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SDGs: Accelerating Action & Transformative Pathways through Nature-based Solutions

Haoliang Xu is UN Assistant Secretary General and Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support

Unless we make bold changes in the way we produce our food and manage our land, we will not be able to cut emissions sufficiently and keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Credit: UNDP Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3 2020 (IPS) - The theme of this year’s High-Level Political Forum, where governments reviewed progress on the Sustainable Development Goals was “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.”

Throughout this forum, which took place 7-16 July, one major theme emerged: how to use Covid-19 as an opportunity to reset national and global ambition.

Perhaps no goal lends itself to accelerating global ambition more than Goals 14 and 15. These two nature-related goals, covering ‘life below water,’ and ‘life above land,’ are foundations for many other Sustainable Development Goals and their targets, especially those related to the issues of food and water security, disaster risk reduction, sustainable livelihoods and climate mitigation. In fact, implementing nature-based solutions is a fast-track path for accelerated action across more than half of the SDG targets.

We know from recent reports, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystems (IPBES), that biodiversity is in rapid decline; we have wiped out 83% of all wild mammals, and a million species may go extinct by mid-Century. Our window to bend the curve on nature loss is closing, and Covid-19 provides a rare window of opportunity to act now.

The cost-benefit calculus for implementing nature-based solutions is compelling. Protecting 30 percent of the planet would cost 16 percent of global GDP, and is less than three percent of the cost of fossil fuel subsidies. Yet the benefits of protecting the planet are enormous – more than 5 to 1, with benefits primarily flowing to the more than 2.5 billion people who depend directly on forestry, farming of fisheries for their survival.

The cost of inaction is equally compelling – nearly half of all Gross Domestic Product globally is at risk from nature’s loss. Furthermore, as biodiversity and ecosystems unravel, we will face new global pandemics, new water crises, famine, new ecosystem collapses and forest fires and more.

And the cost of inaction has already become untenable. Clearly the time for accelerating progress on the SDGs through nature-based solutions is now. At UNDP we see three major pathways for taking action.

Credit: UNDP Peru

Three pathways for accelerated action and transformative pathways

First, we must invest in national nature-based safety nets. Although countries have committed to protecting 17% terrestrial area and 10% marine areas through the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and have committed to restoring 100 million hectares of land by 2020 through the Bonn Challenge, these targets are likely insufficient to tackle our planetary emergency.

By setting and implementing bold measures for protecting and restoring biodiversity, countries can realize multiple benefits. One of the more important of these is climate mitigation – protecting and restoring nature can provide up to a third of our climate mitigation needs.

Second, we can use the opportunity afforded by Covid-19 to implement fiscal stimulus and financial aid packages for nature-positive and climate-aligned recovery plans that accelerate the transition to a fair and green economy.

For example, UNDP’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) provides support for developing national biodiversity finance plans. One result is that 14 countries are looking at debt-for-nature swaps to accelerate the protection of nature. Similarly, we can see how to use public works programs to create green jobs, while also achieving multiple societal benefits.

For example, Pakistan is hiring unemployed workers to plant trees and South Africa has shown that ‘Working for Water’ and other programs can achieve multiple benefits while providing jobs.

Third, we can accelerate the pioneering and innovative use of technologies that can accelerate a green recovery. For example, the GCash Forest Platform, a mobile wallet is a UNDP-supported app in the Philippines, enables people to sign up and gather points for sustainable activities such as walking, forfeiting paper bills or buying organic produce while creating a virtual tree in the app.

Once this tree has fully grown, a real tree is planted somewhere in the Philippines. More than 2 million people already signed up for the app since it was launched one year ago, and over US$ 500,000 was invested in tree planting.

The outlook from the High-Level Political Forum is sobering; we are not on track to meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda. Moreover, Covid-19 is likely to further dampen our progress across many of the SDG goals and targets.

However, we can and must take bold action now. Nature-based solutions are one of our brightest hopes to build back better, and to accelerate action through transformation.


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