Nature Positive, for people and planet

The Earth Commission has been asked to provide a scientific comment on Nature Positive, specifically with regard to high level targets as defined by Locke et al. (2021). Below is a succinct summary of the key elements we see that underpin what ‘nature positive’ entails, in accordance with ongoing and previously published syntheses from the Earth Commission (including Díaz et al. 2020). The Earth Commission is working to identify quantitative boundaries of a ‘safe and just corridor’ to maintain a stable and resilient planet, and will publish these in detail in 2022. 

Nature Positive from an Earth Commission perspective is the safeguarding of the functioning of ecosystems, biomes, and related Earth system functions for a stable and resilient planet supporting all people.

Humans rely on nature — the benefits we get from species and ecosystems, as well as local to planetary functions of the ‘Earth system’, such as carbon sinks and climate regulation, moisture feedback through evapotranspiration of vegetation, functioning monsoons, tolerable temperatures, cycles of elements that are crucial for ecosystems to function, and maintenance of resilient and healthy ecosystems on land and in the ocean. 

But this is all in rapid decline, to the point that the Earth is in danger of switching into a state that no longer supports life as we know it — for ourselves as well as the multitudes of species that live with us on this planet. Our pursuit of economic growth and overconsumption, combined with unequal distribution of economic and social benefits, is changing nature at rates and scales that are unmatched historically and over geological time frames.

Ambitious targets of the Nature Positive framework described by Locke et al. (2021) call for an immediate halt in the decline of nature, measured from a baseline of 2020, and then reversing “nature loss” by 2030, with “full recovery” by 2050.

The Earth Commission acknowledges that achieving such high-level goals will require unprecedented commitment. It will also need more specific quantitative targets that address the multiple facets of nature, to guide the drawdown in economic and other practices driving nature’s decline.

From the Earth Commission’s perspective, for a safe and just planet, the critical elements for a nature-positive future run on two mutually dependent tracks:

On the state of nature: On drivers of decline:
• The decline of nature must be halted now, to avoid irreversible tipping points, using 2020 as the global reference point. This concerns both declines in ‘intact’ nature where human impact is minimal, as well as in shared land and seascapes where people live and work. • The economic drivers of nature’s decline – our investment, production and consumption choices that over-extract, pollute and alter nature – must be transformed now, with regenerative, low carbon, more equal, and sustainable circular economies. Economies must be redesigned to work with and support biodiversity and people, not work against nature and wellbeing.
• Where it is degraded, nature must be restored, to rebuild habitats and assemblages, regenerate and assure benefits to people, and support adaptation to changing conditions. • The just access to and use of nature’s benefits, includes but is not limited to more equitable rights and access to food, fuel, water and other resources. Without these, the drivers of nature’s decline will continue, and becoming nature positive will not be possible.

A high ambition of Nature Positive is necessary to strengthen biosphere function and safely support life as we know it, for humans and other species. Díaz et al. (2020) articulated the following: no net loss for nature relative to 2020 and net positive by 2030, net gain of 20% of area and integrity of natural ecosystems, and 20% gain of integrity of “managed” ecosystems by 2050.

The Earth Commission acknowledges that realising such high-level goals — achieving an inflection point in nature’s decline and drivers by 2030 to bring about positive outcomes by 2050 —  will require immense commitment, and must be supported by more specific goals that address the multiple facets of nature (Table 1, Díaz et al. 2020). However, more specific quantitative boundary conditions (‘safe’ levels) are needed to strengthen biosphere functions, and to underpin the setting of science-based targets to guide decision-making at all levels (by countries, companies, cities and other actors).

Strict “no net loss” and targeted protection and restoration Minimal loss of species and population 90% conserved Broad range of NCP secured
• Net increase in “natural” ecosystem area and integrity
• Large numbers of species and much genetic diversity saved
• NCP flow from “natural” and “managed” ecosystems secured
• Stabilizes species abundance, including particular groups delivering ecosystem functions and NCP
• Safeguards the “tree of life”
• Saves culturally important species
• Resilient ecosystems
• Safeguards adaptability of most
of rare species
• Crops, livestock, and their wild relatives can adapt to pests, diseases, and climate change
• Food, water, health, and climate security for the most vulnerable people
• More resilient “natural” and “managed” ecosystems
• Nature-based solutions reduce climate risk
Table 1. The Earth Commission hosted a workshop whose results (Díaz et al. 2020) described the scope of biodiversity targets needed for 2030 and 2050. 

Similar quantitative targets are needed to set just levels associated with the safe boundaries, to assure just access to and use of nature’s benefits, and just rights and responsibilities associated with drivers of nature’s decline, and delivering Nature Positive. During 2022, the Earth Commission will provide a first estimate of the guardrails for safe and just boundaries for the planet. This work will serve to further define the needs associated with becoming Nature Positive.