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Toward a Nature Positive Future: Interview with WWF Special Envoy Marco Lambertini


In this in-depth interview, Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International between 2014 and 2022 and a CCICED Council Member, discusses the historic adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Conference of the Parties 15 (COP15) in December 2022.

He highlights the GBF’s ambitious targets, the need for a “net-positive” outcome for nature, and the importance of mobilizing resources for implementation. The interview also explores China’s role in biodiversity finance and its potential to facilitate GBF implementation, as well as CCICED’s contribution to advancing the biodiversity agenda in China and beyond. Lambertini is currently Special Envoy of WWF International.

Lambertini on the CCICED Annual General Meeting 2023

“I am extremely excited that the AGM will resume in-person meetings this year. CCICED offers a valuable forum for deep and open discussions on complex topics. It brings together a unique combination of Chinese and international experts, non-government experts, and government representatives and informs policy decisions at the highest level. I don’t think there’s anything like this anywhere else.”

Can you take us back to the historical moment when the GBF was adopted at the United Nations CBD COP15?

The journey to adopting the framework wasn’t easy. The process lasted almost three years and was highly disrupted by the pandemic outbreak. This resulted in few physical negotiation sessions scattered across many months. We entered the final week of negotiations with almost 2000 texts still in brackets and differences to reconcile. The Presidency of China then played a critical role by presenting a draft that maintained a high level of ambition while considering inputs from all parties. The world finally endorsed the ambition and eventually approved the GBF. The last two weeks were nail biting – but in the end a resounding success!

What does the GBF mean for nature, biodiversity, and humanity?

The GBF is truly a landmark agreement for several reasons. It is ambitious: the GBF contains goals and targets that are critical to address the biodiversity crisis. It is also necessary: unlike ten years ago, we now have a clear understanding of the crisis we face, and perhaps even more importantly, the consequences of biodiversity loss not just for the natural world but also for society, the economy, and human wellbeing. I believe that the new cultural context and understanding of the seriousness of the biodiversity crisis – and the consequences of inaction – have brought the world together for this ambitious agreement.

The measurability of GBF adds another dimension to its significance. Although they are not perfect, these targets create a high level of accountability for every signatory country. It is the first time we have a clear, measurable global goal for nature, equivalent to the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global warming to well below 2°C.

The analogy you made between the goals on climate and nature is interesting. Do you consider GBF’s “30 by 30” (30% of land and sea conservation by 2030) equivalent to keeping global warming well below 2°C, as established by the Paris Agreement, in the climate context?

Although a critical component of the GBF, I wouldn’t say that the “30 by 30” nature conservation target alone is equivalent to the 1.5°C goal. The global goal for nature is reversing nature loss, which is the North Star – or Southern cross, if you like – that we must follow. The Framework includes crucial also requires a shift in our production and consumption model, and in the way we direct financial flows.

As GBF stated in its mission, we must “halt and reverse biodiversity loss to put nature on a path to recovery”, which means a “net positive” outcome on nature or “nature positive”. That’s why the GBF also contains measurable targets on sustainable production, restoration, and reducing harmful subsidies and incentives. All these targets need to be delivered because “30 by 30” alone, although an essential component, wouldn’t be enough to deliver the mission of having more nature in the world by the end of the decade. That is the measurable dimension of the new global goal for nature contained in the GBF.

“CCICED brings together a unique mix of Chinese and international experts, non-government experts, and government representatives, and informs policy decisions at the highest level. I don’t think there’s anything like this anywhere else.”

How do you assess the GBF’s targets?

We have agreed to a science-based ambition, to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 on a 2020 baseline, and identified specific targets on conservation, restoration, production, and finances to deliver it. Now, we must focus on implementation. Indeed, it will be challenging and require a lot of effort, resources, and partnership, but these are possible targets. And they are necessary for a safe and just future for humanity.

Mobilizing the right resources, including redirecting investments harmful to nature, will be a fundamental challenge in implementing the agreement. And to unlock the resources, we must embrace this cultural perspective that nature is not just something nice to preserve but vital to preserving the future of our civilization, humanity, and every other species on the planet.

Ecosystems and the biodiversity that constitutes them also play a fundamental role in climate change mitigation: 54% of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions emitted in the last decade have been neutralized by nature, with 31% on land and 23% in the ocean. We know that unless we maintain nature’s ability to absorb and store carbon in ecosystems like forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and mangroves, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 alone won’t be enough to meet the 1.5°C goal.

Nature also plays a critical role in water security by regulating water flow, access, and quality. Conserving natural habitats like wetlands or mangroves directly mitigates the impacts of extreme weather events, such as floods and storms. They are crucial for climate adaptation. And, of course, pollinators are critical for food security. Over one third of our crop production depends on them.

How can China facilitate the implementation of GBF?

We are at a critical time in history. A pivotal moment where we can shift from being nature-negative to becoming a nature-positive civilization – an ecological civilization – avoid tipping points in global ecosystems, and generate positive societal impacts by transforming our relationship with nature. Let’s remember that nature can come back if given a chance. This would bring huge benefits to our society and economy – to our future.

China has a significant recent domestic record on nature conservation. Also, its large, connected economy places China in a strategic position to address systemic biodiversity and environmental challenges. As the President of CBD COP15, China has played a leading role in the success of the CBD COP15. Before handing the Presidency over to Turkey in 2024, China can become a model by submitting an ambitious “National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan” (NBSAP) and supporting other countries, especially those with technical capacity challenges, to do the same. These plans are crucial; they will guide the development and implementation of the GBF, and financing should be tailored to support their execution.

How can the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including CCICED, contribute to advancing the biodiversity agenda in China and beyond?

Domestic and international NGOs can play an important role in supporting the Chinese government. They can provide technical and constructive support and perspectives to help China achieve environmental goals. To advance the biodiversity agenda, international NGOs can also share the lessons learned in China with the rest of the world so that other countries can benefit from them. Think tanks like CCICED should focus on supporting the implementation of the Paris and Kunming-Montreal Agreements which are foundational to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Platforms like CCICED offer a space for deep and open discussions on complex topics. CCICED brings together a unique mix of Chinese and international experts, non-government experts, and government representatives, and informs policy decisions at the highest level. I don’t think there’s anything like this anywhere else.

The private sector is critical to addressing both the climate and biodiversity crisis. They are the main source of today’s footprint and hold the solutions for a carbon-neutral and a nature-positive future. This requires a transition towards nature-positive practices in key sectors like agriculture, fishing, aquaculture, forestry, infrastructure, and mining. Clear regulation, robust reporting requirements, and repurposed incentives are needed to support the transition. We need to see an alignment from consumers, producers, and the political space toward achieving this transformation.

We are entering a new area for the environment and development. Beyond the GBF, countries are developing new treaties on the ocean, such as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction treaty (also known as the Treaty of the High Seas) and plastic pollution. Just as CCICED has contributed to the success of the CBD COP15, CCICED could potentially also contribute to the implementation of these emerging global governance mechanisms. They lie at the intersection of environment and development and are connected to several ongoing CCICED’s Special Policy Studies (SPS) related to consumption and production.

Conserving nature has significant benefits to climate actions. However, global efforts to preserve nature and fight climate change are negotiated under different UN frameworks and are subject to often segmented targets and action gaps. How shall we design policy strategies to amplify the synergies between nature and climate as countries implement the GBF?

There are three key categories of environmental challenges today: climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. We have many international multilateral agreements to address these environmental challenges, but they may not all harmonize with each other. That complicates things, but it is a reality that has evolved over many decades. To align these agreements is key as they are all interdependent.

However, the players and the levers to implement and enforce the multilateral agreements – the governments, which act through regulation and incentives, the private sector, and consumers – are the same. Their alignment on the implementation of these agreements is perhaps the most critical and impactful factor.

How big is the “financing gap” to meet the GBF targets, and how to close the gap?

Global biodiversity conservation requires at least USD 200 billion of direct intervention per year until 2030 (some estimates speak of significantly higher figures). Today, we are set to secure USD 100 billion annually over this period, but this will mainly be spent by developed economies, with most of the money coming from national budgets. The financing gap is thus estimated to be just short of USD 100 billion – a significant portion of which in developing countries. Besides, there is a need to address harmful investments, public and private. Current calculations indicate that this gap could exceed USD 1 trillion per year.

There are several interconnected financial streams, such as government-to-government financial support, natural accounting mechanisms, and redirecting public support toward practices that positively impact nature or at least minimize negative effects.

The GBF set three ambitious targets by 2030. First, to mobilize at least USD 20 billion by 2025 and at least USD 30 billion by 2030 in funding from developed economies to support nature conservation in developing economies. Second, to achieve overall direct investments of USD 200 billion per year for biodiversity. And third, to eliminate, phase out, or redirect USD 500 billion of harmful subsidies.

Similarly, we need to redirect private investment from nature negative to nature positive. This will require new standards and reporting mechanisms, which are being developed in the financial and business sectors. We can also introduce market-based mechanisms to ensure companies compensate for their unavoidable impact on nature in a meaningful way. And the key words here are “truly unavoidable” impacts and “meaningful” compensation, which requires delivering measurable net positive outcomes on nature.

Each financial stream has different political and economic dynamics. We’ve already witnessed some progress. Moving forward, we need to speed up and scale up the efforts towards the right direction. As the old saying goes: “nature Conservation without finance, is just nature conversation”.

How about the cost of inaction?

There is undoubtedly a price tag for inaction. Today we are able to understand it and calculate it better than ever before. On the one hand, inaction leads to billions in materials costs. Just last year, extreme weather events, in many cases made worse by the destruction of ecosystems that could have mitigated them, cost over USD 300 billion to the economy worldwide.

On the other hand, conserving nature is not just about cost avoidance; it also supports productivity and the economy. Call it the “double value” of preserving nature, if you like. Today, the value of nature conservation for the economy and society is clear like never before. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has estimated that half of the global GDP, a staggering USD 44 trillion, relies on healthy and productive natural systems. Simply put, if we invest in nature, we have a positive economic and social impact. The WEF has also estimated that a new nature-positive economy could generate up to $10.1 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs by 2030. If we neglect nature, we face serious negative consequences, also for the economy.

How can China contribute to biodiversity finance?

The Kunming Biodiversity Fund, worth around USD 230 million, announced by China in October 2021, remains an instrument that could be developed further. China has the opportunity to scale up the fund through domestic funding, as well as by developing additional financial mechanisms and securing funds from other countries. The GBF Fund, to be hosted by the Global Environment Facility, will also need to be capitalized.

China’s efforts to green the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are also a great example of redirecting finance in a nature-positive way. Through safeguards and mitigation measures, these projects could reduce the impacts and potentially achieve net positive outcomes – for example, by investing in protecting and restoring nature in the areas where infrastructure projects are developed.

The views expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of CCICED.


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