You have probably heard about biodiversity loss as a new and urgent problem we need to address. News about extinct rhinos and endangered bees have made headlines recently, and perhaps they have even hit too close to home for you. However, do you feel personally threatened by these stories? Do you feel they are directly related to you or your work? More importantly, do you feel somehow responsible for these issues? If the answers are “no” or “not really”, you are not very different from many of the people out there who are reading this news.
Unlike climate change, now more than ever, the consequences of biodiversity depletion are still abstract at the global scale and across socioeconomic sectors. The appearance of new species and the extinction of others are deemed natural processes, and the same holds true for climate change. However, here we are, trying to keep Planet Earth habitable because it has been proven that human systems directly induce global warming. This logic also applies to biodiversity: unprecedented changes in the number of species and individuals are linked to human interventions, which pushes us towards systemic disruptions (see the concept of planetary boundaries). To make this a bit more concrete, human activities have already starkly altered 75% of terrestrial and 66% of marine ecosystems, with one million species facing extinction and significant foreseen challenges in the provision of ecosystem services (IPBES, 2019).
If we understand our planet as a system, it seems logical to conclude that the climate and biodiversity crises are inextricably connected (IPBES-IPCC, 2021). It also seems terrifying that the World Economic Forum (WEF, 2022) places both emergencies at the top five of the most potentially damaging risks affecting our human-driven systems. By this moment, you should be connecting the dots to realize that climate and biological changes will worsen if they are not tackled together or at least with the same degree of urgency and effort. You are also not alone in this: different actors are starting to pay attention to biodiversity. Let’s take the financial sector, where studies have proved that the depletion of biodiversity is financially material, while financial portfolios impact ecosystems. This is known as the ‘double materiality principle’ – which applies to all environmental aspects (European Commission, 2019).
Unfortunately, most financial institutions have not developed strategies to account for biodiversity risks. Several initiatives will likely have to align to attain the level of change required. For instance, global efforts will hopefully trigger transformations at various governance levels (e.g. regional and national legislation and strategies). An important example is the upcoming Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which is comparable to the Paris Agreement on climate change. It will require bold and immediate action from governments, financial institutions, companies, academia and individuals to reach the goal of “living in harmony with nature by 2050”.
But, how much time do we have left to address biodiversity loss? And, will the GBF be fast enough? Well, the answer is not much time left to act on it, and the GBF will not be enough. These matters are urgent; if one species is gone, it is gone forever and political changes, as you know, take time. The good news is that a mix of voluntary and non-voluntary activities are being developed. For instance, if we focus on the financial sector, there is a growing interest in measuring how investment portfolios depend on and impact ecosystems. At the same time, the expansion of sustainable finance strategies to cover biodiversity is gaining traction. The EU Taxonomy (a set of criteria to define which economic activities are sustainable) has one of its six objectives devoted to the “protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems”. However, it will take some time and private sector motivation to yield fruits.
You see, many things are going on around biodiversity, and maybe you feel relieved that some people are starting to care. Nevertheless, actions and needs vary across regions because the world is extensive and complex. According to the Living Planet Index, biodiversity hot spots such as Latin America currently experience the most significant reduction in vertebrae populations. Since the objective is not just to alarm you, but to call your attention and engagement, the recently launched IKI project “Sustainable Finance for Biodiversity in Brazil and Colombia (SF4B)” implemented by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Centre, Fundaçao Getulio Vargas (Brazil) and Fondo Acción (Colombia), and funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV), will bridge knowledge gaps and foster cooperation between the EU and these two megadiverse countries. The project will explore learnings from the climate change arena, accompany national processes on sustainable finance taxonomies, research on sectoral relationships, existing tools and approaches, and develop capacities so that biodiversity loss will be halted, and you indeed can feel better.