Reminder: Making real progress on climate change would cost less than 1% of global GDP, but we’re still not doing it.

The world needs to quadruple its annual investment in nature if the climate, biodiversity and land degradation crises are to be tackled by the middle of the century, according to a new UN report.

Boy, that sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? We need to quadruple what we’re currently investing! What does that look like in terms of what economists call “real numbers?

Investing just 0.1% of global GDP every year in restorative agriculture, forests, pollution management and protected areas to close a $4.1tn (£2.9tn) financial gap by 2050 could avoid the breakdown of natural ecosystem “services” such as clean water, food and flood protection, the report said.

I did badly in calculus. Honestly, most math after basic geometry and algebra was pretty rough for me. I’m saying this because maybe my numbers are off here. It sure seems like what this article is saying, is that in response to a crisis that scientists are increasingly telling us could destroy our civilization within just a few decades, the world is investing 0.025% of its GDP? Am I reading that right?

Seriously, though, I’m not surprised. I should say that this article is from last spring, but this isn’t the first time numbers like this have come up, and I think it’s something worth remembering from time to time. It’s not just that we’re not doing enough, it’s that we’re not even doing the bare minimum. I think that estimation of what would be required is far too low, but we haven’t even tried it. It’s not just that our leaders are too greedy and deluded do use their power to make the world better for everyone, it’s that they can’t even be bothered to decrease their pathological hoarding by even a fraction of a percent. Being rich isn’t enough, they have to be constantly getting richer, and they need to do that faster than anyone else. What’s really mind-boggling to me is that if they did invest their collective trillions in really dealing with climate change, they would become international heroes, and they would still almost certainly be obscenely wealthy. They’d still be rich even if they met my standards, and ended poverty around the world, too.

At this point, I think that the fact that they still haven’t done that means that they’re actually incapable of doing it. That means that it will not happen unless their hand is forced, either by total disaster, or by the masses. They really do seem to be aiming for a world in which they rule a shattered wasteland from their high-tech fortresses. Why else would we still be on this path when it would take so little for them to change our course?

The State of Finance for Nature report, produced by the UN Environment Programme (Unep), the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative (ELD), said a total investment of $8.1tn was required to maintain the biodiversity and natural habitats vital to human civilisation, reaching $536bn a year by 2050, projected to be about 0.13% of global GDP.

More than that, this analysis backs up one of the points I’ve been hammering for a while now (and I’m far from alone). We need to invest in the protection and stewardship of biodiversity.

More than half of global GDP relies on high-functioning biodiversity but about a fifth of countries are at risk of their ecosystems collapsing due to the destruction of the natural world, according to an analysis by the insurance firm Swiss Re last year. Australia, Israel and South Africa were among the most threatened.

The Unep report, which looked at terrestrial nature-based solutions, urges governments to repurpose billions of dollars of damaging agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies to benefit nature and integrate the financial value of nature in decision-making. By 2050, governments and the private sector will need to spend $203bn on the management, conservation and restoration of forests around the world.

“The dependency of global GDP on nature is abstract but what we really mean are livelihoods, jobs, people’s ability to feed themselves, and water security,” said Teresa Hartmann, the WEF lead on climate and nature. “If we don’t do this, there are irreversible damages. The four-trillion gap we describe cannot be filled later on. There will be irreversible damages to biodiversity that we can no longer fix.”

The report follows a warning by leading scientists in January that the planet is facing a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals” because of ignorance and inaction.

“The way that we use natural resources for food, textiles, wood, fibre and so on, that needs to change,” Hartmann said. “Everybody’s talking about an energy transition at the heart of everybody’s understanding of climate change. Nobody’s talking about a land-use change transition. We cannot afford to continue exploiting and producing as we do now.”

About $133bn is invested in nature every year, often by national governments. Nearly two-thirds of that is spent on forest and peatland restoration, regenerative agriculture and natural pollution-control systems.

The report’s authors said nature and climate should be high on government lending conditions as part of the expansion of investment, also citing the example of Costa Rica’s tax on petrol, which is used to finance its reforestation programme. Private investment in nature-based solutions accounts for only about 14% of the current total, according to the report, which said it needed to be scaled up through carbon markets, sustainable agricultural and forestry supply chains, and private finance.

Ivo Mulder, head of Unep’s climate finance unit, said: “At the moment, emission levels are equal or par to pre-Covid levels. So despite what everybody’s saying, both businesses and governments have been building back as usual.
“The question is: how serious are we about investing in nature-based solutions, both from a government and business perspective? Failing to do so will probably stop us from meeting the Paris climate agreement and deplete biodiversity further.”

This is the flip side of the “we know what we need to do, and how to do it; what’s missing is a desire to do it on the part of those people in whose hands we’ve concentrated most of our species’ collective power. That means that we need to take back that power if we want anything to change, and that – as always – comes down to organizing. I was talking to a friend recently about the frustrations of trying to motivate comfortable people to direct action, and while I still have very little experience myself, it seems like we really do need to start a new kind of political system from scratch. It’s going to be painfully slow, especially as we watch our rulers destroy the world around us, but I don’t see another way forward. The one bit of encouragement I can offer from this is that even if this analysis is far too optimistic about the investment that’s needed, building a better world is still well within our material capacity.

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  1. John Morales says


    There’s a war going on, after all.

    (Obligatory sarcasm tag)


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