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Philanthropy alone can’t save nature — governments must act – POLITICO

Hansjörg Wyss is a Swiss businessman and philanthropist, and the co-owner of Chelsea FC.

Solving the crisis facing nature is daunting. Over the next few months, we will see whether governments are truly up to the task.

I, for one, am optimistic that we will meet the challenge, but leaders must actually commit to accelerating the pace of conservation this year and invest significant and meaningful public resources. Promises alone can’t save nature — it’s time for governments to take action.

Inspired by the wonders of nature — and motivated by the fear of losing the wild places I love — I’ve pledged a significant portion of my fortune to protect at least 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans by 2030.

This commitment is a promise to future generations that I’m going to do everything I can to leave them a world that’s as alive and glorious as the one I was born into.

Meanwhile, for years, we’ve witnessed heads of state and government deliver soaring speeches about the fundamental role nature plays in combating climate change and as a building block of the global economy. We can expect to hear the same at this week’s U.N. General Assembly, which will be quickly followed by the pandemic-delayed U.N. Biodiversity Conference in Montreal in December. But such promises to protect biodiversity are often worth little more than the words on a teleprompter.

Under the status quo, a million species are facing the threat of extinction, many within decades, and a significant majority of the planet’s surface has been severely altered by humans. 

This isn’t just a problem for rare species and far away landscapes — biodiversity loss presents significant risks to human prosperity and security. The World Bank estimates that thanks to a loss of economic services provided by the natural world, like pollination, the provisioning of fresh water and food from marine fisheries, the status quo will cost the global economy $2.7 trillion annually by 2030

Talk is cheap, but failure to act on nature will be prohibitively expensive.

And though there’s no silver bullet, no single action that will safeguard biodiversity, we know it’s going to take mobilizing significant resources to reverse the loss of nature. 

From among these resources, philanthropy has been the tip of the spear over the last half-decade, significantly stepping up private investments into biodiversity conservation.

For my part, I made my commitment in 2018 to donate $1 billion to catalyze a global push to achieve the 30×30 conservation target. And a year ago, I upped that commitment to $1.5 billion, joining other philanthropists who have collectively committed $5 billion to nature before the decade’s end.

Thus far, private donors have been the ones propelling this movement forward, working with the 100-plus nations that have already endorsed the science-based 30×30 target, which include biodiverse countries like Colombia, Peru and Australia. But private investments and public pledges are not nearly enough.

Stopping the extinction of species and the loss of habitat requires more — more resources, more collaboration, more action.

In the past, I’ve called on fellow philanthropists to step up and confront the biodiversity crisis head on, and many have met the moment. Now, governments must do the same.

Protecting 30 percent of the planet’s surface is going to require an annual investment of $140 billion by 2030 — by comparison the world currently spends $24 billion on protected area conservation.

However, this increased investment represents only 0.16 percent of global GDP and would amount to less than one-quarter of what governments spend annually on subsidies to industries that destroy nature, like mining and fossil fuel development.

There are reasons for optimism. Canada is investing more than $2 billion over five years to meet its government’s goal of protecting 30 percent of Canada’s territory by 2030. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed another $1 billion over the same period to biodiversity conservation projects in developing nations.

Others should follow Canada’s lead and dig much deeper into their pockets. These new public resources could support the creation and long-term management of national parks, marine protected areas, and Indigenous protected zones — the most effective strategy to safeguard nature. 

We know that when given the space to heal, and when local communities are given the tools and trust to sustainably manage natural areas, plants and animals return. The world has witnessed firsthand the wonders of repopulating Yellowstone with wolves, jaguars returning to Argentina’s Iberá National Park, and elephants thriving in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park once again.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such examples of nature’s amazing capacity to rebound, and I remain in awe of its resilience. But it’s going to take the governments of every country, in tandem with Indigenous Peoples, local communities, civil society and philanthropy, to identify, secure and finance new protected areas.

The cost of inaction is too high to even consider. So, let’s instead see to it that far more of our awe-inspiring planet is protected for the future.

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