Biodiversity is poised to turn out to be this 12 months’s greatest sustainability pattern. Following the “Paris settlement for biodiversity” reached at COP15 in Montreal in December, increasingly more firms and buyers wish to perceive their influence on our ecosystems and undertake efforts to guard, regenerate and sustainably handle pure assets.
That’s unbelievable information — leaving carbon tunnel imaginative and prescient behind and as a substitute approaching the intertwined crises of local weather change and nature loss collectively has been lengthy overdue.
So now, sustainability practitioners are determining how you can method their new process. Why is the world’s biodiversity in such a dire state? What ought to we do about it? I don’t have all of the solutions in my again pocket, however what I do know is that we received’t be capable of flip the change on biodiversity with out remodeling meals methods. Right here’s why.
Chomping away on our dwelling planet
I really like meals — you in all probability do too. Consuming doesn’t solely imply survival, however pleasure, tradition and connection. Sadly, how we’ve been feeding our personal species has led to the destruction of a lot of the world’s native ecosystems and the extinction of many vegetation and animals. (By the best way, our diets are additionally killing our personal species, however I’ll maintain on to that story for an additional article).
That’s as a result of to provide ever extra meals for ever extra folks — who demand ever extra resource-intensive merchandise reminiscent of meat and dairy as they get wealthier — we’ve been constantly reducing down forests, plowing up savannas and draining peatlands to develop international farmlands. And we’ve been managing these acres with out a lot concern for its native inhabitants or these in neighboring areas.
Right here’s how agriculture has affected biodiversity:
- Agriculture and aquaculture threaten 54.5 % of the 42,109 species at the moment vulnerable to extinction, based on my calculation based mostly on the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Purple Checklist of Threatened Species. (This doesn’t imply that agriculture is the one menace these species are uncovered to).
- As agriculture is threatening wildlife, it’s changing it with livestock. A surprising 96 % of the world’s mammal biomass is livestock (this excludes people), and 71 % of the world’s fowl biomass is farmed poultry. In different phrases, solely 4 % of the world’s bears, elephants, seals & co. are wild, and solely 29 % of birds stay in nature.
- To boost all these cows, pigs and chickens, develop their feed and different meals for human consumption, agriculture makes use of half of the planet’s liveable land (outlined as ice- and desert-free land).
- We’re not stopping there. Enlargement of cropping and grazing land has triggered 90 % of deforestation worldwide between 2000 and 2018. The overwhelming majority of those forests disappeared in tropical areas, that are dwelling to a lot of our planet’s biodiversity hotspots.
- Agriculture can also be accountable for 78 % of world ocean and freshwater eutrophication — extra vitamins leaking from farms into waterways that spur uncontrollable plant and algal development downstream. Consider algal blooms, lifeless zones and so forth, harming life in rivers, lakes and oceans.
Disclaimer: Not all agricultural land is used to develop meals — about 8 % of world cropland is used for biofuels, and 2.4 % for cotton. Agriculture can also be not the one trade impacting biodiversity. Different extractive and polluting industries reminiscent of oil, gasoline, mining, timber and plastics play important roles, too, alongside urbanization and different pressures. Nonetheless, because the statistics above present, meals is a serious space of concern.
This has two implications: 1) If your organization produces, sources or invests in agricultural merchandise (together with supplies reminiscent of leather-based for sneakers and automobile seats), it probably has a big biodiversity footprint. 2) That publicity comes with threat — bodily, reputational and transitional. Elevated land safety measures or different conservation insurance policies are examples of nature-related transition dangers. The funding financial institution Jefferies estimated in a current briefing that agricultural firms’ net-present worth will fall by a mean of 26 % between 2020 to 2030 in the event that they don’t mitigate such rising transition dangers.
Any food-adjacent firm and investor would thus do itself a favor by pushing for meals methods transformation. And for those who’re an investor with out present agricultural publicity however wish to make a dent in biodiversity loss, meals system options that alleviate biodiversity pressures current a giant alternative for you.
How can we decouple meals from nature loss?
Regardless of these miserable statistics, not all is misplaced. Fairly the alternative: Now we have clear and complicated roadmaps for a greater future, together with WWF’s Fixing the Nice Meals Puzzle, Conservation Worldwide’s Exponential Roadmap for Pure Local weather Options and WRI’s Making a Sustainable Meals Future. They define how you can nourish a rising international inhabitants whereas respecting our planet’s boundaries and restoring a few of the very important ecosystems we beforehand destroyed.
Market and regulatory incentives that may drive companies to rethink the established order of meals manufacturing and consumption have been inadequate. There’s a small probability that biodiversity would be the set off.
Placing these roadmaps into observe requires huge shifts in meals manufacturing and consumption, drawing on reforms in coverage, enterprise observe and cultural norms. In addition they ask for the deployment of technological innovation and conventional ecological data. So there’s a chance for everybody to contribute — whether or not you are motivated by carbon, biodiversity or your pockets. Throughout the roadmaps, three important motion areas emerge:
- Plant-rich diets: We will’t maintain present ranges of animal meals consumption in center and high-income international locations whereas combating the local weather and biodiversity crises. Wholesome and sustainable diets ought to be centered round grains, legumes, greens, nuts and seeds and solely function meat, fish, dairy and eggs in considerably smaller proportions. This shift will allow extra environment friendly agricultural land use whereas stopping deforestation and different land-use modifications.
- Round worth streams: Almost a 3rd of meals grown worldwide doesn’t get eaten. Fourteen % of meals is misplaced between harvest and retail, and 17 % is wasted between retail, foodservice and households. These are large inefficiencies we have to deal with if we wish to reduce land use and restore biodiversity. As well as, we have to do a greater job at biking important vitamins again into the system, i.e., by increasing composting packages that may fertilize farms or upcycling previously wasted substances into new merchandise.
- Regenerative manufacturing: Optimizing farmland productiveness underpins additional growth into pure ecosystems. On the identical time, yield targets have to be balanced with bringing a sure stage of biodiversity again to working lands, and turning them into carbon sinks quite than emitters. Corporations must also watch the environmental impacts of farm inputs — from fertilizer manufacturing to the vitality that’s fueling tractors and irrigation methods.
These approaches might initially not have been developed to deal with nature loss. However all of them do their half in managing agricultural land extra sustainably and feeding the world extra effectively — thus sparing land, water and different assets that may enable different species to thrive, in flip regenerating Earth’s cycle of life on which we collectively rely.
And but, data has not trickled all the way down to motion at scale. To this point, market and regulatory incentives that may drive companies to rethink the established order of meals manufacturing and consumption have been inadequate. There’s a small probability that biodiversity considering would be the final straw in triggering a sequence of reforms, however we’ll take any assist we are able to get.