Nature is not just ‘out there’, it has functional use to us
‘Look at the biomass of mammals on earth’ explains Mark Everard, Associate Professor of Ecosystems Services at University of the West of England. ‘96% of it comprises us and our livestock, and 70% of global biomass is poultry. So we are absolutely dominating the natural world, and we’ve gone down this pathway really blind to the natural implications. In thinking about nature, what’s important is that we stop thinking about it as altruism. The idea that nature’s out there and to be protected, while we’re in here. We’re breathing nature, we eat nature, we drink nature, nature gives us our aesthetic enrichment, our spiritual enrichment, it helps us with flood and disease protection. This functional view of nature is the most important change in mindset that we need for the future. If we look after nature then nature can look after us, because nature does look after us. If we ignore that fundamental view, we will continue this desperately rapid decline.’
Richard Betts, Associate Partner, Climate Change & Sustainability Services, Ernst & Young, agrees. ‘We’re increasingly living in urbanised areas and we’ve lost that direct connection to the natural world. We tend to get our food from the supermarket, and we don’t think of where it came from. We’ve become detached and desensitised from nature. But we are part of nature, and biodiversity is the fabric of life.’
The twin-crises of climate and biodiversity need to be tackled together
Richard explains: ‘We will not be able to tackle the climate crisis unless we simultaneously combat the biodiversity crisis. Up until this point, nature has been doing a great deal of the job for us for free. Our forests, our mangroves and our other natural assets have been removing much of our carbon pollution. We need to focus on preservation and restoration at scale to tackle these crises.’
Farah Naz, Chair of CIBSE UAE and Lead Sustainable Solutions and ESG for AECOM Middle East and Africa says: ‘I don’t see a lot of natural capital accounting happening outside of certain European countries. This is a trend that we’re seeing being picked up in the Middle East. Yet doing natural capital accounting assessments has such value. We need to start having those conversations with our clients and colleagues, because that’s the only way that we’ll get the mind shift that we need. Big shifts only happen when we make changes in our everyday lives.
Technology and the food-energy-water nexus
Farah explains: ‘To generate food we need energy and water, and to generate energy we need water. I think the key question we need to ask ourselves is: how can nations and cities safeguard themselves? We really need an effective theory of change. One that looks at the wisdom from nature and all the lessons we have learned as a generation. We need a framework that links the energy transition with the natural capital model. When we’re talking about the built environment, the energy transition is often spoken about in isolation, but we need to have these two conversations simultaneously. It’s not just about net zero, its also about nature positive. At COP26, there were many conversations about linking these two things together.’