The Earth is in crisis. Over the past five decades we have lost half of the planet’s land animal populations and 80% of freshwater populations . We are also losing our rainforests at an alarming rate, the equivalent of one football field per second . In the past two years deforestation rates in the Amazon, “the lungs of the planet”, have hit a record high . Our ocean ecosystems are collapsing. One-third of the world’s coral reefs, the “nurseries” of the ocean, have died and another third could perish by 2030 . Climate change is only adding fuel to the fire. Rapidly increasing global temperatures are wreaking havoc on the delicate balance that has allowed life to flourish since the end of the last ice age. Thousands of species will never again roam the Earth, and the foundation for human civilization could be undermined. Our very existence depends upon a stable climate and the health and vibrancy of the natural systems we are currently destroying.
The response is lagging. World leaders came together in 2015 to ratify the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) -- 17 goals that aim to eliminate poverty and support the livelihoods of the global population by 2030. In 2016 they also ratified the Paris Agreement, which established a limit on total greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to prevent dangerous climatological tipping points. Though these two frameworks were historic and essential in shifting the conversation towards a more sustainable future, they are not bold enough. The SDG’s do not prioritize the protection of biological systems, even though experts have admitted that without an intact biosphere we will be unable to feed and support the world’s growing population. And based on recent research, pledges under the Paris Agreement put us on course for something on the order of an apocalypse, with 3˚C of global temperature rise .
The problem is a lack of priorities. A third UN convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, is meant to ensure the protection of natural ecosystems through conservation targets – 10% of the oceans and 17% of lands protected by 2020. Sadly, the convention is falling short, and the funding that is required to protect the biosphere has not surfaced. A recent analysis by McKinsey found that only $52 billion is spent per year on conservation and restoration from public and philanthropic sources . But that is not enough. Experts have said we need approximately 7 times as much to have a fighting chance of stabilizing marine and terrestrial ecosystems . As the world gets hotter and the impact of climate change becomes more severe, the life support systems of our planet could fail, making many parts of the world uninhabitable. We must take bold action today to prevent this from happening.
A paradigm shift is needed. The political will needed to respond to this crisis at scale simply does not exist. We need a new movement of people around the world calling on their leaders to step up to the challenge and take action to protect our biosphere and our climate. Philanthropic funding must also be dramatically increased if we are to ensure that the life support systems of planet will continue to function and be habitable for future generations. This will be challenging as the world becomes more unstable with refugee crises and other forms of global conflict, many of which can be partially attributed, to climate change . Individuals in positions of power -- from funders, to government officials, to corporate leaders -- are not acting quickly enough. As they put out the fires on their doorsteps, they are not seeing the superstorm of climate impacts approaching.
The objective is now clear. With the release of the IPCC’s Special Report Global Warming of 1.5˚C, it’s now clear we must stay below this dangerous threshold. Just a decade ago this was considered a radical position, but with just 1.1˚C in global average temperature rise (a threshold breached in 2018), we have seen a sequence of disastrous impacts surpassing predictions – extreme storms, flooding, heat waves, drought, and fires amplified by our changing climate . Texas, a state known for electing climate change deniers, has seen its third 500-year flood this past decade. In early 2020 Australia reached 1.5˚C of regional temperature rise, resulting in devastating fires across the entire sub-continent. A wave of new reports makes it clear that if the global temperature were to climb to 2˚C -- the ceiling established by the Paris Agreement -- the world we know today would be unrecognizable. One-quarter of all arable lands would turn to desert , the world’s coral reefs and many fisheries would collapse , sea levels could rise as much as 1 meter in some regions , stronger and more frequent hurricanes would wrack coastal communities , and more than 100 million people would be displaced from their homes .
A different future is possible. This crisis can be averted. We can protect our biosphere and create a world where both nature and humanity can coexist and thrive together. We can stay below the 1.5˚C threshold, but to do so three pillars of action are required: (1) a transformation of our energy systems to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050 (56% by 2030 and 90% by 2040); (2) protection, restoration, and connection of 50% of our lands and seas; and (3) a transition to regenerative agriculture with net negative emissions from the sector.