We often take the contribution of nature and its ecosystem services for granted in our food production systems. Forests and oceans provide many of our natural resources, and we all benefit from healthy soils, clean water, pollination and a stable climate. All of these come for free and are therefore easy to dismiss as a given. But this is far from the truth.
Current rates of nature and biodiversity loss are having a substantial impact on what we eat and how we feed the world’s populations. And this impact is set to increase.
According to World Economic Forum research, in collaboration with PwC, $44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services, and therefore exposed to risks from nature loss. Agriculture and the food and beverages industries are the second- and third-largest sectors most dependent on nature, after the construction industry.
For example, 60% of coffee varieties are in danger of extinction. If this were to happen, global coffee markets – a sector with retail sales of $83 billion in 2017 – would be significantly destabilized, affecting the livelihoods of many smallholder farmers
The decline of insects and other animals that pollinate crops is also worrying for agriculture production. More than three-quarters of the world’s food crops rely at least partially on pollination. In other words, global crop production with an annual market value of between $235 billion and $577 billion is at risk.
Nature loss is particularly dire for the rural poor and their economic development. Rural communities are often directly and heavily dependent on nature for their food, shelter, income, fuel, health and way of life. They are more vulnerable to its loss since substitutes are often unavailable or too costly. In India, for example, while forest ecosystems contribute only 7% to India’s GDP, they contribute to 57% of rural Indian communities’ livelihoods.
Nature loss also has a disproportionate impact on women and children, as women play a vital role in managing biological resources such as fuel, food and water. As increased gender equality is a driver of economic growth, the adverse impacts of nature loss on women have wider implications for economic development
In addition, the degradation and loss of natural systems can affect health outcomes linked to food consumption. For example, the onset of infectious diseases has been connected to ecosystem disturbance. Outbreaks of animal-transmitted diseases like Ebola and the Zika virus has been found to be strongly correlated to deforestation in these areas.
Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.
Companies, investors, policymakers and civil society must work together to halt nature loss by 2030. We must reframe of the financial materiality of nature risks to businesses, financial institutions, asset owners, regulators and governments, making sure these risks are regularly identified, assessed and disclosed by business – as is now routinely the case for climate risks. We can do this by framing nature risks as part of enterprise risk management and environment, social and governance (ESG) practices
There is a significant opportunity for humanity to invest in nature to fight climate change, which has been identified as the greatest challenge of our time. One concrete way to do this is by reforming how and what foods we grow, manage, consume and recycle.
Additionally, if we are truly to shift towards a nature-positive pathway, the energy and extractives as well as the infrastructure sectors must join the movement towards a systems transformation. Significant upside opportunities await those who will embark on this journey, but it will not be easy.
This content was originally published here.