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Nature Positive: From Global Ambition to Action and Accountability

Tito Ilagan Partnership Development Specialist, USAID Sustainable Interventions for Biodiversity, Oceans, and Landscapes (SIBOL) Activity
Philippines El Nido Palawan

In late 2022, global leaders and conservation experts gathered at the United Nations (UN) 15th Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Canada to discuss the future of biodiversity on our planet. The event resulted in a landmark agreement to not only stop biodiversity loss by 2030, but also restore nature by 2050. What the Paris Agreement was for net zero, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) has been for nature positive.

Much of today’s economic activity ends up destroying wildlife habitats or converting biodiverse ecosystems for human use. Nature positive refers to the idea that we can – and must – find new ways of supporting livelihoods. Achieving nature positive is required if we are to continue living on this planet and using its resources to meet human needs. Everyone has a role to play in furthering this global goal. 

As implementation of nature positive approaches gains momentum among governments, businesses, and communities around the world, it’s critical that we accurately measure and assess impacts to ensure these actions result in an overall gain for biodiversity.

In this blog, we outline why the GBF was needed, considerations for measuring impact, and the different roles we each play in achieving a nature positive future. 

A framework for biodiversity action 

The GBF was a response to the fact that nature is in crisis. The world is losing biodiversity at alarming and unprecedented rates. Human activity is destroying nature faster than it can replenish itself, which puts half of all global economic growth at risk. Deforestation and other habitat losses caused by human activity also threaten to accelerate global climate change. 

Protecting nature and allowing it to restore itself will improve human life, from replenishing the resources we rely on for food and work to reducing the risk of zoonotic disease spillovers from wildlife to humans. As our planet speeds toward an irreversible change in global temperature, restoring and preserving biodiverse ecosystems will also help us rapidly reduce and avoid greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at a global scale. 

In recognition of these challenges and opportunities, the GBF set 23 global targets for biodiversity action by 2030, including conservation of 30% of the world’s land and water habitats and restoration of 30% of degraded ecosystems. These are meant to get us on track to achieve four long-term goals by 2050: 

  1. Restoring and increasing the area of all natural ecosystems
  2. Reducing human-induced extinction rates tenfold
  3. Sharing genetic resources fairly and equitably
  4. Ensuring resources – financial, technical, and technological – are fully available to help countries protect biodiversity and maintain healthy ecosystems

Full restoration will mean that we have recovered all degraded lands, are maintaining our ecosystems in a way that helps them expand and that enables biodiversity to flourish, and are successfully safeguarding and valuing the ecosystem services that provide clear benefit to humans. 

These goals are incredibly ambitious for any single government, business, or community to achieve, not to mention how ambitious they are as global-scale targets. However, there is great value in this common set of objectives as they give us a uniform understanding of what needs to be done as a global community. To work toward these targets together, we now need a way to measure our progress, continuously assess our impact on nature, and hold ourselves accountable.

Measurement of nature positive impact matters 

While nature positive policies, laws, and approaches are well intentioned, we can only truly understand if they are having their intended effect and actually preserving and restoring biodiversity if we monitor their impact. 

Net zero is a helpful example for how the world could regulate and monitor its sister ambition of nature positive. Governments and businesses have adopted the concept of net zero and made public pledges to reach it by reducing GHG emissions across their operations and supply chains. The UN released recommendations on how to do so along with benchmarks that pledgers need to reach, helping to create some consistency and a minimum set of expectations for transparency and accountability. These rules and the framework they are attempting to establish for monitoring net zero progress globally help ensure businesses and other entities are spending their time and money on reducing GHG emissions rather than using their pledges as a marketing tactic without action to back up their claims. 

Similarly, governments and businesses are increasingly adopting nature positive as a goal for their operations and supply chains. Some initiatives are already taking steps toward creating consistency in how to design, track, and report on nature positive actions, such as the Nature Positive Initiative, Nature Action 100, and Business for Nature, which will play an important role in setting ground rules, establishing benchmarks, and defining expectations for transparently measuring impact on a global scale. In our own work on biodiversity conservation, landscape management, and climate change mitigation and adaptation, RTI has seen the benefit of setting clear and measurable milestones around what we intend to protect, how we will do it, and what resources we have available.

A global system for measuring nature positive impact is a big undertaking but is well worth the effort. By bringing together the thousands of data points generated by businesses, governments, and communities, it can help us understand how nature positive is making a difference and what works best for achieving it, recognizing that differing contexts and scales will require different strategies and approaches.

Nature positive solutions in action 

As we mentioned before, everyone has a role to play in achieving a nature positive future. 

  • Companies can use nature positive approaches to ensure their operations and supply chains are sustainable, not destroying biodiversity, and are instead allowing nature to restore itself. Built environments, for instance, can focus on locating any new buildings or infrastructure in previously-impacted areas to avoid damaging or disturbing natural habitats.
  • Governments can implement policies that foster the adoption of nature positive approaches, including incentives for businesses to become nature positive. For example, the Government of Australia is integrating nature positive goals and outcomes into its national environmental planning and decision making.
  • Multilateral bodies like the UN can establish ground rules and organize global reporting. The Convention on Biological Diversity, through the GBF, could help set the standards and norms that flow down to nature positive initiatives to ensure we are all communicating on consistent and transparent terms.
  • Communities can advocate for nature positive laws, policies, and business models and hold businesses and governments accountable to their commitments. 
  • Researchers and academics can study nature positive approaches to grow the evidence base around what works and what doesn’t. 

Development practitioners have a role to play as well. RTI implements USAID projects focused on promoting nature positive outcomes through wildlife and biodiversity conservation alongside human livelihoods, especially among poor and marginalized communities.

For example, the USAID Sustainable Interventions for Biodiversity, Oceans, and Landscapes (SIBOL) Activity in the Philippines is helping the country’s protected area managers map wildlife in protected areas and its condition with a framework known as Sukat ng Kalikasan (“Measurement of Nature”). Resulting data will drive evidence-based management decisions to focus resources on protecting the areas of these zones that are most important for biodiversity. The activity has also brought together businesses and local government entities to think through growth strategies and institute a platform for tracking nature positive outcomes in these protected areas. A new green recovery assessment framework, which was designed together with local partners and stakeholders, in response to the devastation caused by Typhoon Rai (known locally as Odette) in late 2021, incorporates ecosystem damage into post-disaster assessments, ensuring that reconstruction efforts safeguard and restore both the natural resource base and local livelihoods. This framework underscores the importance of integrating biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecosystem services into post-disaster needs assessment and strategic planning to address both humanitarian and environmental needs.

In Tanzania, the USAID Tuhifadhi Maliasili (“Preserve Natural Resources”) Activity is helping the government achieve its goal of enhanced connectivity between ecosystems, which is vital for maintaining and regenerating biodiversity. Nature-based solutions like establishing wildlife corridors and safe passageways between them, working alongside adjacent agricultural communities to protect these areas, and creating new income opportunities that rely on biodiversity (like eco-tourism) are ensuring Tanzania can protect and restore its incredibly diverse wildlife and support human livelihoods at the same time. Through these actions, these nature-based solutions can serve as important tools for achieving nature positive outcomes. For example, through a partnership with the government, local communities, and Chem Chem Association, we have been able to track elephant movements near Lake Manyara National Park to confirm that efforts to restore, maintain, and connect natural habitats are slowly but surely bringing elephants back to the area after they were absent for several years.

Today’s actions can ensure a nature positive future 

While ambitious, a nature positive future is within reach; and it has a promising cascade of benefits, from ensuring long-term economic growth to limiting climate change. Action by global entities as well as local communities and businesses is needed to secure this future. And as nature positive continues to grow in popularity among governments, businesses, and citizens, we must ensure that measurement, accountability, and honest assessment are a part of the conversation so that today’s actions make a real nature positive impact. 

Learn more about RTI’s work to protect biodiversity and natural resources

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Jonathan Schwarz (Associate Director, Environment) and Tito Ilagan to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.