Issue 45: a Coordinated Approach to Our Three Global Crises

Science tells us that we have generated two natural means to end civilization on earth as we know it: climate change and biodiversity loss. Destruction of our collective climate and biodiversity are often considered separate challenges with different solutions. But experts from the leading global organizations[1] on these subjects who met in June were emphatic: to solve either crisis, we must take on both together[2] – while simultaneously doing so in a way that preserves the human rights of those who are most vulnerable.[3]

And so it is appropriate that this October, when the Convention on Biological Diversity COP-15 conference convenes in China and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP-26 conference begins in the UK, both will be addressing critical human rights risks that will need to be solved to deliver sustainable and interdependent solutions. The success of commitments forged in Kunming and Glasgow this Fall will depend on recognizing and integrating the fundamental interdependencies of the biodiversity and climate crises, and the growing global imperative for both climate and biodiversity justice.

Why Are these Particular Threats So Critical?

In helping global companies assess and set strategies for those ESG issues that are material for their businesses to thrive, we are told overwhelmingly how ‘climate is king’. But now increasingly we hear companies relate how important impacts to biodiversity and human rights are to the success of their primary businesses and supply chains:

  • Board members tell us that their biodiversity and human rights issue are starting to create space under climate on increasingly crowded ESG agendas.
  • Sustainability directors report surges of interest on all three subjects from both internal and external stakeholders
  • And investors are building on climate commitments to seek alpha and impact through both natural and just capital.

How Are They Linked?

Evidence of the fundamental links between these triple threats abounds. Starting with the biodiversity threat, for example, the Convention on Biological Diversity notes in the lead-up to COP-15:

“It is now widely recognized that climate change and biodiversity are interconnected. Biodiversity is affected by climate change, with negative consequences for human well-being, but biodiversity, through the ecosystem services it supports, also makes an important contribution to both climate-change mitigation and adaptation.”

Further, in the July 2021 initial draft to the Post 2020 Framework, CBD recognizes the importance of integrating vulnerable people and traditional knowledge into its solutions through the milestone: “Increasing understanding, awareness and appreciation of the values of biodiversity, including the associated knowledge, values and approaches used by indigenous peoples and local communities”

Even in everyday circumstances, alarm bells signal threats from the intersections of climate, biodiversity, and human rights:

  • Agricultural productivity declines and associated community conflicts are caused by both flooding and drought as the snows on Mount Kilimanjaro subside.
  • Resource conflicts and a rise in jihadist violence and instability in the Sahel driven by changes in rainfall, habitats and grazing/growing seasons.
  • Closer to home, environmental justice challenges are driven by the disproportionate impact of increasingly intense storm damage on fisheries and flood-retaining wetlands from the Gulf Coast to the Chesapeake Bay, and by wildfire damage in western US states.

How Can We Identify and Apply Common Solutions with Impact?

Recognizing these linkages is not enough – if our expanded commitments this fall are to be sustainable and truly impactful, they will need to be designed to promote integrated solutions. These solutions must, for example:

  • Rely on traditional knowledge of indigenous people, and particularly women, in articulating action plans that are realistic and just;
  • Integrate sound climate science and participatory monitoring of ecosystem service depletion trends that promote human rights abuses against vulnerable communities; and
  • Apply lessons learned from implementation of emerging land use and financing mechanisms such as “transferable tax credits that reward forest and farm preservation, and green banks to help borrowers secure better loan terms and credit access.”[4]

Climate and biodiversity commitments that are not fundamentally designed to address common solutions across both crises will achieve neither. Initiatives that don’t promote climate and biodiversity justice will lack the legitimacy and support needed for sustained, global application. What may be our last, best hope to save our climate, biodiversity, and humanity will depend on integrated visions and solutions for these common crises.

[1] The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

[2] An international news agency reported in June 2021, for example: “The world must tackle the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss together, two UN expert groups meeting together said Thursday, warning against measures to combat global warming that harm nature. In the first ever collaboration between the United Nations' intergovernmental panels on climate and nature loss, the scientists said that while the twin threats were mutually reinforcing, they had historically been treated as if they were independent of each other.”  https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210610-tackle-climate-change-and-biodiversity-loss-together-un-panel

[3] The Office of the High Commission for Human Rights statement to COP26 states in part: “Climate change impacts, directly and indirectly, an array of internationally guaranteed human rights. States (duty-bearers) have an affirmative obligation to take effective measures to prevent and redress these climate impacts, and therefore, to mitigate climate change, and to ensure that all human beings (rights-holders) have the necessary capacity to adapt to the climate crisis. Climate justice requires that climate action is consistent with existing human rights agreements, obligations, standards and principles. Those who have contributed the least to climate change unjustly and disproportionately suffer its harms. They must be meaningful participants in and primary beneficiaries of climate action, and they must have access to effective remedies.”

[4] See: Laura Urdapilleta, Triple Pundit, July 2021 “The Chesapeake Bay Region Is a Public-Private Conservation Success Story”, at https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2021/chesapeake-bay-conservation/726201

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