Making peace with nature means grappling with humanity’s impact on climate, biodiversity and beyond

Week of 22 February 2021

Making peace with nature means grappling with humanity’s impact on climate, biodiversity and beyond

What does it mean to “make peace with nature”—and why does this matter? As residents of the same planet, it seems intuitive that people need nature to survive, but the growing number of human-driven environmental crises is straining our ability to thrive. The UN Environment Programme sets out a “blueprint” for tackling the complex interlinkages between economic activities and nature, with roles, responsibilities and opportunities to promote a sustainable pathway forward for every actor in society.

The UN Environment Programme released a comprehensive, wide-reaching report, Making Peace With Nature, to provide a “scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies” while addressing the risks of these crises to people and broader society. The report details the many ways in which climate change, biodiversity and other environmental topics cross paths with sustainable development and human well-being—and the ways in which they mutually act on one another.

The blueprint is full of expectations and recommendations for actors across the global landscape, including policymakers and regulators, companies, investors, individuals and communities, civil society organisations, scientists, researchers and academics, and international organisations. It also covers a wide range of environmental topics, from climate change, to protection of biodiversity, to land management, to access to clean water and healthy food, to access to affordable clean energy, and more.

The report puts forth a core set of universal “key messages” as an umbrella for how all actors in society should be thinking about humanity’s role in protecting nature for the long-term good of people and planet. We’ve included some of the most important messages, as well as recommendations for business, below:

Top five key messages:

    • “Environmental changes are undermining hard-won development gains by causing economic costs and millions of premature deaths annually. They are impeding progress towards ending poverty and hunger, reducing inequalities and promoting sustainable economic growth, work for all and peaceful and inclusive societies.”
    • “The well-being of today‘s youth and future generations depends on an urgent and clear break with current trends of environmental decline. The coming decade is crucial. Society needs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 to limit warning to 1.5 °C as aspired to in the Paris Agreement, while at the same time conserving and restoring biodiversity and minimizing pollution and waste.”
    • “Earth’s environmental emergencies and human well-being need to be addressed together to achieve sustainability. The development of the goals, targets, commitments and mechanisms under the key environmental conventions and their implementation need to be aligned to become more synergistic and effective.”
    • “The economic, financial and productive systems can and should be transformed to lead and power the shift to sustainability. Society needs to include natural capital in decision-making, eliminate environmentally harmful subsidies and invest in the transition to a sustainable future.”
    • “Everyone has a role to play in ensuring that human knowledge, ingenuity, technology and cooperation are redeployed from transforming nature to transforming humankind‘s relationship with nature. Polycentric governance is key to empowering people to express themselves and act environmentally responsibly without undue difficulty or self-sacrifice.”
What does this mean for business? The report outlines three categories of actions for private sector actors:
  1. “Address Earth’s environmental emergencies and human well-being together” by:
    1. Supporting and complying with environmental legislation to level the playing field, implementing strong practices across the value chain and disclosing transparently on climate risk and environmental impacts of business activities
    2. Align business models with net-zero emissions targets
    3. Work with the public sector to finance ecosystem restoration and protect biodiversity, and ensure sustainable land management and natural resource use practices across the value chain
    4. Actively support and comply with environmental standards that protect human health and well-being, and assess and address risks to people from business and supply chain practices
    5. Engage with governments to promote sustainable urban planning, strengthen public transportation and support new regulations on energy-efficiency and access to urban services
  1. “Transform economic and financial systems so they lead and power the shift toward sustainability” by:
    1. Using natural capital in decision-making processes and ensuring both social and environmental risks are addressed in all projects and investments
    2. Participate in schemes that promote responsible use of resources, such as carbon trading and payment for ecosystems services, promote consumer behaviour change and apply social and environment standards to operations
    3. Invest in innovative technologies to promote environmental objectives, move towards a circular economy, and move away from unsustainable investments in industries like fossil fuels
  1. “Transform food, water and energy systems to meet growing human needs in an equitable, resilient and environmentally friendly manner” by:
    1. Developing and investing in systems that ensure access to affordable clean energy, water and nutritious food
    2. Providing services to minimize food waste, developing and supporting responsible food certification standards, and investing to develop and strengthen sustainable and resilient agricultural systems
    3. Developing, investing in and using low-carbon energy technology across the value chain
Read the full report here: United Nations Environment Programme, Making Peace with Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies (February 2021)    
“Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal. The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth. Ending our war does not mean surrendering hard-won development gains. Nor does it cancel the rightful aspiration of poorer nations and people to enjoy better living standards. On the contrary, making peace with nature, securing its health and building on the critical and undervalued benefits that it provides are key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all.”
“Loss of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, together with climate change and pollution will undermine our efforts on 80 per cent of assessed SDG Targets, making it even more difficult to report progress on poverty reduction, hunger, health, water, cities and climate. We need to look no further than the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, a zoonotic disease, i.e. transmitted from animal to human, to know that the finely-tuned system of the natural world has been disrupted. And finally, the “toxic trail” of economic growth – pollution and waste which results every year in the premature deaths of millions of people across the world. While the response to the medical emergency of COVID-19 rightly preoccupies government budgets and political action, the response to this pandemic must ultimately accelerate the economic and social transformations needed to address the planetary emergency. As the UN Secretary-General noted in his State of Planet speech, ‘COVID recovery and our planet’s repair must be two sides of the same coin.’”

Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme, Foreword, Making Peace with Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies (February 2021)