Award the Nobel Peace Prize to nature's protectors

The Nobel Committee's decision to award the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was instrumental in elevating that issue to the top of the global policy agenda. Now, the same should be done to recognise the organisation that has done the most work on the crisis of biodiversity loss.

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The true risks arising from nature loss and climate change often are not accounted for or understood, including by investors, according to Polman and Zabey. Image: Ashish Jain/

Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people around the world are declining at an unprecedented rate. Species extinctions are accelerating, with grave implications for human health, food and water security, and poverty reduction.

We must show solidarity with the one million species of animals and plants that are now threatened with extinction. Nature is a life insurance policy for the world’s 7.8 billion people. By protecting it, we will also be defending an irreplaceable economic resource. According to a January 2020 report from the World Economic Forum, over half of global GDP is dependent on “natural services” such as pollination, water purification, and disease control. Preserving biodiversity and ecosystems thus provides security against a wide range of threats, from food and water crises to violent conflicts fueled by resource scarcity.

The years 2021 and 2022 will be milestones in the global effort to preserve and restore nature. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s quadrennial World Conservation Congress in Marseille last month paved the way for the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China (which will be held in two parts, first in October and then next April). There, representatives from around the world are expected to adopt an ambitious new framework for saving nature.

Unfortunately, there is still a profound lack of public awareness and understanding about the degradation of nature, its terrible consequences for people around the world, and the risks it poses to peace and security. While climate change has rightly been held up as a defining challenge of our times, biodiversity loss remains relatively underappreciated, even though it, too, poses an urgent and existential threat to human society.

In fact, climate change and biodiversity loss are inextricably linked. Both are accelerating, and both have already reached levels unprecedented in human history. We now stand at a generational crossroads. This is our best chance to tackle both issues as part of an interconnected crisis. Success will require that citizens and policymakers develop a better scientific understanding of the problem, so that we can ensure evidence-based custodianship of nature and set in motion the transformative changes needed to secure a more sustainable and peaceful future for people and the planet.

The award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for its scientific work was instrumental in thrusting global warming to the forefront of the global policy agenda. After that, it became increasingly difficult for climate-change deniers to gain credibility in public debates or in policymaking circles. We should now aim to create the same momentum for biodiversity.

To that end, we have nominated the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, the winner of which will be announced on October 8.

IPBES has played a leading role in bringing together the best available research and evidence about biodiversity loss and its implications for humanity. Inspired by the IPCC, it has established itself as the most credible global authority on the science for biodiversity, strengthening the world’s knowledge base and providing policymakers with the information they need to make better decisions and set higher ambitions for the preservation of nature.

Like the IPCC, the work of IPBES has covered a wide range of issues that bear directly on the lives and livelihoods of billions of people. It has, inter alia, shone a spotlight on threats to pollinators and food security, documented trends in land degradation, and assessed the biodiversity status of every region in the world, thereby helping to reduce the risk of species extinctions.

Awarding the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to IPBES would send a clear signal about the value of nature, our trust in science, and the need for insights from diverse knowledge systems. It would boost efforts to tackle biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation at a critical moment; offer encouragement to scientists around the world who are tirelessly working on these issues; and would help in the fight against climate change.

There is no better moment to make clear to the world that nature is in a state of emergency, and that science has the solutions to address it.

Juan Manuel Santos is a former president of Colombia (2010-18) and winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. Svenja Schulze is Germany’s Minister of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. Carole Dieschbourg is Luxembourg’s Minister for the Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development. Teresa Ribera is Spanish Deputy Prime Minister for the Ecological Transition. Zac Goldsmith is British Minister of State for Pacific and the Environment. Pascal Canfin is Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2021.

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