Interview with Manish Bapna: Facing multiple interlocking crises, world leaders must step up for bolder and faster solutions
Manish Bapna is a Council Member of CCICED and President and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Mr. Bapna has spent the last 25 years dedicated to advancing equitable and sustainable development. In this interview, he explains why we must be more ambitious in designing and implementing solutions that address climate change and biodiversity together. He also shares his outlook for the upcoming UN Biodiversity Conference.
Q: What are the most crucial environmental challenges today?
We are in an extraordinary moment, with multiple interlocking crises worldwide. We are facing compounding crises of climate and nature, as well as food insecurity and inequality. These crises are both creating the impact of floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, heat waves and drought across the United States and China, and storms in the Pacific and Caribbean. Nature in particular is in decline at an unprecedented rate, driven by changes in land and ocean use and the direct exploitation of species. The world’s most vulnerable nations are suffering first and worst. And, across much of the developing world, the ravages of climate change are heightening the difficulty of servicing mounting debt.
Q: How can we untangle these interlocking challenges?
The solutions to the climate crisis can help address many of the crises unfolding simultaneously: nature, food, energy, inflation, and debt… Never has climate action been more necessary, but the window of opportunity is closing quickly.
We need to build a new low-carbon energy system and infrastructure to replace the traditional systems based on fossil fuels. To do so, we need technical solutions, institutional reforms, and policies that support systematic transformation. Regional imbalances in economic opportunities also must be addressed, to ensure a just and equitable transition for all workers, including those employed in the carbon-intensive sectors.
Biodiversity conservation is an indispensable part of this transition. Effective and sustainable climate action, in fact, goes hand in hand with confronting species collapse. Strengthening essential habitats preserves the ability of wetlands and forests to absorb carbon from the air and lock it away in healthy soils, just as limiting global warming helps to prevent the loss of critical wildlife and habitat. To bend the curve of biodiversity loss and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, tremendous progress must be made in both areas.
Q: Can you elaborate more on your last point – how does biodiversity conservation advances climate actions?
Direct exploitation of natural resources is a leading driver of biodiversity loss and reduced climate resilience. And we can only secure nature and meet our climate goals if we protect and restore vast swaths of the globe.
According to the 2021 IPCC-IPBES report, to ensure a “habitable climate, self-sustaining biodiversity, and good quality of life”, we need to put 30-50% of all ocean and land surface areas into effective protection and conservation. Today, globally protected areas only represent 15% of land and 7.5% of the ocean. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Nature-based solutions (NbS) are an important part of the fix for both climate and nature, and so are large-scale greening programs and ecological conservation.
Q: The climate talk (UNFCCC COP27) that ended a few weeks ago is considered “the COP for implementation.” As we speak, the second part of the UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP15) will soon be held in Montreal, Canada. How do we ensure ambitious commitments and effective implementation?
We must tackle the climate and biodiversity crises together if we want to address them effectively. The climate and biodiversity crises are closely intertwined. The same goes for the solutions.
World leaders must go bigger, bolder, and faster on solutions. At COP27, we’ve made some progress toward establishing funding mechanisms to respond to climate loss and damage. What’s important now is that the wealthy nations of the world follow through with funding that helps address climate loss and damage in a way that supports the fight against the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises.
And we know what success looks like: parties must adopt an ambitious Global Biodiversity Framework that compels transformative change to help restore a sustainable balance between human activities and the natural systems that support all life.
Swift and concrete actions must follow to ensure full implementation of the decisions and commitments from both COPs on climate and biodiversity. We must break with business-as-usual practices and commit to decisive, measurable actions to strengthen protections for oceans, forests, wildlife, and lands.
Q: What’s the role of China in tackling those challenges?
China has recognized the link between the country’s overall development and healthy oceans, forests, and other natural systems. With that in mind, China has emphasized efforts to address climate change, prevent biodiversity loss, strengthen natural climate sinks like forests and wetlands, and protect wildlife and habitat.
China is in the process of building an advanced renewable energy system to provide clean, efficient, and affordable energy to the world’s most populous nation. It also has a vital role in helping developing countries meet their sustainable development targets through green finance and other multilateral cooperation initiatives.
As chair of the CBD COP15, China has a unique opportunity to coordinate parties and other stakeholders to build momentum toward a successful COP. And the world is counting on China to play the leader’s role.
Interview conducted by Ms. Hongqiao Liu, Independent Journalist and Consultant