The Future of Nature and Business

By FrontierManipur | Published On 31st Mar, 2021, 08:57 GMT+0530

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Defining a key finding, the WEF report stressed that “There is no future for business as usual – we are reaching irreversible tipping points for nature and climate, and over half of the global GDP, $44 trillion, is potentially threatened by nature loss”.

By Salam Rajesh

The executive summary of the World Economic Forum’s New Nature Economy Report-II – Nature Risk Rising – spells it out very plainly: Nature is declining at an unprecedented rate, with nearly 1 million species at risk of extinction because of human activity. This statement underlines the crucial debate on how progressive human activities related to so-said ‘developmental’ agenda has absolutely devastated nature leading to extensive biodiversity loss and has impacted humans and wildlife in no mean measure.

Dominic Waughray, Managing Director of the Managing Board for World Economic Forum (WEF) has this to say in the report: “The Great Acceleration of the world economy over the last 70 years has brought an unprecedented increase in output and human welfare. Yet, the Great Acceleration carried important costs, among which were its profound impacts on natural systems, including the degradation and loss of whole species and critical ecosystems”.

The WEF’s latest report focuses on the global concerns on large scale depletion of nature reserves – landscapes, seascapes, wetlands, peatlands, mangroves, rainforests – primarily due to interventions for different human-led activities. Expansion of commercial and industrial hubs, oil exploration, mineral mining, urbanization, modernization of airports and seaports, railways and highways, commercial farming of mono-crops, large scale cattle rearing for exports, damming, and myriad other activities have destroyed vast expanses of vital forest covers and depleted pristine nature reserves leading to extensive biodiversity loss.

It then is natural for the world community to re-think and re-work on how to control and minimize the extensive impacts on nature due to the increased human activities. This is within the backdrop of the United Nations’ subsidiary bodies calling for urgent steps to check the rising global temperature. The Paris Climate Agreement emphasized on a concerted global effort in limiting the rising temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius by the year 2030. The world is already being impacted by the rising temperature, resulting in escalated glacial melts and increased sea level. In India, Chamoli area in Uttarakhand recently felt the heat of rising temperature with an unprecedented glacial lake outburst that took innocent lives and destroyed two dams.

Defining a key finding, the WEF report stressed that “There is no future for business as usual – we are reaching irreversible tipping points for nature and climate, and over half of the global GDP, $44 trillion, is potentially threatened by nature loss”. The assessment is that as a result of the global biodiversity loss due to extensive destruction of nature reserves, primarily from commercial exploitation in large scale, the end result is that the negative impact from biodiversity loss rebounds in losses for business entities. For instance, massive depletion in marine fish population could impact the fishing business to a large extent.

The report outlines that up to 80 percent of the threatened and near-threatened species are endangered by three socio-economic systems that are described as responsible for the most significant business-related pressures to biodiversity. These three socio-economic systems are defined as: (i) food, land and ocean use, (ii) infrastructure and the built environment, and (iii) energy and extractives. The report provides that “these are the systems with the largest opportunity to lead in co-creating nature-positive pathways”.

The WEF report stresses that “addressing the nature crisis requires a critical shift towards nature-positive models in the three key socio-economic systems”. It further outlines that 15 non-climate threats to biodiversity emerge as the most important for business to engage with, based on three criteria, namely, (i) the importance of the threat to biodiversity loss, (ii) the role of business in causing the threat, and therefore the potential of business to address it, and (iii) the potential of the threat to disrupt business activities.

In elaborating on this perception, the case story of massive biodiversity loss in vital rainforests of the Amazon Basin and in the South East Asian countries of Indonesia and Malaysia can be cited. This biodiversity loss is a result of direct intervention in the rainforest zones for commercial plantation of oil palm trees. The large scale mono-cropping of oil palm has practically destroyed millions of hectares of tropical rainforests that shelter habitats of endangered and rare wildlife. The large scale depletion of Orangutan habitat in Indonesia has been widely condemned by world organizations. In the process, it is not known how much of rare and endemic wild flora and fauna species have been lost to the world.

Biodiversity loss also impacts humans definitely, more particularly the indigenous tribes and local communities who directly depend on forest resources for their living. Forest depletion and biodiversity loss can induce the displaced human population to migrate to urban areas, thereby causing demographic imbalance in the settled pockets and which could again lead to socio-political conflicts. Out-migration due to lack of resources and the inability to source for food and water can induce conflicts of interest between communities, and perhaps conflicts of interest between communities and State, and business entities.

The report states that the three systems currently represent over a third of the global economy and provide up to two-thirds of all jobs, and that “transitioning these systems to nature-positive models is necessary both to stave off the rising risks associated with the loss of nature and to meet the growing demands of investors and other stakeholders for business to fulfill a positive role in society. But a nature-positive model can also unlock significant benefits”.

It then is explicit that businesses are intricately related to how nature prospers in the correct measure, or how it declines. When businesses become too extractive and results in negative impacts upon nature, then the businesses too suffers. As for instance, oil exploration and exploitation in the vast rainforest expanse of Digboi in Assam has resulted in making the landscape totally barren, incurring massive biodiversity loss. This has induced the oil reserve to go near bankrupt, which is why ONGC is contemplating to locate new oil reserves in the North East with an eye on the resource rich Jiribam-Tamenglong landscape in Manipur. This is in addition to depriving IPLCs of their food and water security from the once abundant rainforests.

The WEF report rounds up with a very disheartening message: “We are at a critical juncture for the future of human societies. We are confronting an unprecedented global humanitarian and health crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic while the hour is late to stave off the worst of the climate and nature crisis. A clear commitment to building back better is needed from business, government and individuals, or what fragile pandemic recovery we achieve will lack the resilience provided by nature and we will face ever-increasing climate risks”.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be contacted at salamrajesh@rediffmail.com)

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