From the Nubian ibex to the endangered ghaf tree, the MENA is home to a diverse array of animal and plant species. But, like the rest of the world, the region’s biodiversity is under threat.
The consequences of this are enormous. And yet, for too long, nature and biodiversity have not been centred at the heart of climate conversations.
ESG MENA spoke to Emirates Nature-WWF to learn more about how the situation is evolving, the imperative for action, and the steps it’s taking in the UAE.
According to the Living Planet Report 2020, as a result of human activity, we have lost over two-thirds of our wildlife populations in the last 50 years. We have also lost one-third of our forests, and now, biodiversity is declining faster than ever before.
And we are on track for further destruction, too. It’s been around 65 million years since the last mass extinction and scientists say we’re now on the precipice of the sixth – they call this a “biological annihilation” of wildlife. These sobering statistics are so great that they’re almost incomprehensible, and indeed, as the UN notes, this decline is “unprecedented.”
Climate change and biodiversity loss are intricately connected crises, too, and Emirates Nature-WWF explained that this year, the climate crisis has reached a “moment of incalculable urgency.”
“The years from 2015 to 2022 were the warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The Earth is now 1.1°C warmer than pre-industrial times, and here in the UAE, we are already facing an increase of 1.8°C.”
As Emirates Nature-WWF outlines, climate change has already had negative impacts on all regions on Earth, and these will only worsen “with every increment of additional warming.” Indeed, locally, research indicates the impacts of climate change are warmer summers, increased humidity, rising sea levels, and loss of inland habitats, as well as more frequent, severe and high-impact weather events. This will have a domino effect on everything from food security to ecosystem health.
“These weather patterns pose high risks to local food production, the health of corals and wetlands as well as the ecosystems and biodiversity that rely on them,” they said.
Adding: “The adverse impacts of global warming and climate change underscore the need to urgently accelerate climate mitigation to remove carbon from the atmosphere as well as efforts to build resiliency and ensure that natural ecosystems, businesses and communities can adapt to a warmer world.”
The destruction of nature is not just a danger to ecosystems and wildlife. Nature and biodiversity loss will have huge consequences for global economies, too. After all, estimates are that over half of the world’s GDP depends on nature.
Indeed, across the business landscape, dwindling natural resources and disruptions to supply chains are forcing companies to acknowledge the consequences of biodiversity loss.
Yet, despite the imperative for action becoming increasingly clear, just last year, it was revealed that business groups representing some of the world’s largest companies mobilised to block action addressing the biodiversity crisis. Further, this year, research found that just 8% of analysts expect companies to target reducing their terrestrial biodiversity impact in the next year. This drops to 6% for oceanic biodiversity.
CDP data from 2022, meanwhile, showed that just 31% of companies had committed to and/or endorsed biodiversity-related initiatives, and 25% planned to do so within the next two years. However, over half of those who had made public commitments had taken no action.
Put simply, pledges are not turning into action. And despite becoming a hot topic, for businesses, biodiversity is still just a blip on the ESG radar. Indeed, CDP data also revealed that 70% don’t even assess the impact of their value chain on biodiversity.
As the non-profit spokesperson notes, nature is one of our “most powerful allies” against climate change, yet, as we have seen, action is not happening fast enough. Organisations like Emirates Nature-WWF are trying to turn the tide.
With a 22-year legacy of impact in the region, it has worked closely with the government and the private sector to design, implement and scale up science-based conservation programs that preserve nature and wildlife.
“Most notably, we are working closely with partners to restore the UAE’s rich coastal habitats which possess significant potential to mitigate climate change, enhance our adaptive capacity and build resiliency,” said Emirates Nature-WWF.
The organisation explained that blue carbon ecosystems like mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. Mangroves alone, for example, store up to four times more carbon than tropical forests. But blue carbon ecosystems are also some of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet, and according to the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), they’re being destroyed at four times the rate of tropical forests.
“Our Nature-based Solutions (NbS) project focuses on the protection, restoration and management of coastal ecosystems, including mangroves, seagrasses, and saltmarshes to support climate change mitigation, enhance biodiversity and open up new benefits for people through opportunities that unlock blended finance towards ecosystem protection, Blue Carbon, ecotourism, and food security, among others.”
Projects like these are essential, especially considering that nature-based solutions could provide one-third of the mitigation needed by 2030 to stabilise warming below 2°C.
After years of inaction, biodiversity has entered the global stage. At COP15, following over four years of negotiations, governments signed a ‘historic’ deal to address biodiversity, which includes the 30 by 30 target. With pledges to protect 30 per cent of land and sea and restore 30 per cent of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine ecosystems by 2030, the agreement has some big ambitions and hasn’t been without controversy.
It was a rough ride on the road to signing the agreement (with funding a particular source of division), and in November, just two of the targets had been agreed on. Further, with many countries divided, certain phrases were reportedly the topic of hour-long debates, and useful elements were left out of the final draft.
Questions remain about how certain elements will be implemented and enforced, but by COP16, countries will be required to revise and update their national biodiversity strategies and action plans.
Speaking about what’s required to create real and lasting change, Emirates Nature-WWF said: “There is an urgent need to scale up investment in healthy ecosystems. The World Economic Forum estimates that only US$1.4 trillion are invested each year instead of the required US$3.9 trillion to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.”
The spokesperson added that we need to see more leaders and businesses “prioritise nature in decision-making,” and “step away from business as usual.”
“COP28 is a momentous opportunity to raise our ambitions on nature and climate, and we are excited to see increased momentum to protect and restore nature this year and beyond.”
The need for nature to be at the centre of negotiations has never been more evident, and during the summit, a day will be dedicated to nature, land use and oceans. But, as COP28 closes in, the clock is ticking, and protecting the world’s biodiversity cannot wait.
By Madaline Dunn, Lead Journalist, ESG Mena