Interview with Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Nature Conservancy (TNC): Seeking pragmatic solutions for people and nature in the face of climate crises
Jennifer Morris is a Council Member of the CCICED and Chief Executive Officer of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). For the past 25 years, Ms. Morris has dedicated her life to protecting the environment for people and nature. She brings decades of global leadership, proven management skills, and a passion for conservation to the organization and its ambitious mission—conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends.
In the interview, Ms. Morris shares why investing in nature can help solve some of the biggest challenges of our time and her vision for a future where people and nature thrive. She also talks about her work at the Council in advancing international cooperation on the environment and development, as well as her expectations for strong actions and enhanced ambitions from the upcoming CBD COP15.
Q: What is the most critical environmental and development issue today?
Jennifer Morris: The most critical challenge is meeting human needs while leaving behind a rich natural environment for future generations.
Q: The challenge you just outlined reflects TNC’s vision for a future “where people and nature thrive”. How would you describe the relationship between “people” and “nature”?
Jennifer Morris: Investing in nature can help solve many of the biggest challenges people face. Healthy ecosystems can provide clean water and clean air, protect against natural disasters, furnish life-saving medications, and ensure long-term food security.
This vision is complementary to China’s ancient tradition of “Tian Ren He Yi,” which includes the oneness of humans and nature. The concept of “Ecological Civilization” framing in China’s environmental policy today is a continuation of the long-standing recognition of the importance of natural ecology to development.
Carrying on China’s tradition, President Xi has emphasized the importance of living within planetary boundaries and building a green, low-carbon circular economy while resolving challenges that have accompanied China’s rapid industrialization in recent decades.
Q: How do you assess China’s role in addressing the above challenge?
Jennifer Morris: China’s size in both area and population and its economic achievements can be the premier example of whether humans can live in harmony with nature. China remains the world’s most populous country and lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty is a historic achievement.
China faces constraints in arable land, and recurring and severe episodes of floods and droughts – conditions shared with other developing and developed countries. China can show leadership to other countries and the world by highlighting the changes needed in policy and financing to ensure that agriculture is regenerative; that forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture are sustainable; and the benefits of green infrastructure. All of these are core to the work of TNC, and we stand ready to work with the Council and China to find pragmatic solutions.
China is also a global power with global impacts. It has a global role in determining whether the world can achieve sustainability. Chinese policymakers have recognized the importance of agricultural and forest commodity supply chains in tackling the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and sustainable development. The Chinese government has also attached great importance to the green BRI, and four key ministries have issued recent relevant Guiding Opinions to that end. TNC and other Council Members are advancing nature-based solutions and are ready to work even more closely with China to make global sustainability possible.
Q: Can you tell us more about how TNC works with the Council in advancing international cooperation on the environment and development – in particular, in seeking harmony between people and nature?
Jennifer Morris: Through our role on the CCICED, TNC is honoured to be working with expert Dutch and Chinese counterparts to address the challenges of managing river basins in the face of the climate crisis. Most human activities take place in river basins. Under this excellent framing, we can focus on specific areas and identify solutions and the means to put those into practice.
Notably, this year’s study effort has two overarching themes – achieving sustainable energy transitions and advancing regenerative agriculture. We are pleased to work with our study partners to address the need to feed the growing global population while reinvesting in healthy soils and natural ecosystems. Through a multilateral exchange, we and our study partners will also explore how towns and cities along the Yangtze (China), Rhine (Europe) and Mississippi (United States) are meeting the sustainable energy challenge. And I look forward to lively exchanges with other Council Members on accelerating solutions.
Q: What’s your assessment of the global progress in addressing the above challenge?
Jennifer Morris: This past year, we’ve seen positive progress toward meeting this challenge. Recent policy conferences, from the UN Food Systems Summit to the three “Rio” sustainable development conventions – the UN Convention on Combating Drought & Desertification (UNCCD), UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), have all put a more significant and much-needed focus on turning pledges into action.
Each of these forums highlight our immense environmental challenges: restoring degraded lands and waters, reducing greenhouse gases while adapting to climate impacts, and protecting and restoring biodiversity at scale. The upcoming UNCBD COP15, under the presidency of China, is a critical moment to continue the momentum.
Q: As you mentioned, the UNCBD COP15 Phase II will be held in three weeks. What key outcomes do you expect from Montreal?
Jennifer Morris: I would like to emphasize the critical nature of the moment we are in and the need for an ambitious and actionable global biodiversity framework to emerge from Montreal. Against a backdrop of accelerating nature loss across the globe, we must see strong action taken in Montreal by adopting the long-delayed Global Biodiversity Framework. It is vital not just for biodiversity but for the climate crisis, too – we simply cannot achieve global climate goals without ambitious actions to protect and restore ecosystems via the CBD process.
We need to see the adoption of an ambitious, 10-year Global Biodiversity Framework addressing: 30×30, finance, placing nature at the centre of all decision-making, including agriculture and food, infrastructure, and energy. We also want to ensure these targets – and the resulting work on the ground, fully embraces, respect, and empower Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
We need to see a commitment to a Nature Positive world, halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 (from a baseline of 2020) through increasing the health, abundance, and resilience of species, populations, and ecosystems and sustaining the diversity of species and ecosystems. Many world leaders have now adopted a 10 Point Plan on Biodiversity Finance, which includes a comprehensive set of actions by all countries and the private sector to close the biodiversity finance gap. It is vital that we urgently close the nature finance gap.
Interview conducted by Ms. Hongqiao Liu, Independent Journalist and Consultant