Nature and people must thrive together in future economic strategies

As the CBD COP15 nears its end, professor Charlotte Watts, chief scientific adviser and director for research and evidence in the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), highlights the importance of a newly-announced research-to-action programme for restoring nature.

Charlotte Watts's picture
Insight by 
Charlotte Watts
Chief scientific adviser and director for research and evidence in the UK's FCDO
15 December 2022
Countdown to COP15
A series of insights raising the profile of locally-led action on the road to and after the COP15 global biodiversity conference
Woman carrying a basket with plants on her head

Acacia plantation near the village of Moussa, Yangambi, Democratic Republic of Congo (Photo: Axel Fassio/CIFOR via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The 2022 World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet report highlights that land-use change is currently the biggest threat to nature. As growing populations rely on fewer resources, the need to encroach on nearby nature is a pressure driven by short-term economic needs.

Protecting and restoring nature is absolutely critical for the health, wellbeing and prosperity of people and the planet. The livelihoods of 70% of people living in poverty depend directly on the natural environment, its biodiversity and natural resources – especially Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

The declining availability, quality of and access to natural resources is leading to increased levels of poverty and vulnerability, with women, Indigenous Peoples and the poorest people being disproportionately affected.

We cannot hope to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) without halting and reversing environmental degradation. This could be done by reducing the various pressures on the environment as well as restoration and improved land management. We need to support net zero, climate-resilient and nature-positive development.

Urgent and vital to keep nature on the agenda

It is increasingly urgent and vital we keep nature firmly on the agenda. As world leaders have been discussing at COP15 in Montreal this week, we cannot afford to continue to destroy nature.

The UK’s COP26 presidency last year emphasised the critical role of nature to help achieve broader goals on climate change and sustainable development. Indeed, we have committed that at least GBP£3 billion of our international climate finance will go directly to support the protection, restoration and sustainable use of nature.

As part of COP15, the UK has announced the implementation of the UK’s programme 'Reversing Environmental Degradation in Africa and Asia (REDAA)'. This will commission research and action, to improve the condition of natural landscapes. But crucially, this research and action will be demand-responsive and locally-led.

Through REDAA, working in partnership with IIED, we’ll generate new evidence on key ecosystems, with actionable information to improve their restoration and management. Research grants are available to local institutions researching biodiversity, the degradation and restoration status of local ecosystems, and their links to nearby communities’ livelihoods.

If we are to achieve our aims of helping people and nature thrive together, then we must put local people at the heart of action. It is integral that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are involved in solutions that address environmental degradation. This starts with listening to local people, and empowering in-country institutions to lead the research from the start.

People and nature can thrive together

As REDAA-supported research has already shown, nature-based solutions don’t just benefit biodiversity. They can provide decent, stable work and enhance incomes for the poor and vulnerable. They act as carbon sinks to mitigate emissions, and can act as defences to natural disasters. The list goes on.

For example, mangroves support habitats for fish species, birds and mammals as well as storing 3-5 times more carbon than the tropical upland forests. They are an important livelihood resource for coastal communities, as well as protecting against tsunamis and cyclones.

In Indonesia, a community-based peatland restoration monitoring system is measuring and tracking levels of groundwater, to best inform action to protect and restore mangrove forests. This kind of research is vital for ensuring precious ecosystems don’t just survive, they thrive – and they help animals and people thrive too.

We know that nature-based solutions can work, and now REDAA will ensure that the right action can be implemented in local communities around the world.

A new Nature Facility

Furthermore, another part of REDAA is the Nature Facility, to implement the UK’s commitment to take steps to ensure all new UK bilateral aid spending not only does no harm to nature, but becomes nature positive.

The new Nature Facility will use expert insight to support the FCDO’s development activity, to ensure that nature, and its immense value for health and prosperity, is front and centre of bilateral aid.

REDAA will certainly help drive change. As will many of the commitments we’ve heard at COP15 this week. But it’s only one piece of the puzzle. We must go further, and work together to implement a real step change in our global approach to development.

We must pivot from an approach that sees nature as a necessary sacrifice for growing populations to one that places nature, and the immense number of benefits it has to offer, at the heart of plans and economic growth strategies.