Palm trees standing in a cyclone

Nature funding must triple by 2030 to protect land, wildlife and climate

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Global annual spending to protect and restore nature needs to triple this decade to around $350bn by 2030 and rise to $536bn by 2050, a UN report has said, urging a shift in mindset among financiers, businesses and governments.

The UN's inaugural 'State of Finance for Nature' report looked at how to tackle the planet's climate, biodiversity and land degradation crises, estimating about $8tn in investment would be needed by mid-century to safeguard natural systems.

Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that while the amounts required may sound large, "it's peanuts when we are frankly talking about securing the planet and our very own future".

She added: "Our health, the quality of our lives, our jobs, temperature regulation, the housing we build and of course the food we eat, the water we drink" all depend on well-functioning natural systems.

Report co-author Ivo Mulder, who heads UNEP's climate finance unit, said financial flows should work with nature rather than against it: "It is more an opportunity to see how can you continue to do business, how can governments continue to grow economically, but do so in a way that is more equitable and sustainable. It is not impossible."

Annual investment in nature, excluding money pledged but not yet delivered, totalled $133bn in 2020, the report said, with public funds making up 86 per cent and private finance the rest.

Government spending was mainly for biodiversity protection, forest and peatland restoration, regenerative agriculture and water conservation, said the report by UNEP, the World Economic Forum and the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative.

A failure to ramp up investments in nature would threaten the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, Mulder warned, while more animal and plant species would be lost.

Better conservation and management of natural areas, such as parks, forests and wildernesses, is seen as a key tool for nations to protect ecosystems and meet emissions reduction targets.

Cutting down forests has major implications for global goals to curb climate change, as trees absorb about a third of the planet-warming carbon emissions produced worldwide. Forests also provide food and livelihoods, are habitat for a diverse range of wildlife, and support tropical rainfall.

Andersen said protecting natural stores of carbon-like forests, peatland and the ocean "is not a substitute for decarbonisation" of the global economy but rather "part of a long-term solution" to safeguard the Earth and its climate.

The report called on governments to include biodiversity and climate measures in their pandemic stimulus packages, noting that nature accounts for just 2.5 per cent of projected Covid-19 economic recovery spending worldwide.

Governments must also ensure development aid contains conditions and targets to help cut climate-heating emissions, protect forests, and limit land degradation, Mulder said.

The report recommended reforming taxes and redirecting subsidies for fossil fuels and agricultural chemicals, which amount to hundreds of billions of dollars per year, to encourage greener farming and other activities that nurture nature.

Businesses should invest more in making their supply chains sustainable, while new revenue streams created by forest carbon markets and nature-based projects could help companies meet their net-zero emissions goals, it added.

Banks will also need to take into account the negative impacts of their lending on nature and the climate, Mulder said. Firms linked to destruction of nature risk their reputations, while more extreme weather including droughts and floods - often worse in degraded ecosystems - can increase business costs. Andersen said there was a business case for investing in nature, but "we need to make it stronger and clearer".

A separate report released last year estimated between $722 and $967bn would likely be needed annually to halt the global decline in biodiversity by 2030.

Mulder said the estimate in the new UN report was lower as it analysed only land-related funding and did not include oceans. He called it a "starting point" for tracking nature-based investments.

It comes as a coalition of about 60 countries pushes to protect at least 30 per cent of land and oceans by 2030, ahead of a key UN biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, set for October 2021

In March this year, the British president of the upcoming COP26 climate summit warned that countries must deliver on emissions-reduction targets within this decade to avoid climate disaster.

Sustaining the natural world is recognised as crucial to the planet's survival. Earlier this month, a report warned that the UK needs to protect and restore its carbon-rich peatlands or risk undermining efforts to tackle its carbon emissions.

In December last year, the UK government announced that 800,000 trees would be planted across the country as part of its 'Green Recovery Challenge', with a multi-million pound investment to create over 300 hectares of woodlands, restore hedgerows and plant trees in cities.

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