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The Nature Economy

"There can be no Plan B because there is no planet B." – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Cape Town – The planet is losing species and natural areas at an alarming rate, but there is hope for reversing some of the devastation in a way that is sustainable and also helps grow economies, delegates at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa heard on Thursday.

While the decade before 2020 was spent focusing, unsuccessfully on diversity, the next 10 years will be spent rebuilding what we can, journalist Bronwyn Nielsen, who moderated a session on The Nature Economy said.

Marco Lambertini, World Wildlife Foundation Director-General, said we need to take a different approach now as we close in on 2020, which is when we have an opportunity to create a global agreement that will go some way in restoring what we have lost.

Lambertini added that we need to protect more of the nature that we have left, and work on a way to create an interface between the economy and nature that is not destructive to nature. He added that 2020 will see new targets set for the world’s economies to commit to, targets that will be like a Paris Agreement for nature.

Science needs to push hard for these targets to be agreed to, he said. “We need to listen to nature.”

Not impossible

Lambertini made the point that it is not impossible for the world’s citizens to reclaim what has been lost. He pointed to Rwanda as an example.

Clare Akamanzi, Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Development Board, explained that Rwanda had recently been through a period in which the diaspora returned home, which led to a space challenge, and national parks were adversely affected.

Rwanda decided to reclaim the land, and bring back the animals that had disappeared, such as rhinos, with the help of South African National Parks. The country has now successfully restored national parks and is back to having them populated with the big five.

Akamanzi said this showed that it is possible to reclaim nature; it just requires collaboration.

André Hoffmann, Chairman of the Advisory Board, Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society, warned, however, that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to reintroduce a species once it is lost. “Jurassic Park is something that you can dream of.”

Hoffmann said, while we are losing the planet, wildlife, biodiversity, and the whole natural system, we also need to make sure we don’t distil absolute despair. There is, however, a need to do something, as humans will not survive long in a dysfunctional environment and Africa has great potential for a balanced system.

Taking ownership

We all need to take ownership of the crisis and business must step up and help, said Hoffmann. He added that it is no longer good enough to decide to have a neutral impact on the environment, we must go a step further and have a positive impact.

Hoffmann asked whether it would be possible to raise funds from the rest of the world to save forests in Africa, for example. He said this was an area where more attention was required. “Our capacity for innovating and making sure our planet is aware of hot points where flows of money are needed is the next challenge for the community.”

Saif Malik, Regional Co-Head of Global Banking, Africa & Middle East at Standard Chartered, pointed to a recent example of Blue Bonds, issued by the Seychelles, for ocean-friendly projects as one way of aiding the environment from a business perspective. He asked how business can also get involved in areas such as illicit trade in rhino horns and elephant tusks, which could take the form of stopping the flow of illicit money. “If we don’t all start doing something, whatever it is, how do we move forward?”

Lambertini cautioned, however, that biodiversity was much more than big animals, it also included insects and bees. He said it was vital to extend the concept of biodiversity to all elements of nature that are vital to food sources and economies. “It’s not just about pandas and elephants.”

The good news, Lambertini said, is that we know the bad news, and we are aware that forests and oceans are being pushed to the brink of collapse. His excitement is that we no longer just understand the problems, we are also starting to understand the consequences, which go beyond moral issues to aspects of development, economics, and social stability.

Nature is not a cost, said Hoffmann, it is an opportunity. He said there was need to think about partnerships between different actors. There is an investment opportunity to create, with the help of technology, and infrastructure to build economies without destroying nature.