Interview with Rodolfo Lacy: China’s leadership role in catalysing new and ambitious international goals on biodiversity
Dr Rodolfo Lacy is a Council Member of the CCICED. At the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), he leads Climate Action and Environment for Latin America as Director and is a Special Envoy on Climate Matters to the United Nations. He has extensive knowledge and experience in environmental policy and planning, natural governance, and climate diplomacy in government and intergovernmental organisations, leading various global initiatives to tackle environmental and climate challenges.
In this interview, Dr Lacy talks about the interlinked climate and biodiversity emergencies, and the need for synergised actions. He also highlights the government’s role in scaling up positive incentives, reforming harmful subsidies, and addressing the market failure of the untapped value of ecological services.
You’ve dedicated the past four decades to the environment and climate change. What are the most critical environmental issues today?
I’d say climate change and biodiversity loss. These two crises are closely interlinked: climate change is one of the five key pressures on biodiversity loss, and the destruction and degradation of natural ecosystems is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and short-lived climate forces.
Can you tell us more about the intricate connections between climate and biodiversity?
Biodiversity provides critical ecosystem services upon which all economic activities and human well-being depend. Carbon storage, for one, is an ecological service. And there are many others: nutrient cycling, pollination services, water purification, erosion control…
According to a recent IPBES-IPCC report, reductions in deforestation and the destruction or degradation of non-forest terrestrial and coastal ecosystems can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from land- and sea-use change while maintaining large carbon sinks. Such measures are fundamental to biodiversity conservation and crucial for building society’s resilience to the impacts of climate change, such as flooding, heat waves and drought.
We increasingly hear about the notion of synergising efforts in climate actions and biodiversity conservation. Meanwhile, the Covid19 pandemic awakens policymakers that we should also address human health while improving environmental and animal health. How should governments design policies for maximising synergies on these challenges?
We are searching for an advanced society on a planet where everything is interconnected. The Covid19 pandemic demonstrates a substantial nexus between health and biodiversity, an emerging challenge that demands creative multilateral global governance frameworks.
Integrating biodiversity considerations into COVID-19 economic recovery measures and pandemic policies is an opportunity to provide immediate jobs and boost longer-term economic resilience, human health, and societal well-being. Meanwhile, ignoring biodiversity in economic recovery packages could increase the risk of future pandemics and economic shocks.
Yet, a recent OECD analysis finds that green measures only account for a small proportion (17%) of overall stimulus, and only 7% of the green stimulus supports biodiversity. It is time to make financial commitments to support biodiversity actions with a holistic view, creating positive synergies among the three UN environmental conventions: climate change, biodiversity, and desertification.
I must emphasise that while synergies exist between biodiversity and climate action, potential trade-offs must be minimised. The transition to a low-emission electricity system should be nature-positive.
You mentioned biodiversity financing. Recent policy efforts in China are moving towards setting up pricing mechanisms to realise the ecological value of natural capital. What’s your take on this approach?
At OECD, we always highlight the need to reflect the true values of biodiversity and ecosystem services in economic decision-making if we are to halt and reverse the massive loss of wildlife species.
One of the underlying causes of biodiversity loss is that most of the benefits provided by nature are not reflected in market prices. And since the benefits of such ecosystem services are not priced – and hence, effectively free, we over-exploit and over-pollute the ecosystems that provide these services.
Governments can address biodiversity loss by correcting such market failures. Taxes, fees, payments for ecosystem services and other economic instruments are vital for incentivising more sustainable consumption and production, which can also raise revenue or mobilise finance.
These instruments, however, are often underutilised. On the contrary, governments often exacerbate the situation for biodiversity by providing subsidies that may inadvertently incentivise environmentally harmful activities. We estimate that governments provide more than USD 800 billion per year in potentially environmentally harmful agriculture and fossil fuel support alone.
How can China address the mounting challenges in climate and biodiversity?
China is one of the two most important greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters and a mega-diverse country. It can lead by example on both issues. China must step forward in achieving its “ecological civilisation” paradigm.
China has been performing a leadership role as the presidency of the upcoming CBD COP15, a crucial event for global biodiversity conservation. It must catalyse the process during the negotiations to reach new and ambitious international goals.
We need more quantitative targets that cover the whole spectrum of biodiversity problems, from plastic pollution or illegal trade of animals to the connectivity of natural protected areas to guarantee the evolution of species. We also need a robust monitoring framework against which progress can be assessed.
I just talked about the need to scale up positive incentives to protect biodiversity and reform harmful subsidies, which was reflected in Aichi Target 3 of the “Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020”. Both elements must be reflected in the proposed Target 18 of the “Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework” – a vital framework that will define the future of our global biodiversity assets in the following eight years.
China has demonstrated to the world that massive deployment of renewable energy, electric cars and clean technology solutions is feasible. We must see it happening on other continents. It is more critical than ever to move from international commitments to ambitious action – at the global, national, and local scale.
Interview conducted by Ms. Hongqiao Liu, Independent Journalist and Consultant