We are living in a world of extremes. Extreme heat, extreme storms, and extreme differences of opinion about what it will take to address the many challenges we face, ranging from our ongoing struggle with COVID-19 to the climate crisis. We are in the midst of an unprecedented experiment with our planet. It hasn’t warmed this fast any time before in human history. CO2 levels haven’t been this high for at least 3 million years, and we haven’t seen this much carbon going into the atmosphere this fast, ever.
Thankfully, we have a large body of science-based evidence that can help us find solutions to these problems, and along the way, imbue more meaning into our lives and livelihoods. In fact, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) top prescription for rebuilding a healthier world in the wake of the pandemic is to protect and preserve nature. The pandemic has made it crystal clear that human health is inextricably tied to planetary health. We must use this opportunity to rebuild our broken connection with nature and collectively address the dual issues of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. Whether it’s for our physical or fiscal well-being, it’s clear that we need nature now.
In the wake of COVID-19, national governments and public development agencies are pumping trillions of dollars into health care, immediate unemployment relief, and other direct economic support measures. Unfortunately, many “green recovery packages” have fallen short. Of the $14.9 trillion stimulus announced by mid-2021, only $1.8 trillion (at the time of analysis) was “green” enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or enhance nature and biodiversity.
The connection to human well-being and nature is indisputable. The WHO estimates that one in four deaths is attributable to unhealthy environments. It is estimated that approximately 5.6 million deaths annually could be prevented through better environmental management.
If done thoughtfully, economic recovery and environmental action can go hand in hand, leading to healthier, more prosperous lives.
The good news: There is still time to incorporate nature-positive recovery plans that support a more resilient future for people, the planet, and economic prosperity. If done thoughtfully, economic recovery and environmental action can go hand in hand, leading to healthier, more prosperous lives.
Evidence also suggests that investing in a nature-positive recovery will benefit more than our health—it will also pay back over the long term. The World Economic Forum estimates that a systemic transformation to a nature-friendly economy could help create 395 million jobs and deliver $10.1 trillion of economic value by 2030. Yet, to reap these physical and fiscal benefits, we need to catalyze a significant increase in financial support for nature.
According to a study TNC did with the Paulson Institute and Cornell University, the world faces a $700 billion annual financing gap for nature. That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually less than 1 percent of global GDP. We can close that gap with what the world spends on soft drinks in a year. In fact, the gap can be addressed with a fairly simple formula: reduce, produce, and invest. We could close nearly half this gap with no new funding by reducing the flow of capital to harmful behaviors and shifting it toward activities that benefit nature. There is a clear path to action by reducing ineffective subsidies and supply-chain practices, producing new sources of funding, and investing in a manner that pays dividends for nature.
At TNC we are leading a host of efforts to help governments, investors, companies, and communities to do just this—from Blue Bonds to save the world’s oceans while restructuring crippling debt for countries most affected by the climate crisis, to our partnership with Amazon that will help thousands of farmers in Brazil restore degraded cattle pastures to native forest and agroforestry, generating income for farmers while storing carbon.
This year, world leaders are convening for long-delayed meetings to agree on a new framework to protect biodiversity and increase global climate commitments that will guide efforts for the next 10 years. The negotiators are discussing not only better governance of natural resources but perhaps most daunting, how we pay for all of this.
We cannot have healthy, prosperous societies if we don’t protect the natural systems on which they depend. But setting ambitious targets at these meetings presents a new start, not an end, to the work ahead. We won’t be able to follow through on these goals if we don’t agree to radical collaboration amongst all parties. We must bring together all the players from government, finance, business, and local communities to unlock new sources of funding for nature, demonstrate its value, and implement solutions on the ground as we build back better.