Three crises, one solution 

Why an intact natural world can help us address various challenges. By Kirsten Hegener, Director of GIZ’s Competence Centre for Biodiversity, Forests and Agriculture. 

We live in challenging times. The world is currently facing the impact of several major crises simultaneously. And that’s without counting the war in Ukraine, which poses its own unique set of hardships and consequences. But I’m talking here about three distinct long-term crises that we have to resolve: climate change, food insecurity and the rapid loss of biodiversity. These three issues are closely intertwined, they condition and influence one another – and they pose a direct threat to humanity. If we fail to find solutions or the strength to take the paths we already know to be right, then we as human beings will soon be standing at the very brink of our existence.  

Biodiversity: a prerequisite for everything else

None of these crises is worse than the others, so there is no point playing one off against another. But without an intact natural world, it will be difficult to resolve the remaining problems. In many ways, addressing biodiversity is a basic prerequisite for tackling all three crises. And yet the trend is in the opposite direction: over half of all natural ecosystems have already been destroyed, and one million out of an estimated eight million species are at risk of extinction. 

If these species really are lost over the next few years, we will lose vital pollinators such as birds and insects. Yet we know that much of our food comes from plants that are pollinated by animals. We cannot afford this impending shrinkage, particularly now that the number of people going hungry has risen again in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Drei Krisen, eine Lösung 

‘In 2021 alone, GIZ contributed to the goals of the Biodiversity Convention with over 110 projects worldwide.’ 

Kirsten Hegener
Director of GIZ’s Competence Centre for Biodiversity, Forests and Agriculture

Meanwhile, just under a third of the world’s population is either inadequately fed or facing food insecurity; in 2014, the figure was 22 per cent. The pandemic has therefore exacerbated an already difficult set of circumstances. But COVID-19 can almost certainly also be traced back to our reckless attitude to the natural world. Our current understanding suggests the disease came about as a result of a pathogen jumping from animals to people – potentially from bats to humans via the pangolin. A growing spillover of infectious pathogens is due in large part to changes in the way land is used in the natural world, progressive environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity, since these factors increase contact between humans, animals and microorganisms. This example also illustrates the fact that many of our current challenges ultimately have a single cause: the loss of species and natural habitat.

Still paying scant regard to nature conservation

It’s a similar story with climate change, which is largely fuelled by the burning of fossil fuels. And yet nature can mitigate this impact. According to a joint calculation published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), plants – and forests in particular – as well as peatlands and oceans naturally absorb about half of all CO2 emitted by humans. The more we cut down forests to make way for agricultural activities and the more we drain our peatlands, the fewer there are of these natural carbon sinks to slow down global warming. So nature is beneficial in many ways. But if the environment itself is under pressure, it can no longer adequately fulfil this function. 

Despite this, of the current crises we face, biodiversity loss is the one to which we have so far paid the least attention. Hunger, a crisis we have been dealing with for years, became even more of an issue during the pandemic. Climate change – a subject everyone is talking about – is top of our collective agenda. But we have not yet taken the loss of our natural world sufficiently to heart. Perhaps this is because the process is gradual, it’s still hard to pinpoint the ‘pain’. We are at a point where, despite the enormity of the crisis, we are not yet feeling the long-term consequences. And that’s a danger. 

Hopes for COP15

Since most of the world’s rich biodiversity is found in countries of the Global South – countries in need of support with nature conservation – the issue is also of relevance to GIZ. As it has been for a long time. In 2021 alone, GIZ contributed to the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity with over 110 projects worldwide. The volume of new projects that year amounted to EUR 290 million. 

They included the designation and conservation of protected areas, for example in southern Africa, or measures to increase soil fertility in places such as Ethiopia. But the focus is also on agroecological approaches to encourage sustainable farming practices in India, because all around the world it is agriculture that exerts the greatest pressure on biodiversity. GIZ also attaches importance to establishing sustainable, deforestation-free supply chains, for example in Indonesia.

Although GIZ’s activities are broad-ranging and the portfolio has grown slightly in recent years – there is still room for improvement. We must look at biodiversity in other sectors, such as infrastructure, energy, towns and cities. I very much hope that in the years ahead we will appreciate more fully the importance of biodiversity in our activities. Especially if the Parties take strong and ambitious decisions in Montreal. Let’s hope this is the case – for the sake of the multiple crises we are facing.