Where does our future lie as a people: together or apart?
Rachel Clark considers the response to COVID-19 through the lens of collectivism and individualism and questions whether when this is all over we can be a more trusting nation.
I’m in the local park, running. My dog is with me, running, sniffing, and peeing. I hear a voice from halfway round the oval: “You need a bag?”. I stop running momentarily, think, and call out my response: “No thanks”. I continue running, and a couple of minutes later I’m parallel with the caller. She looks ready to speak. I continue to run; not a time to talk. As I pass her, she speaks loudly: “You want a bag?” “No thanks”, I try to smile, running on. She continues, now at a yell: “Good job you are doing the right thing then, using a dog bag for your dog”. She is now haranguing me. I continue running, affronted and confused in equal measure. Unfortunately for me this incident comes swiftly after another invasive dog-owner interrogation in the same park, only days earlier. I’m now thinking “don’t we have more important things to worry about?”
And this gets to the nub of it all. The “important things” we are all trying to manage are beyond us individually, and collectively, and I sense that because of this, both of these encounters were about exerting individual control where they could. Not in my 17 years of being on this oval have I experienced what I now think was “community policing”. And whilst not a terrible violation, it has shaken me because I sense an unravelling of the mores of our time; of trust in each other’s actions being reasonable, safe, and ultimately pro-social. What was at play here, for me, was that I was not to be trusted.
When we need to trust each other – now more than ever – this is a huge, community-sized problem.
Thinking more deeply about my response, the news over recent weeks, and how COVID-19 has been managed in other countries around the world, I am drawn to an understanding of human actions based on the socio-political constructs of collectivism and individualism. For those of us who have worked in cross-cultural spaces, such notions hold insights into why people respond the way they do: people from broadly individualistic societies – Australia, The United States, Britain, to name a few – are socialised into desiring, and find in adulthood the perception that they do have, ultimate freedom of action. We are not used to the state announcing its presence – it is a fundamental tenet that we control the state, and not it us.
We are (generally) not monitored by state agencies, and when we are, we rebel against it. Back in 2015 there was civic opposition to the government’s meta-data bill and further back, in 1986, of a proposed introduction of a national identity card – The Australia Card – which was subsequently defeated in the Senate.
Not so in societies where collectivism, in its different guises of communism, socialism, or more common today the developmental state, which guides rather than commands the forces of industry dominant party state capitalism, is the organising principle for human interaction; one where group needs are prioritised over those of individuals. This involves compromise and collective decision making at a family level, alongside technocratic and authoritarian style surveillance methods as a state response. This has been seen in action in various Asian countries through the use of mobile phones: China has an app called Health Code which collects personal health data, including user location and travel movements, whilst providing a personal colour coding from green to red to determine freedom of movement based on health status. South Korea has also been using a Singaporean developed app called TraceTogether which shares information of people’s movements with other users.
Here in Australia, we may soon adopt similar tracing and monitoring methods using our personal devices in an attempt to reduce further community spread of COVID-19, despite our historical antithesis to such measures.
And we are seeing a community shift away from a tolerance and acceptance of individual freedom of movement and action, as witnessed in a huge uptake in community complaints – or “community policing” – through calls to the Covid-19 Hotline… and maybe my recent experiences in the park.
As I muse over all of these momentous changes over such a short time, including socialist-style provisions of state support to our citizens, I do wonder how Australia’s cultural fabric will be changed as a result of these seismic societal shifts. Yes, we may have greater state intrusion into our personal lives in the name of our collective health. We may even see a radical alteration of the public-private healthcare landscape: a good thing in my book. We certainly will hold healthcare workers closer to our hearts and collective esteem. Wouldn’t it also be magnificent if after all of this ceases, we truly recognise the heart of what I believe for us as people is critical: relationships built on trust.
For we truly are better together, when we connect on a human to human level, not based on where we live or how much we earn, but the “staring into the eyes of another” type connection that recognises worth and strength and value and experience. Yes, we can do this as individuals, but I somehow feel that this misses the point. It is in a collective move towards really “seeing” each other for the gifts that we all can bring to the world regardless of economic background, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, health or disability, that provides us with a way forward.
Collectivist or individualist, countries worldwide fall somewhere along this continuum, with many influencing factors that means different societies operate as they do. Australia has a real chance at deciding how it wants to live, where it wants to inhabit on this continuum, in light of the COVID-19 shakeup.
Do we really want to return to multimillionaires being rewarded further whilst many citizens can barely afford to pay rent each month?
Do we really want to return to valuing greed, over human need?
What if we returned to a community view of living which sees strength in many different human skills, and recognises that we are only as strong as our weakest community members.
What if we were asked to consider our own personal needs less, and the needs of our collective communities, more?
Not only would we have flattened the curve, but also reduced the distance between those with more resources than any human ever needs, and those who have much less than any human deserves, in a fair society.
It’s an inspiring thought that may just keep us all going, as we continue to live in isolation, for the collective good.
Does Our Future Lie in The Balance?
The greatest changes often take a leap of faith. A thinking that’s outside the box.
When we learn, and encourage students to learn, in a regulated and regimented way, we tend to disregard thoughts that don’t fit with mainstream thinking. We encourage the scientific investigation using the method, with its principles being laid down over 300 years ago, in the time of Isaac Newton. We use a standard model of enquiry, whereby we strengthen and build upon past endeavours. There is absolutely no doubt that both of these techniques have allowed us development to the lofty heights that we have so far reached. The lion’s share of our progress in academic study and research has much to owe to these two techniques either separately or combined.
Yet some of the greatest leaps forward by mankind have demanded the use of something else, and possibly the ability to ignore or put aside conventional thought. Many of our greatest feats were brought about by accident: penicillin, x ray, microwaves – all of which came around when their inventors had their back turned and following conventional methods of scientific discovery.
Therefore there is a quandary. How do we both encourage the development of method and rigour, and yet still allow for the creative free-form thinking that is needed for the truly brilliant leaps forward?
It must start with our children. There is a real problem for both the individual and the wider world when we pigeon-hole ourselves and our students as either ‘good at numbers’ or ‘creative’. We all know the children that seem to be brilliant at every subject at school, of course. But how much of this is down to raw talent and intelligence, and how much of it has perhaps been fostered and nurtured by parents and teachers alike? Some children will grow up to never have needed to question whether they are x, y, or z – they have been taught to believe that they in fact are capable in a huge variety of capacities. The creative and inventive exploration of thought must be given its space, and it may well come from the juxtaposition of the artistic and the scientific. We tend to split, divide and group people into simple sets but maybe we should encourage, as in a Venn diagram, the overlap of such traits. It is then we may encourage the thinker that does not limit themself to conventional or linear thought.
Why is it that we decide so early on that we are ‘not creative’ because our watercolour of the fruit bowl in art lessons went a little pear-shaped? Or that we are ‘no good at numbers’ because fractions got the better of us in maths? How sincere is it to grade a painting, the embodiment of individual expression, and how meaningful is it to dock marks in a maths paper because the child struggles to portray information in anything other than a pie chart? Is the information not still there, clear for us to understand?
Have we truly considered the longer-term impact this has on our students? The dyslexic child with the brilliant communication skills may dream of becoming a University Lecturer, yet based on the constant poor grades they received for their inability to effectively communicate in the written format, the marking system of which is hugely inflexible, their confidence is destroyed, and they decide never to apply for the position for fear of marking and writing emails. Is it not time that we make adjustments from the beginning with our children, and maintain them in the adult world too? A typist is perfectly capable of transferring verbal speech to paper, after all, and is likely a worthy investment for a business in order to harness the talent of a brilliant and natural teacher.
We must foster both creative and regimented methods in every subject that we teach, and from the get go. This can be the only way to truly improve upon the world we see today, particularly when dealing with the bigger health, equality and environmental issues that threaten our existence today; these challenges need big, creative solutions, that must be managed rigorously and unerringly.
And of course it is not the teachers we take issue with here, but the system at large. To create the future that we need to survive the very real and very severe existential threats that humanity faces will require unique and ‘unconventional’ teaching methods to be brought into our classrooms. It is such a shame that, as it stands, any aspiration for rocking the educational boat may cost students their grades, and teachers their credibility.
The future lies in the past
To understand yourself and know your future better, a visit to your past self with all your early dreams, aspirations and motivators -is critical
Sometimes, in order to go ahead you need to take several steps backwards. Just as a tiger steps back and crouches to gather strength before making a giant leap, we need to be acquainted with our past and ourselves before making a leap of faith.
And since you need to lose some things in order to gain other, more precious treasures, it is critical to understand what is worth losing, and the risks that are worth taking. None of this is possible if we are uncertain about what we desire of life. In order to know that, we need to know ourselves and where we come from. Similarly, when we meet a stalemate in life, or a dead-end when we find no indication of where to go next, it helps to travel back in time to where we started off. It is there that we may find again what initially inspired and motivated us.
What was it that delighted you most in your young days? What dream gave you wings and lent stars to your eyes?
What angered you the most and made you want to lash back? And today how far are you from those emotions, those motivators?
When I read Paulo Coelho’s latest book, Adultery, I was disillusioned. But, not wanting to give up so easily on a writer who has captured the imagination of the world, I decided to visit his past, to go back to his first book, The Alchemist, in order to trace the genesis of the man and his thinking. And sure enough, it is there in the simplicity of the story and writing, and in the clarity of thinking, that I rediscovered the essential Coelho.
In The Alchemist, a crystal trader is watching life slip by in a deadening, repetitive pattern till Santiago reacquaints him with his first-ever dream, of becoming a rich businessman so that he can go on a holy pilgrimage to Mecca. This takes the man back in time to when dreams mattered and seemed real, and allows him to open his mind and heart to possibilities.And he is thus able to become a prosperous businessman his initial aspiration! He is still not going to Mecca, but the dream of his youth has once again resurrected him.
Dreams and unfulfilled aspirations rooted in the past have that power.They keep you going. We all love to talk about what could have, but did not happen. Our regrets over unful filled dreams serve as a fuel to keep us going. The important thing is to remember the dreams. They connect our past to the present, and to a nebulous future. If you have fulfilled all dreams, met all aspirations, and have none other, what will hold you on to life?
The crystal trader confesses to Santiago that he will not really go to Mecca even if he can. “Because it is the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive… I’m afraid if my dream is realised, I’ll have no reason to go on living!“ He is scared to realise his dream.
Sometimes a connect with our own past and young dreams can be painful indeed, if we realise how far away we are from what we once considered an ideal life, and that brings about a certain restlessness that disturbs us. But that’s no reason to lead half-lived lives.
Many people, especially those whose families relocated, have this deep desire to trace their roots and understand their origins. Placing yourself in the context of your origins helps give you an idea of who you are, which helps you understand the veracity and strength of your motivators, dreams and ambitions. Without knowing yourself, you cannot move ahead.
In order to build a worthwhile future, a visit to your past self is essential.
Welcome to 2030: Three visions of what the world could look like in ten years.
Pandemics have often proven turning points in history. The Black Death in the 1300s helped undermine feudalism, while some believe the Spanish flu tipped the balance in favor of the Allied cause in the final days of the First World War. Yet the current one has been less a disruptor than an accelerator of trends that were already fraying the fabric of the post-Cold War international system long before the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2.
Two grueling years into the pandemic, it feels like we’ve seen it all. But it may just be that we ain’t seen nothing yet. Many of COVID-19’s effects on twenty-first century human civilization, in fact, are not yet visible. Much of the non-Western world still awaits sufficient vaccines, and the fallout from pandemic-induced economic downturns will unfold over the course of years, just as the repercussions of the 2008 global financial crisis did. Meanwhile, Sino-US hostility exacerbated by the public-health crisis raises the specter of large-scale conflict after decades of relative peace among the world’s most powerful states. Also suffering serious and hugely consequential setbacks: the march of globalization and the multilateralist architecture designed after World War II to maintain peace.
So what lies ahead? Well into the 2020s, COVID-19 will cast a long shadow over communities, workplaces, markets, battlefields, and negotiating rooms. But even as the centrifugal forces driving the world away from multilateralism and toward multipolarity accelerate, the future is not fixed. We humans have agency in shaping it.
Here, building on our work on strategic foresight and global trend analysis inside the US intelligence community and outside government, we envision three alternative worlds in 2030. The intention is not to predict what’s coming next, but rather to highlight the factors that could lead the world in one direction or another—and thus provide insights that can spur strategists to prepare for possible challenges, plan for potential opportunities, and pursue a brighter future by making prudent decisions in the present. Instead of a crystal ball, what we offer are portals to different universes.
The scenarios in this ten-year forecast are informed by ten significant trends outlined below that are already transforming today’s world and likely to shape the world a decade from now as well.
Ten trends shaping the current and future world
- The Vaccine miracle–and cautionary message
The development of COVID-19 vaccines was remarkably rapid, with those most vulnerable to the virus in rich countries inoculated within a year of the pandemic breaking out. If vaccine development and distribution had been slower, the death toll from the disease would now be several times higher. The tragedy, however, is that poorer countries still lack enough vaccines; although a small majority of the world’s population has now received at least one dose, coverage remains highly uneven; in Africa, for example, less than 12 percent of the population has received at least one dose as of December. The longer a substantial portion of the world’s population remains unvaccinated, the higher the risk that more contagious variants like Delta and Omicron emerge.
Absent the vaccines, a much deeper global recession would have also ensued. Western countries would have gone into greater debt to cover health and unemployment costs, and struggled more to emerge from the crisis. The World Bank anticipates that economic growth in advanced economies will be almost twice as fast in 2021 as it was after the Great Recession. The fact that many Western policymakers were involved in or closely observed the response to the global financial crisis was an advantage: They pushed for higher stimulus than in 2008-09.
Will the current crisis yield similar wisdom for subsequent ones? The scale of this pandemic—only comparable to the Spanish flu a century ago—should not lull the world into thinking another one won’t emerge in the near future. There is peril in wasting this opportunity to build more global resiliency, particularly for those without the means to weather such disasters. Will lessons be learned from the inequitable delivery of vaccines? Will the developing world gain the manufacturing capacity to ensure speedier distribution of vaccines next time? There should be no “losers” in a vaccine scramble. Yet who wants to bet that the developed world has learned this lesson—or that it grasps the long-term damage already done to its reputation in the rest of the world?
2. Technology’s double-edged sword
If science came out of the pandemic a winner, technology was a close second. Without computers and connectivity, the lockdowns could have ground most economic activity to halt. Managers were surprised by the productivity of remote work. Some types of work, however, could not move online. Those in service jobs—including many ethnic and racial minorities—could not stay at home and were thus disproportionally affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
The future of work will be hybrid, with in-person and remote aspects. While telework has been around for decades, it took a transformative event to force the paradigm shift. To the extent that workers can benefit from a more flexible routine, this could be a positive development for keeping more people in the workforce—helping to persuade working mothers (who were disproportionately impacted by the economic fallout of the pandemic) to reenter and seniors to stay employed. But other challenges, including long-term job insecurity as automation progresses, will offer more tests but few easy solutions.
3. Here comes deglobalization
The developing world has lost many of the benefits of globalization—at least for the time being. A significant portion of the once-rising global middle class slid back into poverty as a result of the pandemic and its economic ramifications, reversing perhaps humanity’s biggest achievement in recent decades. Without targeted policy interventions, the world is verging on return to a two-speed world of “haves” and “have nots.” With the pandemic still raging in the developing world, the full extent of the damage to that new global middle class remains unknown. Some countries will gain strength from overcoming pandemic-related challenges, but the weakest will probably experience growing political instability and even state failure.
For many poor countries, recovery from the dislocations of deglobalization is further complicated by other challenges. The threat of food crises, for example, has increased for nations suffering endemic conflict plus the added strain of the pandemic and global economic slowdown. At least 155 million people in fifty-five countries and territories were estimated to be in danger of serious food deprivation or worse in 2020—an increase of around twenty million people since 2019—with catastrophic conditions in countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Another challenge in surmounting the consequences of deglobalization is climate change. Africa’s gross domestic product, for example, could decline by 15 percent by 2030 as a result of climate-related disasters and spending on efforts to adapt to a warming world, according to the Economic Commission for Africa. African leaders aiming to overcome these challenges can look to trade and economic-reform opportunities. The African Continental Free Trade Area officially started trading on January 1, 2021, and estimates suggestthat trade liberalization could increase African real income by $450 billion by 2035. Such a development could blunt the damage inflicted by COVID-19 and help boost the continent’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
4. The deepening of domestic disorders
Today there is more inequality not just between developed and developing countries, but also within many of these countries themselves. This is the second major global economic crisis in a little more than a decade, battering those who had already suffered setbacks in establishing their careers or who had only recently picked up the pieces from the 2008 financial crisis. In the United States, for instance, many women left the workforce during the pandemic to take care of their kids when childcare centers closed and schools switched to remote learning, while ethnic and racial minorities have continued to suffer from higher unemployment than the working population as a whole.
In advanced economies, the relatively rapid recovery is a hopeful sign for those hurt economically by the pandemic. Yet the future of work will remain turbulent, particularly for the unskilled and semiskilled. The pandemic spurred employers in some industries to invest more in robotics and automation rather than recruiting and training workers. Even before the coronavirus crisis, in fact, there were numerous forecasts that greater automation was coming. That practice could now speed up, further increasing inequality and job insecurity.
The Internet and social media—so vital in maintaining economic activity—have also unleashed forces that threaten democracy. On the one hand, new digital platforms support freedom of expression, offer new possibilities for democratic participation, and provide access to diverse information. For authoritarian leaders, the expansion of information and communications technology can be a menace in providing citizens with powerful tools to mobilize against the regime. On the other hand, new technology platforms give birth to information bubbles and polarization, increase the effectiveness of misinformation and disinformation, and promote a nonconsensual culture of debate. Hate speech and conspiracy theories pose an increasing danger to civic trust and democratic political order. In democracies, extremist and populist parties have been able to capitalize on these dynamics. These technologies also enable corporate and state entities to engage in potent new forms of surveillance and information manipulation.
Tech companies oppose government measures to address these concerns that go against their business models, while governments themselves worry about the impacts of such measures on innovation and national competitiveness. With more regulations increasingly likely in Western countries to guard against harm to children and better protect privacy, the burning question is how to balance these potentially conflicting objectives.
5. Meet the New World Order 2.0
The pandemic could have been a catalyst for a rebirth in global cooperation, but instead it revealed just how frayed the world’s multilateral structures are. This largely proved to be a time for the nation-state to take charge, as countries closed borders, instituted lockdowns, and looked after their own interests.
Given how much mutual distrust the pandemic has sowed between China and the West, it will be hard for them to reach consensus on reforming the World Health Organization. That same distrust is evident in other international institutions. The United Nations Security Council has been paralyzed by Russia and China working together to wield their veto power. While the Biden administration has recommitted the United States to the Paris climate accord, it has yet to move ahead on an effort with European nations to reform the World Trade Organization, which is critical to the running of a rules-based trading system. We are living through an age of multipolarity without multilateralism.
After the end of the Cold War, the George H.W. Bush administration talked about a “new world order.” It envisioned a return to the original conception for a post-World War II multilateralist global order that never took shape due to divisions between the Soviet Union and United States. In such a world, so the thinking at the time went, countries would cooperate to solve common problems and strive for Western values such as democracy and liberal markets.
Three decades later, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Sino-US tensions make military conflict between great powers conceivable again for the first time since the end of the Cold War. The Biden administration has chosen not to reverse or even temper the growing US hostility toward China that was a hallmark of the Trump administration. China, meanwhile, is rushing headlong to claim its perceived rights as a great power, determined to call into question any US pretense to unrivaled global leadership.
Just beneath the surface of US angst are fears of a world in which China displaces the United States as the dominant political and economic player. In the words of President Joe Biden, China has “an overall goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world. That’s not going to happen on my watch.”
China will probably overtake the United States later this decade or early in the next one to become the world’s biggest economy as measured by market value. Most Europeans believe that China is already the dominant economic player, according to the Pew Research Center. But the US public is not ready to concede that preeminent position, which suggests that once the shift happens it will deal a psychological blow to Americans—having the effect of pulling the rug out from under the nation’s “exceptional” destiny. Also striking in the Pew polling is that neither age nor political-party affiliation was a big factor in whether or not the American public had unfavorable views toward China, heightening the sense of a unified America engaged in a contest with China in which perceived defeat would be keenly felt. For Europeans who lost empires some time ago, the idea that the United States would be immune from relative economic decline seems unrealistic.
The United States and China may well find a pragmatic framework for cooperating on select mutual interests. Significant advances—the Helsinki Accords’ human-rights agenda and arms-control agreements, for example—were made during the Cold War when it suited Washington and Moscow. One should not dismiss such possibilities. Yet the chances of US and Chinese leaders collaborating to build a more multilateralist world look dim, at least for the next decade.
Biden hopes to constitute a democratic order with US allies and partners, excluding China, Russia, and other authoritarian countries. On most global issues, this would be unworkable—and perhaps dangerous. The Versailles peace settlement after World War I ignored the Soviet Union and Germany, with disastrous consequences. No viable global order is possible without inclusion of all the major powers, including Russia and China.
China does not have any kind of multilateralist blueprint in mind for the global order and doesn’t want Western-designed global institutions to set the rules for international relations. Chinese leaders know that the county’s breakout as a global power on a par with the United States won’t be frictionless. What China wants is a world that won’t hinder its brand of state capitalism and authoritarian rule. As a rising power and former victim of colonial exploitation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, China is sensitive to any perceived curbs on its sovereignty, believing that its great-power status gives it the right to regional, if not global, sway. Chinese leaders want to find ways to circumvent (and perhaps, over time, even supplant) the United States, which has used the web of multilateral institutions to anchor its global power.
6. Climate change: Where some Sino-US competition might actually be good
Even on issues like climate change, where China and the United States have obvious common interests, cooperation and competition will likely both occur. That may, in fact, be the best outcome.
Biden has talked about the United States producing the needed technology to fight climate change, yet as the Financial Times has noted China “dominates the sourcing, production, and processing of key clean-energy minerals worldwide” and is the global leader in clean-tech manufacturing. It controls around 70 percent of lithium-ion battery metals and processing along with 90 percent of the rare-earth elements used in high-tech weapons systems and offshore wind turbines, while making three-quarters of the planet’s solar panels, according to the paper. If the United States deploys tariffs or sanctions against China’s climate-related technology in a similar manner to how it has tried to combat the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, then the global fight against climate change will suffer. At the same time, China is an egregious emitter of greenhouse gases and is having difficulty weaning itself off coal, despite its promises to do so. For all developing states, including China and India, the choice between growth fueled by cheap, dirty fuels and more expensive green-energy sources is a challenging one. The United States and European Union will need to use carrots and sticks to get China, other developing countries, and perhaps even some allied advanced economies like Australia to cut back on dirty fuels if the world is to achieve and accelerate its timetable for a carbon-neutral world.
Climate change is too important a global concern to be endangered by Sino-US competition, but it would be naïve to think that neither side will seize on the issue to gain advantage over the other. Some horse-trading between Beijing and Washington will inevitably have to happen if they are to reach their climate goals. Sino-US competition over which country is the global leader in the climate-change fight might even be a good thing as long as the rivalry stays does not swerve into military conflict.
7. A middle-power balancing act against a bipolar world
While the Sino-US relationship looms ever larger over the future of international relations, middle powers have nevertheless found ways to play critical roles (for good or ill) in a world in which power continues to diffuse. Despite the many predictions of its arrival, ours is not a bipolar world—not yet, at least. Even Asian nations that are highly dependent on China economically are hedging their bets, as many expand their security cooperation with the United States. European allies share US concerns about Chinese intellectual-property theft, forced technology transfers, and takeovers of businesses in strategic sectors with sensitive technologies. But they still want to cooperate with Beijing—not just compete—and are opposed to any economic decoupling between the West and China. These Asian and European partners seek to head off a military conflict between the United States and China, which could destroy the global system. They are pursuing their policy agendas independently of Washington and Beijing.
For the United States, this state of affairs has benefits and drawbacks. While Washington can’t assume its allies and partners will automatically fall in line with its agenda, those allies and partners can take the lead on common objectives when the United States becomes preoccupied elsewhere. The European Union and Japan, for instance, sought to keep the flame of free trade alive when the United States disengaged from that effort during the Trump years. In just four years, the EU negotiated major trade deals with Japan and South Korea, reaching additional agreements with Canada, Singapore, Vietnam, and China. Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe didn’t let the idea of the Trans-Pacific Partnership idea die when Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the trade agreement, remaking it as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in hopes of getting a post-Trump America to join. Japan also joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Other major Asian economies, including Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, signed onto both CPTPP and RCEP.
8. Europe’s quest for strategic autonomy
While “strategic autonomy” has long been a goal for many Europeans, the Trump presidency and the contempt that the former administration showed America’s allies inspired a revival of European interest in being independent—not just from the United States but increasingly from the growing power of China as well. Protecting the European Union’s digital sovereignty by enforcing regulatory standards on foreign tech companies operating in Europe has turned out to be one of the more promising ways for Europe to augment its strategic autonomy. Lacking tech behemoths comparable to those in the United States and China, the EU has aimed to use its power as one of the world’s largest marketplaces to set regulatory standards for the rest of the planet. Brussels has spearheaded data-privacy protocols for the Internet, which have already influenced privacy standards or laws instituted by California and China. It is now trying to establish standards on artificial intelligence (AI). Along with trade deals, these efforts have boosted the EU’s economic weight.
In the military realm, there have been renewed effort to develop a European defense identity alongside NATO. Without major new investments in defense, however, European leaders will still rely on the United States to deter Russia. Yet Europeans can take on more responsibility for other defensive tasks such as policing Europe’s external borders for illegal migratory flows and criminal activity. Like the United States after its exit from Afghanistan, European governments are loath to engage in more nation-building. The reality is that EU member states would be dependent on Washington for intelligence and airlift capabilities even for a medium-scale intervention such as the counterterrorism mission that France is drawing down in the Sahel.
9. An emergging Asia-Pacific hedging strategy
Highly dependent on China as the economic motor for the region, some Asia-Pacific nations see the United States as a critical counterweight against Beijing. For them, Sino-US tensions escalating toward open conflict would be as alarming as a US exit from the region.
China’s aggressiveness in recent years has revived and expanded the focus of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, involving Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. While experts emphasize that the Quad is not an Asian NATO, US officials believe it can play an important coordinating role in diplomacy; maritime security; supply-chain security; and technology design, development, governance, and use. The Quad, for example, recently set a joint goal of distributing one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses in Asia by the end of 2022. If and when that happens, such a provision of public goods would be hard for China to counter and represent a way for the United States and its partners to project leadership.
Collective efforts like these are necessary at a time when individually Asian countries are no match for Chinese power. That includes India, whose pandemic-pummeled economy, according to the Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index, is expected to be 13 percent smaller in 2030 than forecast prior to the COVID-19 outbreak—the only Indo-Pacific nation to suffer such a large economic setback. Even though India will eventually surpass China in gross domestic product, due to its still-burgeoning population, that moment is decades away. The Lowy Institute characterizes Japan as “the quintessential smart power” in punching above its weight, but one that is nevertheless in decline. While others—such as Australia, Vietnam, and Taiwan—are gaining in power as measured by the index, none can hope to counter China alone. The United States still ranks as the preeminent power in the region but “registered the largest fall in relative power of any Indo–Pacific country in 2020,” according to the Lowy Institute.
In an atmosphere in which neither of the superpowers has (yet) prevailed, the region’s middle powers are better able to exert influence. While many Asian powers now appear more intent than they were in the past on countering an aggressive China, they worry that the United States will take an overly militarized approach to the endeavor. These nations would be apt to restrain Washington if the contest with Beijing heated up and risked breaking into open conflict.
10. The growing internationalization of conflict
The risk of conflict extends beyond growing Sino-US tensions. In today’s multipolar order, governments see battlefields as fertile grounds to shape balances of power, advance their economic agendas, or aid parties to the conflict that are more aligned with their national-security interests. Turkey, Russia, and Iran, for instance, are jockeying for expanded influence in such conflicts. In part because of this internationalization of intrastate conflicts, fighting is increasingly protracted, intense, and complex, to the detriment of civilians.
Battlefields are less traditional too. Since 2005, thirty-four states are believed to have sponsored cyber operations, with China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea thought to have instigated 77 percent of all suspected efforts. States can use cyberattacks both as an asymmetric tool to reduce a power imbalance in conventional military capabilities (e.g., North Korea), and as a symmetric one integrated across the entire spectrum of operations and domains (e.g., China). Whereas cyberattacks were previously mostly isolated incidents meant to disrupt particular systems, they are increasingly becoming a strategic tool. For example, the United States used offensive cyber operations to strike ISIS forces responsible for proselytizing, recruiting, and launching attacks.
Looking ahead, experts and policymakers alike are concerned that emerging technologies such as AI, biotechnology, and 5G, or new systems such as the Internet of Things (IoT) or cloud computing, will exacerbate Internet insecurity by revealing new vulnerabilities and providing additional tools to nefarious actors. For example, an Atlantic Council report considering alternative cyber futures mapped three potential universes: one in which cyber capabilities are mainstreamed and great-power competitors have the advantage; another in which the Internet is splintered across governmental, cultural, and business lines; and yet another in which new technologies such as AI lead to an arms race and generalized insecurity.
Three alternative worlds in 2030
Scenario 1: Cold War II, with a twist
European and Asian countries don’t go along with splitting up the world again
Scenario 2: A world transformed by climate shocks
Disasters reshuffle the geopolitical cards
Scenario 3: A democratic renaissance
Western governments get serious about tackling their governance crises
The Science of Sustainability
Can a unified path for development and conservation lead to a better future?
The Cerrado may not have the same name recognition as the Amazon, but this vast tropical savannah in Brazil has much in common with that perhaps better-known destination. The Cerrado is also a global biodiversity hotspot, home to thousands of species only found there, and it is also a critical area in the fight against climate change, acting as a large carbon pool.
But Brazil is one of the two largest soy producers in the world—the crop is one of the country’s most important commodities and a staple in global food supplies—and that success is placing the Cerrado in precarious decline. To date, around 46% of the Cerrado has been deforested or converted for agriculture.
Producing more soy doesn’t have to mean converting more native habitat, however. A new spatial data tool is helping identify the best places to expand soy without further encroachment on the native landscapes of the Cerrado. And with traders and bankers working together to offer preferable financing to farmers who expand onto already-converted land, Brazil can continue to produce this important crop, while protecting native habitat and providing more financial stability for farmers.
The Cerrado is just one region of a vast planet, of course, but these recent efforts to protect it are representative of a new way of thinking about the relationship between conservation and our growing human demands. It is part of an emerging model for cross-sector collaboration that aims to create a world prepared for the sustainability challenges ahead.
Is this world possible? Here, we present a new science-based view that says “Yes”—but it will require new forms of collaboration across traditionally disconnected sectors, and on a near unprecedented scale.
I. A False Choice
Many assume that economic interests and environmental interests are in conflict. But new research makes the case that this perception of development vs. conservation is not just unnecessary but actively counterproductive to both ends. Achieving a sustainable future will be dependent on our ability to secure both thriving human communities and abundant and healthy natural ecosystems.
The Nature Conservancy partnered with the University of Minnesota and 11 other organizations to ask whether it is possible to achieve a future where the needs of both people and nature are advanced. Can we actually meet people’s needs for food, water and energy while doing more to protect nature?
To answer this question, we compared what the world will look like in 2050 if economic and human development progress in a “business-as-usual” fashion and what it would look like if instead we join forces to implement a “sustainable” path with a series of fair-minded and technologically viable solutions to the challenges that lie ahead.
In both options, we used leading projections of population growth and gross domestic product to estimate how demand for food, energy and water will evolve between 2010 and 2050. Under business-as-usual, we played out existing expectations and trends in how those changes will impact land use, water use, air quality, climate, protected habitat areas and ocean fisheries. In the more sustainable scenario, we proposed changes to how and where food and energy are produced, asking if these adjustments could result in better outcomes for the same elements of human well-being and nature. Our full findings are described in a peer-reviewed paper—“An Attainable Global Vision for Conservation and Human Well-Being”—published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
These scenarios let us ask, can we do better? Can we design a future that meets people’s needs without further degrading nature in the process?
Our answer is “yes,” but it comes with several big “ifs.” There is a path to get there, but matters are urgent—if we want to accomplish these goals by mid-century, we’ll have to dramatically ramp up our efforts now. The next decade is critical.
Furthermore, changing course in the next ten years will require global collaboration on a scale not seen perhaps since World War II. The widely held impression that economic and environmental goals are mutually exclusive has contributed to a lack of connection among key societal constituencies best equipped to solve interconnected problems—namely, the public health, development, financial and conservation communities. This has to change.
The good news is that protecting nature and providing water, food and energy to a growing world do not have to be either-or propositions. Our view, instead, calls for smart energy, water, air, health and ecosystem initiatives that balance the needs of economic growth and resource conservation equally. Rather than a zero-sum game, these elements are balanced sides of an equation, revealing the path to a future where people and nature thrive together.
II. Two Paths to 2050
This vision is not a wholesale departure from what others have offered. A number of prominent scientists and organizations have put forward important and thoughtful views for a sustainable future; but often such plans consider the needs of people and nature in isolation from one another, use analyses confined to limited sectors or geographies, or assume that some hard tradeoffs must be made, such as slowing global population growth, taking a reduction in GDP growth or shifting diets off of meat. Our new research considers global economic development and conservation needs together, more holistically, in order to find a sustainable path forward.
What could a different future look like? We’ve used as our standard the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 measures for “a world where all people are fed, healthy, employed, educated, empowered and thriving, but not at the expense of other life on Earth.” Our analysis directly aligns with ten of those goals. Using the SDGs as our guideposts, we imagine a world in 2050 that looks very different than the one today—and drastically different from the one we will face if we continue in business-as-usual fashion.
To create our assessment of business-as-usual versus a more sustainable path, we looked at 14 measurements including temperature change, carbon dioxide levels, air pollution, water consumption, food and energy footprints, and protected areas.
Over the next 30 years, we know we’ll face rapid population growth and greater pressures on our natural resources. The statistics are sobering—with 9.7 billion people on the planet by 2050, we can expect a 54 percent increase in global food demand and 56 percent increase in energy demand. While meetings these growing demands and achieving sustainability is possible, it is helpful to scrutinize where the status quo will get us.
The World Health Organization, World Economic Forum and other leading global development organizations now say that air pollution and water scarcity—environmental challenges—are among the biggest dangers to human health and prosperity. And our business-as-usual analysis makes clear what many already fear: that human development based on the same practices we use today will not prepare us for a world with nearly 10 billion people.
To put it simply, if we stay on today’s current path, we risk being trapped in an intensifying cycle of scarcity—our growth opportunities severely capped and our natural landscapes severely degraded. Under this business-as-usual scenario, we can expect global temperature to increase 3.2°C; worsened air pollution affecting 4.9 billion more people; overfishing of 84 percent of fish stocks; and greater water stress affecting 2.75 billion people. Habitat loss continues, leaving less than 50 percent of native grasslands and several types of forests intact.
However, if we make changes in where and how we meet food, water and energy demands for the same growing global population and wealth, the picture can look markedly different by mid-century. This “sustainability” path includes global temperature increase limited to 1.6°C—meeting Paris Climate Accord goals—zero overfishing with greater fisheries yields, a 90 percent drop in exposure to dangerous air pollution, and fewer water-stressed people, rivers and agricultural fields. These goals can be met while natural habitats extend both inside and outside protected areas. All signatory countries to the Aichi Targets meet habitat protection goals, and more than 50 percent of all ecoregions’ extents remain unconverted, except temperate grasslands (of which over 50 percent are already converted today).
III. What’s Possible
Achieving this sustainable future for people and nature is possible with existing and expected technology and consumption, but only with major shifts in production patterns. Making these shifts will require overcoming substantial economic, social and political challenges. In short, it is not likely that the biophysical limits of the planet will determine our future, but rather our willingness to think and act differently by putting economic development and the environment on equal footing as central parts of the same equation.
Climate, Energy and Air Quality
Perhaps the most pressing need for change is in energy use. In order to both meet increased energy demand and keep the climate within safe boundaries, we’ll need to alter the way we produce energy, curtailing emissions of carbon and other harmful chemicals.
Under a business-as-usual scenario, fossil fuels will still claim a 76 percent share of total energy in 2050. A more sustainable approach would reduce that share to 13 percent by 2050. While this is a sharp change, it is necessary to stanch the flow of harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The reduction in carbon-based energy could be offset by increasing the share of energy from renewable sources to 54 percent and increasing nuclear energy to one third of total energy output—delivering a total of almost 85 percent of the world’s energy demand from non-fossil-fuel sources.
Additionally, we will only achieve the full extent of reduced climate impacts if we draw down existing carbon from the atmosphere. This can be done through greater investment in carbon capture and storage efforts, including natural climate solutions—land management strategies such as avoiding forest loss, reforestation, investments in soil health and coastal ecosystem restoration.
The net benefit of these energy redistribution efforts is twofold. First, they lower the rate at which greenhouse gases are flowing into the air—taking atmospheric carbon projections down to 442 parts per million, compared to business-as-usual estimates that put the level closer to 520 ppm.
Second, these energy source shifts would create a marked decline in particulate air pollution. Our models show that the higher fossil fuel use in the business-as-usual scenario is likely to expose half the people on the planet to poorer air quality by 2050. Under the sustainable scenario, that figure drops to just 7 percent of the world’s inhabitants, thanks to lower particulate emissions from renewable and nuclear energy sources.
Food, Habitat and City Growth
Meeting the sustainable targets we propose requires a second front on land to shift how we use available real estate and where we choose to conduct necessary activities. Overall, the changes we include in our more sustainable view allow the world to meet global food, water and energy demands with no additional conversion of natural habitat for those needs—an outcome that is not possible under business as usual.
While transitioning away from fossil fuels is essential to meet climate goals, new renewable energy infrastructure siting will present land-use challenges. Renewable energy production takes up space, and if not sited well it can cause its own negative impacts on nature and its services to people. In our more sustainable path, we address this challenge by preferencing the use of already converted land for renewables development, lessening the impact of new wind and solar on natural habitat. We also exclude expansion of biofuels, as they are known to require extensive land area to produce, causing conflicts with natural habitat and food security.
Perhaps most encouraging, we show that it is possible to meet future food demands on less agricultural land than is used today. Notably, our scenario keeps the mix of crops in each growing region the same, so as not to disrupt farmers’ cultures, technologies, capacity or existing crop knowledge. Instead, we propose moving which crops are grown where within growing regions, putting more “thirsty” crops in areas with more water, and matching the nutrient needs of various crops to the soils available.
Unlike some projections used by others, for this scenario we left diet expectations alone, matching meat consumption with business-as-usual expectations. If we were able to reduce meat consumption, especially by middle- and high-income countries where nutritional needs are met, reducing future agricultural land, water and pollution footprints would be even easier.
Meanwhile, on the land protection front, our analysis is guided by the Convention on Biological Diversity, the leading global platform most countries have signed. Each signatory country has agreed to protect up to 17 percent of each habitat type within its borders. While many countries will fall short of this goal under business as usual, it can be achieved in our more sustainable option.
We acknowledge 17 percent is an imperfect number, and many believe more natural habitat is needed to allow the world’s biodiversity to thrive. Looking beyond protected areas, we see additional differences in the possible futures we face. Our more sustainable option retains 577 million hectares more natural habitat than business as usual, much of it outside of protected areas. Conservation has long focused on representation—it is not only important to conserve large areas, but to represent different kinds of habitat. Under business as usual, we will lose more than half of several major habitat types by mid-century, including temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, Mediterranean forest, and temperate grassland. Flooded and tropical grasslands approach this level of loss as well.
But with the proposed shifts in food, water and energy use, we can do better for nearly all habitats in our more sustainable scenario. The one exception is temperate grasslands, a biome that has already lost more than 50 percent of its global extent today. In all, the more sustainable scenario shows a future that would be largely compatible with emerging views that suggest protecting half of the world’s land system.
Drinking Water, River Basins and Fisheries
Water presents a complex set of challenges. Like land, it is both a resource and a habitat. Fresh water resources are dwindling while ocean ecosystems are overburdened by unregulated fishing and pollution. Business-as-usual projections estimate that 2.75 billion people will experience water scarcity by 2050 and 770 water basins will experience water stress. Africa and Central Asia in particular would see fewer water stressed basins in the sustainable scenario.
Changes in energy sources and food production (see above sections) would lead to significant water savings by reducing use of water as a coolant in energy production and by moving crops to areas where they need less irrigation. Thanks to these changes, our more sustainable option for the future would relieve 104 million people and biodiversity in 25 major river basins from likely water stress.
Meanwhile, in the seas, we find an inspiring possibility for fisheries. Continuing business-as-usual fisheries management adds further stress to the oceans and the global food system as more stocks decline, further diminishing the food we rely on from the seas. But more sustainable fisheries management is possible, and our projections using a leading fisheries model shows that adopting sustainable management in all fisheries by mid-century would actually increase yield by over a quarter more than we saw in 2010.
And, while we know that aquaculture is a certain element of the future of fish and food, many questions remain about precisely how this industry will grow, and how it can be shaped to be a low-impact part of the global food system. Given these unknowns, we kept aquaculture growth the same in both our views of the future.
IV. The Way Forward
This analysis does not represent a panacea for the growing need for economic development across the planet or for the environmental challenges that are ahead. But it does provide an optimistic viewpoint and an integrated picture that can serve as a starting point for discussion.
Our goal is to apply new questions—and ultimately new solutions—to our known problems. We present one of many possible paths to a different future, and we welcome like-minded partners and productive critics to share their perspectives with us. We encourage people from across society to join the conversation, to fill gaps where they exist, and to bring other important considerations to our attention. Most of all, we call on the development (e.g. energy, agriculture, infrastructure), health, and financial communities—among others—to work with us to find new ways of taking action together.
Ultimately, by illustrating a viable pathway to sustainability that serves both the needs of economic and environmental interests—goals that many have long assumed were mutually exclusive—we hope to inspire the global community to engage in the difficult but necessary social, economic and political dialogue that can make a sustainable future a reality.
Protecting nature and providing water, food and energy to the world can no longer be either-or propositions. Nature and human development are both central factors in the same equation. We have at our disposal the cross-sector expertise necessary to make informed decisions for the good of life on our planet, so let’s use it wisely. Our science affirms there is a way.
Join us as we chart a new path to 2050 by helping people and nature thrive—together.
Opinion: What will the future of space travel look like? And what does it mean for this planet?
We asked: SpaceX is planning its first orbital test flight of a starship that could one day take people to the moon or even Mars. What do you think about the future of space travel?
This dream is no longer out of this world
As a child, I remember spending late nights looking out of the window beside my bed, my warm breath fogging up the cold, reflective glass. I remember gazing wondrously at the sparkling stars above in the clear night sky, imagining that I was in a starship of my own. I remember imagining the loud hum of my house heater as the roar of my starship’s engines as I was taken into the immense expanses of the universe. I remember dreaming about stepping foot onto the ground of foreign planets and exploring their alien environments, finding myself gazing into their vast horizons. Little did my young self know that may very well be possible in the near future.
With the development of next-generation spacecraft and technology, my dream of setting foot onto an unfamiliar planet these days may not be so impossible. Of course, I don’t think we’d be setting foot on planets dozens of parsecs away anytime soon, but the future of space travel looks bright with SpaceX and NASA’s recent advancements in spacecraft.
More specifically, SpaceX’s recent developing spacecraft known as Starship has been in development for almost two decades and will reach orbit around Earth this year. This same spaceship is even capable of taking people to Mars on a planned mission in the future, as it can also refuel in orbit. These new developments in space technology, in my opinion, make space travel much more practical.
From what I think, at least, space travel may even one day enter the commercial field. Imagine this: You set foot into the cozy cabin of a starship after scanning your ticket, pulling your luggage inside and sighing as the air-conditioned cabin cools you down. After making your way farther into the cabin of the spaceship, you finally locate your seat beside a window. You place your luggage into the overhead bin and plop yourself onto the soft cushions of the seat, sighing as you look out the window and gaze into the vast expanse of the solar system and beyond. As you tune out the voices of nearby passengers and blend them into the peaceful lull of the spacecraft’s engine, you observe the bright Moon in the distance. Maybe space travel for common people like you and me won’t be so impractical soon!
Not getting much bang for our bucks
In the 1960s, I was an Apollo engineer at Cape Kennedy. We were going to land on the moon because President John F. Kennedy vaguely said it was a good idea. The money flowed freely. Some 50 years later, my grandson asked me why we went there. I was one of the people who worked to achieve that goal, and I could not find a good answer as to why.
I attended meetings at the cape in which the word was out — no questions permitted as to why, only discussions allowed as to how. It became clear — the corporations, the universities, the engineers — everyone wanted to share in the dollars. We brought back lots of moon rock samples to analyze. Still available to look at in Houston. More rocks would not be very useful.
The Challenger explosion in 1986 should remind us of how dangerous it is to try again to go back. The old phrase “Been there, done that” is more than a cliché. It is also a warning.
Fred Zarse, Alpine
We should not fear the new frontier
Whenever humankind discovers a new technology, it’s common for people to be afraid. Before modern science, when a woman liked to study botany or holistic practices, society might accuse her of witchcraft and put her on trial to be burned at the stake. Edgar Allan Poe wrote about his fear of modern technology and the future. At one point, reading books was criticized and considered strange.
Later, when the internet was invented, there was a lot of resistance. Older people used to be so out of touch, but now if you walk through an elderly facility, you’ll see dozens of older people scrolling through the internet. My grandmother would stay up late into the night asking Siri questions about her childhood and past presidents. It was adorable.
People don’t like to change. Although it can be scary to try new things, that’s why we have so many wonderful inventions around the world. Who would have imagined that by studying genetics eventually scientists would be able to grow new hearts, livers and other organs for sick patients? (Although it’s still a new science). Who would have imagined the prospect of growing our meat products in a lab instead of farming animals? The idea of space exploration is the same as all the other discoveries we’ve made.
The unknown is scary, but it’s also promising. Just as you never know what harm it could bring, you never know what good it could bring either. Therefore, I say, bring on the unknown!
Cassidy Eiler, El Cajon
We must first save the planet we have
Matthew McConaughey redeemed himself on Super Bowl Sunday. In contrast with his suave Lincoln promotions, he turned out for Salesforce’s “Team Earth” in a Super Bowl ad aimed at workers who would be happy for a benign commute on terra firma — honest Earthlings with no ambitions of being Joe the Plumber-turned-astronaut. It was refreshing.
In the last year, if we weren’t reeling enough from the pretentious Donald Trump years and callous disregard for workers on the front lines of a pandemic, we were treated to the spectacle of billionaires flexing their intrepid astronaut wings, boldly bragging and spinning where none could have dreamed to do so before.
Some were honest not to dress it up as science, rather as a new consumer experience. Sir Richard Branson literally took a pen and pad to take notes on how to improve the guest experience. I suppose that merits a tax write off? Jeff Bezos won the feel-good moment by sponsoring our beloved Captain Kirk’s initiation to actual space. Well played. Elon Musk surprised us by deferring his own travel in favor of sending a geologist along with a paying guest. That might offer a momentary counterbalance to his Scarlet A (arrogance), but it is hard to square his sustainability initiatives with this suspected objective to take his toys and slip the surly bonds of earth.
I can’t sort out if he lacks confidence that humanity will solve the climate action imperative (and he would need a Planet B) or if he thinks his efforts will succeed so stunningly that his space exploits and all the carbon emissions and resource diversion they require will be a harmless investment?
Since none of these billionaires has shown how space travel could be affordable to the 99 percent, let alone environmentally benign, it feels a lot like our billionaire astronauts aren’t content to simply squander Earth’s resources for their own thrill rides They want adulation as well, as though Joe the Plumber now aspires to be a millionaire Martian, and dreaming will make it so.
Mothers like me watched NASA’s missions as kids — Apollo missions, in my case. We have it in us to dream of new frontiers, and we want our children to carry forward and explore. SpaceX has helped this continue. But there is a clear and urgent threat we are facing now that makes our planetary explorations take a back seat to species health and sustenance. Further, even if we imagine earning a golden ticket, what kind of humans would emigrate from a populous planet in crisis without focusing their best efforts at saving it for all?
Resources are finite. Our atmospheric carbon budget is non-negotiable. Carbon capture and sequestration, if it ever works out, will be a bandage, not a cure. We must not allow the 1 percent to delude the 99 percent on this. There is no Planet B for any of us, and certainly not the working class. I’m fighting for Team Earth!
Darlene Garvais, Sabre Springs
Nothing close is really worth traveling to
The future of space flight will be the same as it is today: scientific robotic exploration and limited commercial missions, such as communication satellites. Meanwhile, the future of space travel for humans will still be a fantasy. These are just a few reasons why.
With current technology, the energy required to launch an Atlas D rocket into space with one person aboard could fuel some 3,000 cars. Basically, a person is sitting on top of high explosives, traveling hundreds of miles per hour into the massive debris field that shrouds the planet to be exposed to high levels of radiation. Despite the buy-in from various billionaire space moguls, getting people into space is expensive. While it’s still murky what a commercial flight will cost, a ride in a Soyuz capsule was $20 million or more per seat. So space travel remains an impractical, dangerous and expensive proposition.
There is one other reason why human space flight is a fantasy. In 1969, I watched reruns of “Star Trek” with its rich tapestry of star bases and Class M worlds to explore. I had a scrapbook of news clippings of the NASA moon landing. Using the logic of a 7-year-old, the next step was for us to establish space stations and bases on the moon, Mars and other planets. Which presents the real problem with human space travel: There is nowhere for us to go.
Mike Stewart, Spring Valley
Too soon to tell what the future will hold
Space. The final frontier, or so they say. Many of us may have dreamt of being astronauts when we grew up one day, and some of us probably did. I frankly did not. But, I am always interested in hearing more about what the future of Space exploration holds, what was discovered, and simply looking at pictures of distant galaxies. When SpaceX came out saying they are developing a craft that could possibly take people to the moon or Mars, it was pretty exciting knowing what we may discover in the future.
I always used to say that I would go to the moon when I grew up, and I was going to find other life on planets we had yet to set foot on. First of all, training to go to space is significantly gruesome having to prepare your body for the mission. Secondly it is extremely expensive to get all the equipment needed, and faculty to ensure everything runs smoothly. That is not to mention all the debris that is left behind in Earth’s orbit which is no longer of use to anyone. This was one of the main problems of space exploration before. The amount of money used to just no longer be of use to anyone and remain in Earth’s orbit.
This is where the engineers at SpaceX revolutionized space travel. They finally achieved the ability to reuse what was once considered space junk, by returning stage one of the spacecraft back to the place of launch. This has opened new possibilities in terms of space as a whole. I am no scientist, but being able to consistently reuse the thruster of a spacecraft seems as if you would be able to send more spacecraft into or out of orbit within a much smaller time frame, and possibly even cost less in the long run.
If these rockets were to be mass produced and widely used, traveling to space would not take as long, and the price for someone to go into space should be lower as time goes on. We would not only be able to run more test experiments in space, but scientists would also be able to gather more information much more efficiently as well. I imagine a high end production line of scientist and groups waiting their turn to board the reusable rocket, or mounting their telescopes on other stages to explore the great unknown. It will all eventually trickle down to spacecraft becoming similar to airfare, where people will be boarding to fly to a colony on mars or the moon for a small getaway.
This is a long process ahead of scientist and engineers, yet it is one that could change our way of life, and possibly lead to the evolution of mankind. Who knows, by that time we could be boarding our own Millennium Falcon or X-Wings that can take us into hyperdrive to other galaxies, and our current methods of transportation would become obsolete.
Daniel Martinez, San Ysidro
What is the future of space travel?
Discover the next giant leap in crewed spaceflight
In the 50 years since the Apollo 11 Moon landing, humans have made extraordinary progress in space exploration. But what is the next giant leap for crewed spaceflight – and could ‘space tourism’ soon become a reality?
Right now, unmanned space probes are exploring the universe far beyond our solar system, communicating with Earth from over 11 billion miles away. We have also developed technologies that allow humans to survive in space for lengthy durations, with Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov holding the record for the longest single stay in space – a remarkable 437 days aboard the Mir space station.
What is the future of space exploration?
The Cold War ‘Space Race’ between the USA and Soviet Union ended in the 1970s. Today the landscape is very different, with multiple countries engaged in current and future space missions.
“Make no mistake about it: we’re in a space race today, just as we were in the 1960s, and the stakes are even higher,” US Vice President Mike Pence said during a speech in March 2019.
Currently there are over 70 different government and intergovernmental space agencies. Thirteen of these have space launch capabilities, including NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
However, government space agencies are only part of the story when it comes to 21st century space travel. A number of commercial companies are also developing spaceflight capabilities, including SpaceX founded by Elon Musk, Blue Origin established by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. By 2030, it has been estimated that the global space market could be worth £400 billion.
Both space agencies and commercial companies have a number of different objectives for the next 50 years, including:
- Automated and robotic exploration of the Solar System and beyond
- Telescopic exploration of deep space
- Development of innovative spacecraft
- Crewed spaceflight and settlements on planets
- Space tourism
- Mining of other planets.
Back to the Moon
As the closest celestial body to Earth, missions to the Moon are seen by many scientists and engineers as an essential starting point for voyages to more distant planets. The Moon may prove useful as a space station or testing ground for humans to learn how to replenish supplies, before looking to settle on distant planets such as Mars.
NASA has been set the ambitious goal of returning humans to the Moon by 2024 and establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028. The US space agency is working with a number of international and commercial partners, including the European Space Agency, in order to achieve this. The mission is called Project Artemis: the goddess Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. Among the stated goals of the NASA mission is an aim to land the first woman on the Moon.
However, the United States is not the only country with lunar ambitions. China is planning a crewed mission to the Moon’s south pole by 2030, and has already successfully landed a robotic rover on the Moon’s far side.
India meanwhile launched a combined lunar orbiter, lander and rover on 22 July 2019, in a mission known as Chandrayaan-2. On 7 September 2019, the ISRO space station lost contact with the Vikram lunar lander, as it was just 2km from the lunar surface.
In September 2019 Elon Musk revealed a prototype of his Starship rocket, claiming it would be ready to take off in one to two months, reaching 19,800 metres before returning to Earth.
Organisations both public and private are looking to develop more sustainable ways of building and launching spacecraft for future missions, in order to overcome the major obstacle in space exploration: the astronomical costs involved.
One example of these innovations is the development of a new space capsule called Orion, managed by both NASA and the European Space Agency. The flexibility of the vehicle is designed to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station and also enable repeat landings on the Moon’s surface. The Orion spacecraft was first launched in an uncrewed flight in December 2014, and it is intended to be the craft used during the Artemis missions to the Moon scheduled from 2020.
As machines become increasingly capable of independently performing tasks, many organisations are looking to prioritise robotic over human spaceflight. These machines are designed for specific tasks and can withstand the extreme conditions of space.
NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is a prime example of this. Launched on 26 November 2011, the robotic vehicle landed on the surface of Mars on 5 August 2012 and has been exploring the Martian landscape ever since. It even has its own Twitter account, keeping millions of followers up to date with its latest scientific observations.
In the last decade, companies such as Virgin Galactic, Airbus and Blue Origin have begun developing commercial spacecraft to send private customers into space. Currently, businesses are taking reservations for trips into the upper atmosphere, where patrons can experience zero-gravity and observe the curvature of the Earth. NASA has also announced plans to allow private individuals to visit the International Space Station, with the first flights scheduled for 2020.
Five future space missions
Name: Parker Solar Probe
Launched: 12 August 2018
The Parker Solar Probe is named after astrophysicist Eugene Parker. While already launched, the probe won’t reach its objective – the Sun – until 2025. Its mission is to obtain observations of the Sun and provide accurate data on solar winds (charged particles that escape from the Sun) and why they exist. The probe is built to withstand the 1377°C heat from the Sun at a distance of almost 95 million miles, seven times closer than any spacecraft before it.
Name: Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover (known as HX-1)
Type: Robotic rover
Launch: July 2020
This planned Chinese project aims to follow-up on its success of landing a probe on the far side of the Moon with its second mission to Mars in 2020. The stated objective of the HX-1 rover project is to land on Mars and search for the presence and potential for life on the Martian planet. It could also provide essential information as to the potential for crewed flights to Mars in the future.
Name: James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)
Launch: March 2021
Operator: NASA, ESA & CSA
Named after James Webb, the administrator at NASA during the Mercury and Gemini space programmes, this telescope will search for the first galaxies after the Big Bang. Furthermore, the use of infrared imaging will aid scientists in understanding the physical and chemical properties of these star systems, including the observation of some of the most distant events and objects in the universe.
Launch: First commercial missions scheduled for 2021
The private company, SpaceX, is developing a powerful spacecraft and rocket system that could eventually be used to take humans to the Moon and Mars. With a potential carrying capacity of 100,000 kilograms, the rocket is designed to carry much larger payloads and crew numbers into space. Originally known as the Big Falcon Rocket, founder Elon Musk renamed the craft in November 2018, calling the transportation part of the vehicle ‘Starship’ and the rocket section ‘Super Heavy’. Along with other SpaceX spacecraft and rocket systems, the project is aiming to be reusable, reducing the costs of future space exploration.
Name: Breakthrough Starshot
Operator: Breakthrough Initiatives
Breakthrough Starshot is a bold engineering project aiming to send 1000 tiny spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in a journey lasting 20 years. The mission intends to test the possibility of ultra-fast space travel (15-20 per cent of the speed of light), and achieve interstellar travel. However, the project is still very much in its infancy.
Why have we not been back to the Moon?
US astronaut Eugene Cernan is the last human to have walked on the Moon. He and fellow Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt left the lunar surface on 14 December 1972. Since then, human crews have not returned.
However, many probes have been sent to the Moon in the decades since, including missions by Indian, Chinese and European space agencies.
One of the main reasons for the lack of crewed missions to the Moon is the cost. The Apollo missions cost roughly $200 billion (£160bn) in today’s money. Even following a funding boost, NASA’s annual budget for 2019 was $21.5 billion (£17.25bn).
Commercial space companies have changed the economics of space exploration, but for both private companies and national agencies the long-term objectives of future space missions need to be more innovative than simply repeating a historical mission. Current missions to the Moon are aiming to explore new regions of the lunar surface, including its far side and its south pole. Crewed missions are also designed to be part of a longer term process of exploring further into space, beginning with Mars.
How much does it cost to go into space?
The high cost of leaving the Earth is the major obstacle to further exploration of space. Currently for example, only the Russian Soyuz rocket is able to transport astronauts to the International Space Station, with NASA paying a reported $75 million (£60m) per seat in 2017.
When NASA’s space shuttle programme was in operation between the 1980s and mid-2000s, it could carry a payload of 27,500 kilograms for an average cost per flight of $1.5 billion (£1.2bn). This cost has reduced with the collaboration of private companies: a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket can launch 22,800kg into low Earth orbit for a published cost of $62 million (£50m).
Once in space, the costs remain high. The International Space Station has been dubbed the most expensive machine ever constructed, with an estimated total cost since since its first launch in 1998 of $150 billion (£120bn).
How much would a flight into space cost me?
Depending on where in space you’re going, a ticket aboard a commercial spacecraft could cost from $250,000 to tens of millions of dollars.
Private company Virgin Galactic is offering ‘space tourists’ the chance to cross the boundary between the upper atmosphere and outer space (known as the Karman Line at 62 miles above the Earth). A place on the flight costs a reported $250,000 (£200,600), and more than 600 people are said to have bought tickets.
NASA announced in 2019 that it would be opening up the International Space Station to private individuals from 2020, with an estimated cost of $35,000 (£28,000) per day. However, this does not include the cost of the spaceflight itself, which is set to be run by private companies SpaceX and Boeing and could cost over $60 million (£48m) per flight.
The world’s first private astronaut Dennis Tito paid a reported $20 million (£16m) to join the Soyuz TM-32 mission on 28 April 2001. The American businessman spent nearly eight days in space aboard the International Space Station. The trip was booked with a space tourism company called Space Adventures Ltd.
probonoaustralia.com.au, “Where does our future lie as a people: together or apart?” By Rachel Clark; gaialearning.co.uk, “Does Our Future Lie in The Balance? The greatest changes often take a leap of faith. A thinking that’s outside the box.”; timesofindia.indiantimes.com, “The future lies in the past.” By Vanita Dawra Nangia; atlantacouncil.org, “Welcome to 2030: Three visions of what the world could look like in ten years.” By Mathew Burrows and Anca Agachi; iucn.org, “Nature’s Future, Our Future – The World Speaks.”; nature.org, “The Science of Sustainability: Can a unified path for development and conservation lead to a better future?”; sandiegouniontribune.com, “Opinion: What will the future of space travel look like? And what does it mean for this planet?” By U-T Letters; rmg.co.uk, “What is the future of space travel? Discover the next giant leap in crewed spaceflight.” ;
Nature’s Future, Our Future – The World Speaks
The IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas has compiled the voices of a range of global organisations and world leaders on the importance of protecting and conserving nature amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the result of a global pandemic, we are witnessing an unprecedented call to transform human society and economies and thus reset the relationship between people and nature. This compilation aims to capture a critical moment, as we work together to build the momentum for transformative action to address the major crises of our planet by maintaining nature and ecosystems.
Photo: Rohit Singh / WWF
Photo: Holly Ingram
Photo: Richard Siggins
Antonio Guterres, Director General, United Nations
“Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century, it must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.”
Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
“The best memorial we can build for those who lost their lives in the pandemic is that greener, smarter, fairer world.”
Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, CEO and Chairperson, Global Environment Facility
“When we look back in years to come, I truly believe that 2020, despite the suffering it unleashed on all of us, will be seen as the year where we took a decision, the proper decision, and a turning point happened.”
“I believe that the only way forward is to invest in nature and focus on a green recovery to prevent not just future pandemics but as well to prepare ourselves to fight ongoing environmental threats such as climate change, and biodiversity collapse.”
United Nations Decade of Restoration
“There has never been a more urgent need to restore damaged ecosystems than now. Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet – and its people. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. It can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent a mass extinction. It will only succeed if everyone plays a part.”
HRH The Prince of Wales
“The current pandemic has brought unimaginable devastation to people’s lives and livelihoods and national economies. At the same time, the green recovery offers an unprecedented opportunity to rethink and reset the ways in which we live and do business. I have long believed we need a shift in our economic model that places nature and the world’s transition to net-zero at the heart of how we operate, prioritising the pursuit of sustainable inclusive growth in the decades to come.”
Dr Kathy MacKinnon
Chair, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA)
WCPA has pulled together this compilation of quotes and extracts from speeches of world leaders to capture a critical moment. As the result of a global pandemic we are witnessing an unprecedented call to transform human society and economies and reset the relationship between people and nature.
This collection is a contribution to the work of IUCN and the World Commission on Protected Areas. Please do what you can to amplify these messages by disseminating them to your networks, sharing with colleagues and influencers, distributing to students, sending to politicians or distributing through social media or any other means of communication. Change only happens when voices are raised: – by speaking together, we can be heard. We will try to keep the list evergreen and will set up a mechanism on the IUCN WCPA website to do so.
The calls for urgent transformative change have come from many quarters: major international institutions, politicians, business leaders, academics and religious thinkers – as well as from civil society. At a dark time for the world, this provides hope of a more rational and just future, based on science and respect for all life. We need to ensure that the inspirational quotes highlighted here will lead to positive action through ambitious conservation targets and a more sustainable future, with protected areas and other nature-based solutions at the heart of greener economic stimulus packages post- pandemic
The imperative to attain genuine sustainability is not new: it was heard nearly 50 years ago at the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, and is embedded in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and many other charters. The climate crisis, the catastrophic decline of ecosystems and species, and now the global pandemic show beyond doubt that humanity has no choice but to respond vigorously to these combined threats. That means moving rapidly to zero emissions, protecting and restoring earth’s natural systems, and shaping all policies to secure a healthy planet.
Many of the quotes call for the better protection of natural ecosystems – through networks of protected and conserved areas. WCPA supports the calls for an international goal of protecting 30% of the oceans and land by 2030 under new targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity. Protected and conserved areas are key to maintaining healthy ecosystems, protecting diverse natural habitats and wild species. When governed and managed effectively, they also support human health and well-being, contributing to food and water security, disaster risk reduction, climate mitigation and adaptation and local livelihoods. And we now know that they can also help to protect us against the scourge of future pandemics.
This compendium was compiled by the WCPA Vice Chair for Oceania, Penelope Figgis with assistance from other WCPA members, including the WCPA Task Force on COVID-19 and Protected Areas. WCPA will publish a Special Issue of the journal PARKS at the end of February containing papers on the impact of the Covid pandemic on protected and conserved areas and how society can move forward to a greener nature-centred recovery. The Special Issue will be available as a download at: https://parksjournal.com/
Antonio Guterres, Director General
“The State of the Planet” address Columbia University, December 2020
“Let’s be clear: human activities are at the root of our descent towards chaos.
But that means human action can help solve it.
Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.
In this context, the recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity. We can see rays of hope in the form of a vaccine. But there is no vaccine for the planet. Nature needs a bailout. In overcoming the pandemic, we can also avert climate cataclysm and restore our planet.
This is an epic policy test. But ultimately this is a moral test.”
“But we must remember: there can be no separating climate action from the larger planetary picture. Everything is interlinked – the global commons and global well-being. That means we must act more broadly, more holistically, across many fronts, to secure the health of our planet on which all life depends. Nature feeds us, clothes us, quenches our thirst, generates our oxygen, shapes our culture and our faiths and forges our very identity.
2020 was supposed to have been a “super year” for nature but the pandemic has had other plans for us. Now we must use 2021 to address our planetary emergency… we must act more broadly, more holistically, across many fronts, to secure the health of our planet on which all life depends. Nature feeds us, clothes us, quenches our thirst, generates our oxygen, shapes our culture and our faiths and forges our very identity.”
United Nations Congress on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
At the first‑ever global summit dedicated to biodiversity held virtually on 30 September, various leaders said the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for countries to put bold and ambitious environmental action at the heart of their post‑coronavirus economic recovery strategies.
One of the tools at countries’ disposal is BioTrade – the collection, production, transformation and commercialisation of goods and services derived from biodiversity under BioTrade Principles and Criteria, a set of guidelines that emphasise environmental, social and economic sustainability.
“Linking trade, biodiversity and sustainable development is a compulsory pathway towards more resilience at community, private sector and, ultimately, national levels in post-COVID-19 recovery efforts,” said UNCTAD economic affairs officer Lorena Jaramillo.
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, & Pedro Sanchez, President of Spain
OECD Opinion, December 2020
The third priority is to support a transformative recovery and develop a new narrative on economic growth. National recovery and resilience plans constitute unique opportunities not just to jump-start our economies, but also to undertake bold and transformative action to make them more equal, cohesive and environmentally sound, in line with the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. The COVID-19 crisis has increased inequalities, while climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental emergencies loom large. Analysis by the OECD shows that ambitious climate action to decarbonise our economies can be a source of growth, incomes and jobs.
The Climate COP26 in Glasgow and the UN Biodiversity Conference, both to be held in 2021, will be tests for our collective determination. Our single, most important intergenerational responsibility is to protect the planet. This new narrative also requires fostering an economic and productivity growth model based on fair wages, decent working conditions and enhanced social dialogue.
Over the last decade, the OECD has been a leading voice in promoting an approach to economic growth that combines inclusiveness and environmental sustainability. Building on solid evidence and data, we need to work together to develop this narrative further, measuring outcomes beyond GDP, and developing a consensus around a new economic framework that reconciles people, prosperity and the planet.
We are living in extraordinary times. The challenges ahead are too significant for any one country to tackle them alone. Only through collective action will we be able to address them and “build back better” towards more resilient, more inclusive and greener economies and societies. With a long-term vision, a strong ambition and an enlightened sense of mission, as we celebrate the OECD’s 60th Anniversary, let us draw inspiration from its history and its accomplishments, to deliver better policies for better lives for the generations to come.
World Health Organisation (WHO)
“On the occasion of World Environment Day, WHO calls for a healthy and green recovery from COVID-19 that places the protection and restoration of nature central.
A recently launched WHO Manifesto calls for decisive action to address the root causes of the COVID-19 pandemic by reducing social inequalities and ecosystem degradation, and transforming the way we relate to the environment in which we live.”
WHO has published a set of Prescriptions for a healthy, green recovery from COVID-19, of which the first prescription is to “Protect and preserve the source of human health: Nature.” An open letter to the G20 leaders from over 40 million health professionals also urged for a healthy recovery from COVID-19 where nature is thriving. A healthy recovery, the letter states, needs to double down on pollution, climate change and deforestation, in order to prevent “unleashing new health threats upon vulnerable populations”.
World Economic Forum (WEF)
Akanksha Khatri, Head of the Nature Action Agenda
Future of Nature and Business Report, July 2020
The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented job losses and economic uncertainty. As governments and businesses look to stimulate growth, a new study from the World Economic Forum found that ‘nature-positive’ solutions can create 395 million jobs by 2030.
The Future of Nature and Business Report provides blueprints for businesses to tap into a $10.1 trillion business opportunity, focusing on industry actions that are nature-positive, meaning that they add value to nature.
The report states there is “no future for business as usual.” It finds that while fighting climate change is essential, it is “not enough,” and “a fundamental transformation” is needed across the socioeconomic systems of: food, land, and ocean use; infrastructure and the built environment; and extractives and energy.
“We can address the looming bio-diversity crisis and reset the economy in a way that creates and protects millions of jobs,” said Akanksha Khatri, Head of the Nature Action Agenda, World Economic Forum. “Public calls are getting louder for businesses and government to do better. We can protect our food supplies, make better use of our infrastructure and tap into new energy sources by transitioning to nature-positive solutions.”
Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)
Qu Dongyu, Director General
World Environment Day Speech, June 2020
“The 2020 World Environment Day theme is “Time for nature” and it focuses on biodiversity. Biodiversity provides essential infrastructure to support all life on earth and it is also a key base of the ecosystem. More importantly, it is a base, genetic base for food diversity.
It is an excellent opportunity to rethink the relationship among humans, animals, and the environment. The recent events, from the locust infestations across East Africa, to the fall army worm, and now the global disease pandemic, demonstrates the interdependency of humans, animals and the environment.”
FAO launched its flagship report on the State of World Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture. This report highlights the need to protect our natural resources including biodiversity and the need to conserve and use genetic resources to increase productivity.
We know that we can produce enough food to feed the world and protect the environment at the same time. Eradicating hunger is essential.
The FAO adopted its Strategy on Mainstreaming Biodiversity across agriculture sectors, a strategy that automatically aims at reducing the negative impact of agriculture practices on biodiversity, to promote sustainable agriculture practices and to conserve, enhance, preserve and restore biodiversity as a whole.
United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
Achim Steiner, Administrator
Launch of the 2020 Human Development Report, December 2020
“Scientists call this emerging era, the Anthropocene – or the age of humans. And in it, as the 2020 Human Development Report (HDR) sets out, humanity is waging a war against itself.
Consider this: the total mass of the things humans have made – like buildings, roads and bottle tops — now exceeds the total mass of all living things on the planet, from tiny bacteria to giant whales, according to new research.
Today, humans literally have the power to alter the atmosphere and the biosphere in which we live. The power to destroy, and the power to repair. No species has ever had that kind of power before. With it, we humans have achieved incredible things, but we have also taken the Earth and all the people on it to the brink.”
This year, constrained by mostly pre-pandemic data, we decided to try something new. We added countries’ consumption and carbon footprints to the Human Development Index (HDI). The result is a less rosy but clearer analysis of human progress.
Plotting out the data on a graph reveals a profound insight: there are countries that leave a minimal imprint on the planet. There are countries with prosperous populations. But not one nation in the world sits in both camps. In the graphs used to illustrate this data in the report we have, quite literally, an ‘empty box’. Filling this empty box is the next frontier for human development.
This may sound daunting. But the way forward is not rocket science. It comes down to the incentives, social norms, and nature-based solutions that will reset how people and planet interact. And the choices leaders make today as they build forward better from COVID-19 will be fundamental.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Audrey Azoulay, Director-General
Launch of Strategic Direction for UNESCO, December 2020
If we are to build sustainable societies, the environment must be preserved through the promotion of science, technology, and natural heritage. Respondents to the World in 2030 survey named climate change and biodiversity loss the greatest challenge to peaceful societies this decade – and also called for the relationship between humans and nature to be rethought… the second great challenge of our time lies in the imperative need for humanity to find a sustainable way of interacting with nature.
“Through our new strategy, we must respond to this challenge, mobilising knowledge, but also education and culture, and disseminating information, to achieve a decisive change in humanity’s relationship with its environment.”
One way of achieving this – one with growing global consensus – will be to protect 30% of the planet for nature. UNESCO’s networks of biosphere reserves, geoparks and natural World Heritage sights, says Azoulay, are tried and tested tools to this end. Recently, 25 new sites have been designated as biosphere reserves. Other important UNESCO projects that help improve the relationship between humans and nature include a new agreement with Italy to establish a network of international experts for nature preservation, and the UN Decade of Ocean Science, for which UNESCO has a leading role.
UN Human Rights Council
Right to a healthy environment: good practices: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, December 2019
“In the present report, the Special Rapporteur highlights good practices in the recognition and implementation of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The term “good practice” is defined broadly to include laws, policies, jurisprudence, strategies, programmes, projects and other measures that contribute to reducing adverse impacts on the environment, improving environmental quality and fulfilling human rights. The good practices address both the procedural and substantive elements of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The procedural elements are access to information, public participation, and access to justice and effective remedies. The substantive elements include clean air, a safe climate, access to safe water and adequate sanitation, healthy and sustainably produced food, non-toxic environments in which to live, work, study and play, and healthy biodiversity and ecosystems.”
European Central Bank
Christine Lagarde, President, with Sir David Attenborough, natural historian
International Monetary Fund Podcasts, May 2019
In nature, everything is connected. This is equally true of a healthy environment and a healthy economy. We cannot hope to sustain life without taking care of nature. And we need healthy economies to lift people out of poverty and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
In our current model these goals sometimes seem to collide, and our economic pursuits encroach too closely on nature. But nature—a stable climate, reliable freshwater, forests, and other natural resources—is what makes industry possible. It is not one or the other. We cannot have long-term human development without a steady climate and a healthy natural world.
The bottom line is that when we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves. The impact of our growing economic footprint threatens our own future directly. By some estimates, more than 50 percent of the world’s population is now urbanised, increasing the likelihood of people losing touch with nature.
With the projected rise in ocean levels and increase in the average temperature of the planet, large swaths of land, even whole countries, will become uninhabitable, triggering mass climate-induced migration. Never has it been more important to understand how the natural world works and what we must do to preserve it.
Ursula von der Leyen, President
“The recovery plan turns the immense challenge we face into an opportunity, not only by supporting the recovery but also by investing in our future: the European Green Deal and digitalisation will boost jobs and growth, the resilience of our societies and the health of our environment. This is Europe’s moment. Our willingness to act must live up to the challenges we are all facing. With Next Generation EU we are providing an ambitious answer.”
We Mean Business Coalition
150 global companies with a combined market capitalisation of over US$ 2.4 trillion and representing over 5 million employees signed a statement urging governments around the world to align their COVID-19 economic aid and recovery efforts with the latest climate science. They reaffirmed their own science-based commitments to achieving zero carbon economy and call on governments to match their ambition.
Ignacio Galán, Chairman and CEO, Iberdrola, said: “The world must be united to tackle the current health crisis. And, as we emerge from this crisis, we must focus economic recovery on activities aligned with key priorities, such as the fight against climate change, and reactivating economic activity and employment quickly and sustainably. Companies like ours remain committed to investing billions in clean energy, creating jobs and long-term economic and environmental benefits. Pursuing environmental sustainability will be essential for long-term economic recovery.”
The business voices are convened by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and its Business Ambition for 1.5 C campaign partners, the UN Global Compact and the We Mean Business coalition.
World Resources Institute
Charles Barber, Senior Biodiversity Advisor
Report Chair, COVID-19 Response and Recovery: Nature-Based Solutions for People, Planet & Prosperity, October 2020
CEOs from 22 leading conservation and sustainable development organisations, including the World Resources Institute, have come together in unparalleled consensus to urge policymakers to integrate nature into COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. The group preleased a set of recommendations for policymakers, COVID-19 Response and Recovery: Nature-Based Solutions for People, Planet and Prosperity.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world that the destruction of our natural environment has a profound impact on human wellbeing – these issues are interconnected.
Our community of experts agrees that taking a nature-based approach is absolutely essential for nature and is often the most effective way of tackling the corresponding public health and economic crises.
“The Nature-Based recommendations for policymakers provide a concise and practical roadmap for governments and other stakeholders to confront the intertwined challenges of COVID-19, biodiversity loss, climate change and sustainable development.”
“In the midst of our global response to COVID-19, the world is in need of an economic transformation, one that promotes both the sustainable wellbeing of individuals as well as the environment in tandem. We have arrived at a turning point. The challenges we face now, together, are tremendous. But in the face of current adversity, and the near halt of our global economy, we have a collective opportunity to join together for a brighter, more sustainable future. The decisions that policymakers, businesses and individuals choose now will determine if we prosper and accelerate a more sustainable world, or not.”
President, United States of America
On signing an Executive order calling for the reversal of many negative environmental policies and for a renewed commitment to environmental and human health 20 January 2021
“Our Nation has an abiding commitment to empower our workers and communities; promote and protect our public health and the environment; and conserve our national treasures and monuments, places that secure our national memory. Where the Federal Government has failed to meet that commitment in the past, it must advance environmental justice. In carrying out this charge, the Federal Government must be guided by the best science and be protected by processes that ensure the integrity of Federal decision-making. It is, therefore, the policy of my Administration to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides; to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of colour and low-income communities; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; to restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and to prioritise both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.
To that end, this order directs all executive departments and agencies (agencies) to immediately review and, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, take action to address the promulgation of Federal regulations and other actions during the last 4 years that conflict with these important national objectives, and to immediately commence work to confront the climate crisis.”
Federal Chancellor, Germany
One Planet Summit, January 2021
“Natural habitats are being destroyed every day. We risk losing around a quarter of most plant and animal species. These drastic losses have a grave impact on life and quality of life, including for us humans. And so, we must step up our efforts to protect biodiversity and natural habitats – not some time or other, but now, and not somehow or other, but monumentally. If we do not, the consequences will soon be irreversible.”
“We humans can only truly flourish on a healthy planet with a rich and healthy tapestry of animals and plants. This is the core of the One Health approach. We have worked with France to launch the One Health High-Level Expert Panel. This panel aims to facilitate cooperation between the WHO, the FAO, World Organisation for Animal Health and the UN Environment Programme.”
Prime Minister, Canada
World Environment Day, June 2020
“Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are vital to our health and continued prosperity. This year, as we practice physical distancing and spend more time than usual in our homes to keep our families and communities safe during COVID-19, we are reminded of how important nature is to our well-being and everyday lives. As we look toward restarting our economy, we need to continue investing in the protection of our natural surroundings and the fight against climate change—because if you do not have a plan for the environment, you cannot have a plan for the economy. I encourage Canadians to do their part in creating a more equitable and sustainable world, and to take action to protect our environment. To take care of ourselves, we must take care of nature.
“Together, we can build a world that is cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable – today and for future generations.”
One Planet Summit, January 2021
“If we do not act, the ecosystems on which we depend for our water, air, and food could collapse. …. We must work together to prevent future global health crises. By adopting measures to protect nature, fight climate change, and promote scientific knowledge, we will make 2021 a defining year in our collective efforts to save the planet.”
Youth Advocate for Action Climate Change
World Economic Forum, January 2021,
“For me, hope is the feeling that keeps you going, even though all odds may be against you. For me hope comes from action not just words. For me, hope is telling it like it is. No matter how difficult or uncomfortable that may be.
And again, I’m not here to tell you what to do. After all, safeguarding the future living conditions and preserving life on earth as we know it is voluntary. The choice is yours to make.
But I can assure you this. You can’t negotiate with physics. And your children and grandchildren will hold you accountable for the choices that you make. How’s that for a deal?”
“Planting trees is good, of course, but it’s nowhere near enough of what needs to be done, and it cannot replace real mitigation or rewilding nature.”
Sir David Attenborough
International filmmaker and conservation icon
From the film ‘A life on our Planet’, September 2020
“To restore stability to our planet, we must restore its biodiversity, the very thing that we’ve removed. It’s the only way out of this crisis we’ve created – we must rewild the world.”
United Nations (UN) Summit on Biodiversity. September 2020
“The loss of biodiversity and the degradation of the ecosystem pose a major risk to human survival and development. COVID-19 reminds us of the interdependence between man and Nature. It falls to all of us to act together and urgently to advance protection and development in parallel, so that we can turn Earth into a beautiful homeland for all creatures to live in harmony.”
“At present, there exists an acceleration of the global extinction of species. The loss of biodiversity and the degradation of the ecosystem pose a major risk to human survival and development. COVID-19 reminds us of the interdependence between man and Nature. It falls to all of us to act together and urgently to advance protection and development in parallel, so that we can turn Earth into a beautiful homeland for all creatures to live in harmony.”
“The industrial civilisation, while creating vast material wealth, has caused ecological crises as manifested in biodiversity loss and environmental damage. A sound ecosystem is essential for the prosperity of civilisation. We need to take up our lofty responsibility for the entire human civilisation, and we need to respect Nature, follow its laws and protect it.”
CEO of BlackRock
Annual letter to company leaders, January 2021
The CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, which manages some $7 trillion for investors has urged global companies to publicly disclose their plans for how they will operate in a world with net-zero emissions by 2050. The CEO highlighted climate change as a business and investing priority in his annual letter to company leaders. He also called for a single global standard for sustainability disclosures, saying it would “enable investors to make more informed decisions about how to achieve durable long-term returns”.
“We know that climate risk is investment risk” “But we also believe the climate transition presents a historic investment opportunity.”
“I have great optimism about the future of capitalism and the future health of the economy — not in spite of the energy transition, but because of it.”
Volkan Bozkir (Turkey)
President, UN General Assembly
Opening the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity, 30 September 2020
“Humanity’s existence on Earth depends entirely on its ability to protect the natural world around it. Yet every year, 13 million hectares of forest are lost, while 1 million species are at risk of extinction. Meanwhile, species of vertebrates have declined by 68 per cent in the past 50 years. “Clearly, we must heed the lessons we have learned and respect the world in which we live,” he said, describing COVID‑19 as an opportunity to do just that through a post‑pandemic green recovery that emphasises the protection of biodiversity can lead to a more sustainable and resilient world.”
United Nations Summit on Biodiversity
Leaders Pledge for Nature
Political leaders participating in the UN Summit on Biodiversity, representing 82 countries from all regions and the European Union, September 2020
“We are in a state of planetary emergency: the interdependent crises of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and climate change – driven in large part by unsustainable production and consumption – require urgent and immediate global action. Science clearly shows that biodiversity loss, land and ocean degradation, pollution, resource depletion and climate change are accelerating at an unprecedented rate. This acceleration is causing irreversible harm to our life support systems and aggravating poverty and inequalities as well as hunger and malnutrition. Unless halted and reversed with immediate effect, it will cause significant damage to global economic, social and political resilience and stability and will render achieving the Sustainable Development Goals impossible. Biodiversity loss is both accelerated by climate change and at the same time exacerbates it, by debilitating nature’s ability to sequester or store carbon and to adapt to climate change impacts. Ecosystem degradation, human encroachment in ecosystems, loss of natural habitats and biodiversity and the illegal wildlife trade can also increase the risk of emergence and spread of infectious diseases. COVID-19 shows that these diseases have dramatic impacts not only on loss of life and health but across all spheres of society.”
His Excellency Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali
Statement on behalf of The Group of 77 and China at the virtual UN Summit on Biodiversity, September 2020
“This Summit should galvanise the necessary political will for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework in line with the 2030 Agenda and energise stakeholders for the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity under the theme “Ecological civilisation: building a shared future for all life on Earth.”
Relaying the concerns of the G77, President Ali stated that “our development challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact will continue to be felt well into the future. The pandemic is also jarring reminder of the important relationship between people and nature. There must be urgent and significant actions to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt biodiversity loss, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species. The international community must strengthen efforts to counter these trends and protect the ecosystems, on both land and water.”
Speaking in his national capacity President Ali reminded of the important ecosystem services provided by Guyana’s forest and Guyana’s commitment to low carbon development. Since 1929, Guyana has used protected areas as models for sustainable livelihoods and living in harmony with nature.
Former President of Ireland
“We will not reach the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement without fully embracing nature-based solutions and protecting at least 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030.”
H.E. Barbara Creecy
Minister of Environment of South Africa & President of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment
8th special session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, December 2020
“Whilst this Pandemic is having a profound negative impact on sustainable development and our efforts to combat environmental degradation and eradicate poverty, it also presents opportunities to set our recovery on a path of transformative sustainable development. Many governments and regions are prioritising a green recovery as part of their stimulus packages to address the crisis.”
“Now more than ever, it is imperative to work together as Africa and take collective and resolute action to deal with the socio-economic and environmental fallout from this crisis, for the benefit of the Continent. There is indeed a compelling case for the environment and rich natural resources of the African Continent, if utilised in a sustainable manner, to contribute significantly to the Continent’s recovery from the impacts of the Pandemic.”
Pacific Island Nations
Protected Areas and Conservation Conference Major Statement November 2020
The 10th Pacific Islands Conference on Protected Areas and Conservation was held online in November 2020. As part of the high-level segment of the Conference Ministers and heads of organisations of the Pacific Island Roundtable (PIRT) endorsed the Vemoore Declaration committing to urgent action for nature conservation. This Declaration aligns to the Conference Action Tracks and also essentially endorses the new Framework for Nature Conservation in the Pacific Islands region.
“We, representatives of the governments of Pacific Island countries and territories, our partner countries, and the Heads of Organisations of members of the Pacific Islands Round Table for Nature Conservation, gathered for the High-Level Session of the 10th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas, declare that the global biodiversity crisis is urgent, and that transformative action must not be delayed.
This crisis is an existential threat to our Pacific Ocean, our Pacific Islands, and to ourselves as Pacific peoples. We join world leaders that met at the UN Summit on Biodiversity 2020 and recognised the current planetary emergency of interdependent crises of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and climate change that requires urgent and immediate global action. We note with grave concern that none of the global 2011-2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets have been fully met.
The Blue Pacific collectively calls for all countries to adopt a strong deal for nature and people, to reverse or halt the loss of our natural ecosystems and put nature on a path to recovery by 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the dependency of all our societies on healthy and resilient natural ecosystems. Our necessary social and economic recovery from the pandemic is a regional and global opportunity to transform our collective relationship with the natural world, and to build back better. We recognise the potential of our Pacific Islands to lead the world in ecological stewardship, drawing on our rich indigenous heritage and the close relationship of our communities with the land, sea and sky.”
Prime Minister, United Kingdom
Announcing Covid Green Recovery Plan, November 2020
“We will use science to rout the virus, and we must use the same extraordinary powers of invention to repair the economic damage from Covid-19, and to build back better. Now is the time to plan for a green recovery with high-skilled jobs that give people the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to make the country cleaner, greener and more beautiful.”
“Green and growth can go hand-in-hand. So let us meet the most enduring threat to our planet with one of the most innovative and ambitious programmes of job-creation we have known.”
Former UN Secretary General
Quoted in BCG article ‘How Government Can Fuel a Green Recovery’, September 2020
“World leaders are committing unprecedented funds to recovery packages. Their choices will shape our economies and societies for decades, and determine whether we breathe clean air, create a sustainable low-carbon future and possibly even survive as a species.”
Former Prime Minister of New Zealand
Former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
“Although biodiversity loss continues globally, many countries are significantly slowing the rate of loss by shoring up protected natural areas and the services they provide, and in expanding national park systems with tighter management and more secure funding.”
Indigenous Kichwa of the Ecuadorian Amazon
“Many Indigenous communities rely on nature for everything — from food and water to their livelihoods and culture. Though they account for only 5 percent of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples use or manage more than a quarter of Earth’s surface and protect 80 percent of global biodiversity. Indigenous peoples manage 35 percent of intact forests and at least a quarter of above-ground carbon in tropical forests.
Because of this intimate relationship with nature, we are the first ones to feel the impact of the climate crisis.”
“Rather than trying to take over lands or make all of the decisions of how to protect a certain area, governments and environmental organisations must instead work with Indigenous peoples to ensure that everyone’s interests are taken into account. Indigenous peoples have centuries’ worth of traditional knowledge to contribute to the fight to stop climate change and biodiversity loss. We all want to achieve the same goal — and the first step is making sure our voices are heard.”
Federal Environment Minister, Germany
“I am committed to an ambitious strategy for the international conservation of biodiversity in line with the One Health approach to protect nature and our health.
The IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services shows that the global loss of biodiversity is dramatic. Natural habitats are being altered and destroyed. People are encroaching on these habitats, and biodiversity is declining drastically in many regions of the world.
The current situation in particular shows that these kinds of crises can only be contained or prevented through international coordination together with global partners. This can be achieved through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, for example, in the context of major campaigns such as the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. Or by establishing binding international laws. The 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity next year represents an opportunity.
The international community can show that it has learned from the coronavirus pandemic. It can adopt a new global biodiversity strategy that includes the necessary measures for the global conservation of biodiversity, which will also reduce the risk of future pandemics.
The focus is reconciling economic activities with nature conservation, preserving ecosystems and protecting habitats.”
High Ambition Coalition
Statement on Resilient Recovery, June 2020
“The COVID-19 crisis has shown the intrinsic linkages between planetary and human health, and the urgent need to strengthen our global response to systemic threats. As we continue our efforts to address the ongoing climate crisis, an ambitious recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that supports the vulnerable, creates jobs, and sets us on track to limit global warming to 1.5 °C is both possible and necessary.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has also created an unprecedented moment for countries to reset their economies with climate-conscious recovery policies – and the HAC has once again heeded a call for ambitious action. At a June 2020 HAC virtual ministerial meeting, leaders endorsed the UN Secretary General’s six climate related principles for COVID recovery and called for solidarity measures in support of developing countries and encourages a target of 60% of recovery spending to focus on the green economy and low-carbon professions.”
C40 Mayors’ Statement for a Green and Just Recovery
“Around the world, C40 Cities connects 97 of the world’s greatest cities to take bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future. Representing 700+ million citizens and one quarter of the global economy, mayors of the C40 cities are committed to delivering on the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement at the local level, as well as to cleaning the air we breathe.”
“In July we released the C40 Mayors’ Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery defining our vision, putting forward concrete policies and initiatives and calling for action by all governments and institutions to support our efforts. In less than four months, we have made crucial progress, showing what can be achieved when we act quickly, unlock funds and shift to a new green and just paradigm. Since then, we have taken bold action in our cities, including: the launch of the first city-led Green New Deal in Asia, funding programs supporting green start-ups and entrepreneurs, additional investments worth millions of dollars in zero emissions mobility, more liveable and affordable housing and resilient infrastructure. We are developing new programs to create thousands of new green jobs, upskill and train workers and have passed temporary protections for gig and essential workers. We have created dozens of kilometres of new, permanent walking and cycling lanes and have accelerated planting new trees and increasing greening in our cities.”
In addition, 12 cities with 36 million residents are calling on city and pension funds with over US$295 billion in total assets to divest from fossil fuels. As mayors and representatives of many of the world’s leading cities representing over 700 million people and 25% GDP worldwide, we know we cannot achieve ambitious climate change goals alone. Therefore, we are committed to working with every citizen, company, government agency and international institution to deliver real outcomes. Our collective prize will be returning to a safer and healthier climate, achieving a more equitable economy, and recovering faster from the pandemic.
INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL INSTITUTIONS
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Extracts IUCN Statement on Covid 19, April 2020
A crisis, especially one of this intensity, inspires reflection and evokes difficult questions. Beyond the human tragedy, much attention has turned towards humanity’s relationship with the natural world and the impact of our activities. With an economic catastrophe resulting from the sudden and drastic halt of activity, many have observed that, beyond the human tragedy, our footprint on the planet has temporarily become lighter.
No doubt, this is a sign that we are capable of doing things differently, but to look on this as a positive outcome would be a grave mistake. The cost has been and will be enormous in terms of lost jobs, hardship and suffering. Furthermore, it is clear that the COVID-19 outbreak is also bringing new threats to indigenous peoples and rural communities, as well as exacerbated violence, in particular against women and girls as quarantine conditions make unsafe homes even more dangerous.
We can rebuild, but let us rebuild smarter. As a community we have been speaking of the need for transformational change – let us work together now to ensure we follow a thoughtful sustainable path. IUCN will continue to engage with women and men across communities to build and implement safe and gender-equitable solutions.
To draw a lesson from this ongoing tragedy, we should all vow to revisit the way we work. We must look at how we can reduce our footprint on the natural world by continuing to use the tools we are using now.
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Director
Speaking at the launch UN’s Global Biodiversity Outlook report, September 2020
“As nature degrades new opportunities emerge for the spread to humans and animals of devastating diseases like this year’s coronavirus. The window of time available is short, but the pandemic has also demonstrated that transformative changes are possible when they must be made.”
“Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised, and the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security and prosperity.”
The report amplifies the UN’s support for nature-based solutions, hailed as one of the most effective ways of combatting climate change. Alongside a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel use, they can provide positive benefits for biodiversity and other sustainability goals.
And, in relation to health concerns, and the spread of diseases from animals to humans, the report calls for a “One Health” transition, in which agriculture, the urban environment and wildlife are managed in a way that promotes healthy ecosystems and healthy people.
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
UNEP and FAO briefing of UN Member Countries on the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, December 2020
“There has never been a more urgent need to restore damaged ecosystems than now due to the rising impacts of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a monumental task and everyone has a role to play. Ecosystems support all life on Earth, and their restoration can create jobs, build up resilience, and address climate change and biodiversity loss, all at the same time.
“Now, more than ever and over the next ten years, every action counts. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has proclaimed the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration following a proposal for action by over 70 countries from around the world. The Decade runs from 2021 through 2030, coinciding with the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals and with the timeline scientists have identified as the last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change.”
Wildlife Conservation 20 (WC20),
Recommendations to Global Leaders at the G20 Summit in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, November 2020
Political and financial commitments to avert environmental crises that negatively impact people and our planet have yet to be translated into effective action. Government sectors need to be coordinated and engage wider society to ensure effective implementation of strategies that promote a realignment of our relationship with nature. There is an urgent need for partnerships and unified policy and strategy among institutions dealing in ecology and wildlife conservation, zoonotic diseases, animal and human health, food safety, trade, finance and relevant regulatory and enforcement agencies.
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
Robert Watson, Chair
On release IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, May 2020
“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
“Despite progress to conserve nature and implement policies, the Report also finds that global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.”
Extracts from Media Release IPBES Workshop on Biodiversity and Pandemics, October 2020
“The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to pandemics.”
“Pandemic risk can be significantly lowered by reducing the human activities that drive the loss of biodiversity, by greater conservation of protected areas, and through measures that reduce unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions. This will reduce wildlife-livestock-human contact and help prevent the spillover of new diseases”
The Nature Conservancy
“One of the many things we’ve learned from the global shock of COVID-19 is just how intertwined humanity is with nature. A wildlife-borne pathogen has infected more than 70 million people, disrupted global supply chains, spotlighted inequities and exposed new vulnerabilities in our financial systems: the costs of our broken relationship with nature are startlingly clear.
As we set our collective vision toward global recovery in 2021, recognising and making decisions based on nature’s value will be essential for building a better world. Whether it’s for our physical health or our fiscal health, it’s clear that we need nature now.”
Recent analyses suggest that the cost of preventing further pandemics over the next decade by protecting wildlife and ecosystems would equate to just two per cent of the estimated financial damage caused thus far by COVID-19. The profits – legal and illegal – that are generated from the commercial trade in wildlife are negligible in comparison to the tens of trillions of dollars of economic devastation that we are now witnessing, and are even more negligible when limited to wildlife trade and markets for human consumption.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Inger Anderson, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP
Foreword to CBD Global Outlook Report 2020
“Now, we must accelerate and scale-up collaboration for nature-positive outcomes – conserving, restoring and using biodiversity fairly and sustainably. If we do not, biodiversity will continue to buckle under the weight of land- and sea-use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species. This will further damage human health, economies and societies – with particularly detrimental effects on indigenous peoples and local communities.
“We know what needs to be done, what works and how we can achieve good results. If we build on what has already been achieved, and place biodiversity at the heart of all our policies and decisions – including in COVID-19 recovery packages – we can ensure a better future for our societies and the planet.”
Marco Lambertini, Director-General
“The initiatives and funding announced at the One Planet Summit provide critical momentum on nature ahead of major global environmental agreements to be made later this year and, crucially, start the process of turning commitments into action. However, a step change in both ambition and urgency is still needed if we are to secure a sustainable future for both people and the planet.
“Science tells us that our broken relationship with nature is increasing our vulnerability to pandemics, threatening our economies, and undermining our efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Never has the need for urgent action been clearer, but world leaders are yet to demonstrate that they have grasped the scale of the crisis at hand. We urge them to take the necessary steps to deliver a transformative biodiversity agreement in Kunming that secures a nature-positive world this decade while supporting climate action.”
14 Leaders of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy
The Ocean Panel represents nations of highly diverse oceanic, economic and political perspectives. It is supported by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean.
“We, the 14 members of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (the Ocean Panel), are heads of state and government representing people from across all ocean basins, nearly 40% of the world’s coastlines and 30% of exclusive economic zones. We recognise that the ocean is the life source of our planet and is vital for human well-being and a thriving global economy.”
“The ocean is home to many complex ecosystems facing significant threats. The actions we take now can safeguard the ocean’s capacity to regenerate, in order to deliver substantial economic, environmental and social value and offer powerful solutions to global challenges. Rapid action must be taken today to address climate change, acidification, ocean warming, marine pollution, overfishing, and loss of habitat and biodiversity. Failure to act will jeopardise global health, well-being, and economic vitality and exacerbate inequalities.”
Herbert Lust, Vice President, Managing Director for Europe
Statement on the 11th Petersburg Climate Dialogue Commitments, April 2020
“We know public and economic health are linked to the health of our planet. Not only will balanced ecosystems help prevent the future spread of disease, they will help prevent other global crises like climate change. Thus, it is urgent that we rethink our relationship with nature and invest in smart solutions as we navigate an uncertain economic future and recover from the current pandemic.
“It is very positive to see biodiversity prioritised alongside climate change at the top of the global agenda during the Petersburg conference. It is important to acknowledge the challenges we face in advancing these priorities in what we hoped would be a ‘super year for nature.’ A green recovery will not always be easy but challenging does not mean impossible. Together, we can chart a course that keeps nature at the forefront of the global economic recovery.
The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People
HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco at launch of the coalition of over 50 governments from across six continents aiming to secure a global agreement to protect the lands and oceans of the planet.
“The ecosystems we rely on for our water, our air, our food are at risk of collapse. Our survival depends on nature’s survival. Scientists say we must act boldly and urgently.
That is why Monaco has joined forces with many countries across the world to form the High Ambition Coalition. Together we are championing a global deal to save the planet and ourselves – Lets Act now!”
WWF Global Biodiversity Framework
WWF and major conservation bodies releasing Nature Positive by 2030, August 2020
“We are causing a catastrophic loss of species and exacerbating already dangerous levels of climate change. In the next year Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) can deliver the change needed by securing an ambitious new global biodiversity framework that will transform our world to become nature-positive by 2030, for people and the planet. With high level commitment and action on biodiversity we can achieve all Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and transition to a more prosperous, safe and healthy world now and in the future.”
“To create a global biodiversity framework that is a tool for transformative change, we need leadership at the highest level of state or government in both its development and implementation, through a whole-of-government approach. All government ministries, not just the Ministry of Environment, need to unite behind an ambitious mission, goals and targets that remove the sectoral drivers of biodiversity loss and decrease our ecological footprint.”
Global Steering Committee of the Campaign for Nature
Report launch: A Key Sector Forgotten in the Stimulus Debate: The Nature-Based Economy, July 2020
“We have formed this group with the overarching purpose of calling on world leaders to support a new global goal to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and ocean by 2030. Scientists are telling us that this is the minimum amount needed to halt global biodiversity loss, which threatens up to one million species with extinction and is considered by the World Economic Forum to be one of the top five risks facing the global economy.
We believe that the issue of land and marine conservation is timelier than ever. The coronavirus pandemic has further underscored the need to protect more of the natural world, as studies have shown that the destruction of nature increases the risk of infectious disease outbreaks.
We also believe that nature conservation must both be a core element of the economic rescue plans that global leaders are developing to respond to the emerging global recession, and a cornerstone of creating a resilient new economy.
WWF Living Planet Report
“At a time when the world is reeling from the deepest global disruption and health crisis of a lifetime, this year’s Living Planet Report provides unequivocal and alarming evidence that nature is unravelling and that our planet is flashing red warning signs of vital natural systems failure. The Living Planet Report 2020 clearly outlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives.”
“It is time we answer nature’s SOS. Not just to secure the future of tigers, rhinos, whales, bees, trees and all the amazing diversity of life we love and have the moral duty to coexist with, but because ignoring it also puts the health, well-being and prosperity, indeed the future, of nearly 8 billion people at stake”.
Covid-19 Response and Recovery Nature-Based Solutions for People, Planet and Prosperity
Recommendations for Policymakers November by 22 major environmental organisations, November 2020
“COVID-19 highlights the critical connection between the health of nature and human health. This connection must be better reflected in our priorities, policies and actions. The root causes of this pandemic are common to many root causes of the climate change and biodiversity crises. Confronting these intertwined crises requires an integrated approach and unprecedented cooperation to achieve an equitable carbon-neutral, nature-positive economic recovery and a sustainable future. Our organisations’ recommendations to policymakers for meeting this challenge are offered below (recommendation 1).
I. Halt degradation and loss of natural ecosystems as a public health priority. Human activities are destroying, degrading and fragmenting nature at an unprecedented rate, directly affecting our resilience to future pandemics. By throwing ecosystems off balance, human activities have turned natural areas from our first line of defence into hot spots for disease emergence. Reversing this trend is critical for preventing the next pandemic long before it can enter human communities.
Mark Willuhn, Director, Alianza Mesoamericana de Ecoturismo
“We are learning how to unlearn”
Syed Hasnain Raza, Independent Wildlife & Conservation Filmmaker
“Our Ecosystems are under severe threat from human intervention, its better we understand this sooner that we draw our bread and butter from our Ecosystems. In other words it’s right to say Healthy Ecosystems are equal to Healthy Economies. In this anthroprocene we must realise the importance of healthy Ecosystems and survival of species that keep them healthy. We need to move forward with Nature Based Solutions, Climate Change Adaptation and Ecosystems Based Adaptation but this all needs awareness first at every possible level.”