Urgent action needed on biodiversity

It will be twice as expensive to delay taking action to protect nature globally than acting immediately, a report has found.

On 11 February, Vivid Economics and the Natural History Museum published a report as part of a Treasury global review into the economics of biodiversity. They sought to analyse global land use and food production scenarios, highlighting the economic costs associated with pathways to protect and restore nature, while providing enough food for a growing human population. A delay of 10 years would more than double the cost of intervention, taking it from around 8% of current global GDP to 17%, with this driven by much higher incentives required for reforestation and higher food costs.

While there is a strong scientific consensus that biodiversity is declining rapidly due to human activities, the costs of delaying action to arrest and reverse this loss have not yet been fully examined – something the report has aimed to rectify.

It found that it is feasible to significantly reduce extinction rates of endemic species with immediate high-ambition action, warning that without greater action than currently implemented policies, most will go extinct within the coming 30 years than appear to have died out in the entire period 850-1850 CE. Delaying action will made it infeasible to stabilise biodiversity intactness globally, even at today’s depleted levels. The global cost of food and materials production from 2021 to 2050 was also found to be lower under immediate action in contrast to higher when action is delayed, as a share of an average household income globally.

It made a series of recommendations as how best to proceed, including immediately improving the effectiveness of protected area enforcement, which is the cheapest form of action, and designing biodiversity incentive mechanisms that complement greenhouse gas payments to target biodiversity-rich areas and places with high restoration potential.

It also called for the development of reforestation programmes using planting which will support biodiversity quicker than natural regrowth, prioritising reforestation in areas of high species endemism in fragmented forest and adjacent to existing forest; immediately announcing the future ambition and likely level of biodiversity incentives, translating them into investor-relevant scenarios; and immediately redeploying food and materials production subsidies into yield improving technology adoption, biodiversity incentives, and funding of protected areas.