-based solutions will have make-up the shortfall, requiring an increase by “several orders of magnitude” in the coming years. Total investments in nature-based solutions will need to hit $384 billion by 2050, more than double the present level of $154 billion annually, the report concludes.
The roadmap provided by the report calls for ramping up private capital investments in sustainable supply chains, offsetting unavoidable impacts, reducing activities with negative climate and biodiversity impacts, and investing in “net zero” and “nature positive” activities. This will require a U-turn from the current state of private financial flows.
“While robust evidence is lacking, it is widely recognized that private finance flows are predominantly negative for nature and almost certainly exacerbate the situation,” the report states. “These flows severely undermine efforts to achieve critical environmental targets,” the report states.
“As the IMF warns of the ‘darkest hour’ in 2023 for global growth, this report is a reminder that many short-term efforts to boost GDP by governments, without attention to the fact that nature underpins many economies, will impose greater costs for both present and future generations in years to come,” the UNEP document concludes.
Investment in protecting planet’s oceans disproportionately low
The UNEP analysis also found just 9% of investment in nature-based solutions are directed towards marine ecosystems, a disproportionately low amount given the critical role of oceans in climate mitigation, adaptation, food security, and biodiversity conservation.
The Earth’s oceans cover over 70% of the planet’s surface, absorb around 25% of all CO2 emissions, and provide 17% of the world’s protein. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, oceans have absorbed a third of human carbon dioxide emissions, making them one of the largest carbon sinks, topped only by global rainforests.
The lack of investment in marine protection comes at a time of crisis for the world’s oceans. Projections show that by 2050, our oceans may contain more plastics than fish. These will not only suffocate marine life, but also phytoplankton, the microorganisms at the heart of oceans’ abilities to absorb carbon dioxide, as forests and plants do on dry land.
As millions of tons of plastic break down in oceans across the world, uncounted quantities of microplastics are infiltrating phytoplankton, blocking sunlight-absorbing mechanisms, which in turn prevents the process of photosynthesis, and damages their ability to capture carbon in the seas.
Yet current annual investment in marine protected areas sits at just $980 million, as compared to protection efforts in terrestrial systems, which receive almost US$23 billion annually. US$8–11 billion is needed to increase marine protected areas to 30% by 2030, the report concludes.
“While the world is enduring multiple crises, this report provides clarity,” Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), said. “It shows that by significantly increasing public and private investments in nature-based solutions, it is possible to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation – and at the same time harness many societal and economic benefits. We need to act now.”
Image Credits: UNEP.
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