As 2021 begins, we are at a precarious time in both human and natural history. Human-made objects now outweigh all living things on planet earth, and over 8,000 species are threatened with extinction due to human actions. This is drastically undermining the capacity of nature to contribute to good quality of life for people, as indicated by climate change, land degradation, and even outbreaks of infectious diseases like COVID-19.
This decade must be the turning point, where we transform humanity’s relationship with nature, and put the planet on a path to recovery. This is the vision of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which is currently developing a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, for the world to “live in harmony with nature” by 2050. There has never been a more important time for this bold vision, and everyone has a role to play in its delivery. However, conservation actions to regenerate the natural world are typically disconnected from the human processes that draw down on our planet’s resources. How can we engage the whole world in nature-positive living?
Everyone has the power, and a responsibility, to become nature positive by 2030. Image: Hollie Booth
What is our role?
In general, nature is harmed by our consumption, and healed by our stewardship. For example, while average UK consumers do not live in a ‘biodiversity hotspot’, their diet and fashion choices ripple through globalised supply chains, causing impacts in forests and oceans at the source of the raw inputs into their products.
Alternatively, indigenous and rural populations in the Brazilian Amazon may rely on hunting and consumption of wildlife for their food security, but also play a role in protecting millions of square km of tropical forest from conversion, and can aid the recovery of threatened species.
On an even larger scale, multi-national corporations, which source vast quantities of raw materials from producers throughout the world, can shape entire ecosystems. Yet they also have the power to dictate the standards by which they are produced and used. While these three groups operate in different places and at different scales, they all have one thing in common: the responsibility, and the power, to have a net positive impact on the natural world. But how?
Our choices ripple through globalised supply chains, causing impacts in ecosystems at the source of raw materials. Image: Rettet den Regenwald e.V. (Rainforest Rescue) / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Four Steps for the Earth
A group of researchers, practitioners and business leaders from 22 global organisations – including ICCS at the University of Oxford, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Balfour Beatty construction company – have published a simple, intuitive framework for uniting diverse human actions towards aspirational goals for nature.
The aim is to empower everyone – individuals, organisations and governments – to contribute towards the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, and inclusively build a world in which nature and people can thrive together.
The concept is simple, laid out in a framework called the ‘Mitigation and Conservation Hierarchy’. The idea is that for every person and organisation, their impact on nature is twofold – a negative impact, which is to be minimised using an approach called the mitigation hierarchy; and a positive impact, which is to be maximised via a parallel approach called the conservation hierarchy.
These two pathways are both implemented in four simple steps, also known as ‘Four Steps for the Earth’: refrain, reduce, restore, renew. The refrain step involves avoiding any negative impacts on nature as far as possible, the reduce step involves minimising damage to nature where it can’t be completely avoided, the restore step involves remediating any immediate damage to nature, and the renew step involves investing in revitalising nature.