The world today is faced with unprecedented and far-reaching challenges that affect every country, every ecosystem, and every person. These challenges are distinct but also deeply interconnected in complex and multidirectional ways. They have in common that they threaten to overwhelm coping capacities and seriously impact human economies and societies, turning them from challenges into crises.
This multitude of global crises, which includes the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, and the pollution crisis, can be described as a polycrisis that affects multiple systems at the same time and in ways that influence and exacerbate each other. A polycrisis does not have a single cause and, therefore, no singular solution. However, the interconnected nature of its constituent crises means that actions taken in one sphere—for example, climate action or environmental conservation—have the potential to produce powerful synergies and co-benefits. In other words, while there is feedback between the crises, there is also the potential for feedback between solutions.
Countries such as Sri Lanka can greatly benefit from integrating their strategies and plans and harnessing synergies between development, climate action, biodiversity conservation, pollution reduction, and key sectoral interventions. However, uniting these different processes—each with their own institutional setups, policy frameworks, finance streams, evidence bases, and actors—is not an easy task.
Toward the end of 2022, the need to address the polycrisis in a holistic fashion is becoming increasingly obvious, with multiple important summits happening in close succession. In November 2022, the 198 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with a total of 45,000 people attending the two-week conference (UNFCCC COP27). Only a week later, the first session of a new Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to develop an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution took place in Punta del Este, Uruguay, with more than 2,500 delegates from 147 countries (INC-1). Finally, representatives of 188 governments gathered in December in Montreal for the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP15), which concluded with the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).
Climate change is explicitly mentioned in the GBF, with three targets directly referring to climate change and the need to optimize “co-benefits and synergies of finance targeting the biodiversity and climate crises.” Similarly, the COP27 cover decision (the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan) addresses biodiversity and ecosystem conservation in multiple places and contains dedicated sections on forests and oceans, as well as an acknowledgement of the urgent need to harness synergies for addressing the “interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss in the broader context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”
The above-mentioned conferences are not the only important events of the year—for example, COP15 of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the third “Rio Convention,” took place in Côte d’Ivoire in May—, and a multitude of other planning and implementation processes took place on the regional, national, and local level. However, many of these processes aim to address the same underlying causes in similar timeframes (with target years 2030 and/or 2050) in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals and the need for economic growth and recovery after COVID-19 and global supply chain disruptions.
For example, there are clear parallels between the global frameworks for climate action and biodiversity conservation. Both the UNFCCC and the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) have similar governing bodies (their respective Conferences of the Parties) and mechanisms for communicating national commitments (Nationally Determined Contributions and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans), as well as overlapping funding mechanisms (Green Climate Fund and Global Environmental Facility) and related science-policy bodies (IPCC and IPBES).
The GBF aims to protect 30% of the planet and 30% of degraded ecosystems by 2030, reduce the extinction of threatened species, and focus on the sustainable use and management of biodiversity and natural resources. The UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement aim at reducing greenhouse gas emissions while also adapting to the unavoidable effects of climate change to protect people, livelihoods, and ecosystems. In addition, there is an urgent need to manage waste and plastic pollution, stop desertification, and prevent soil degradation.
To do this, it is possible to identify and utilize synergies between national commitments under different global frameworks. Actions on climate change and biodiversity can complement each other, address common causes and impacts, and target co-benefits through multidisciplinary cooperation.
The advantages of coordinated and synergetic actions are multifold. If a polycrisis is addressed through holistic interventions, it can help to use resources more efficiently, avoid redundancies and duplication of efforts, enhance knowledge-sharing, and improve access to different funding sources, technology transfer, and other means of support. Policy coherence is an important element that guides implementation, and reporting on progress can be done more comprehensively and efficiently.
Nature-based solutions or ecosystem-based adaptation can help to bridge the gap between these different targets and address multiple crises simultaneously. For example, this could be in the form of green infrastructure or ecosystem services, but also revolving around investment in a blue economy or green finance, including tools and instruments such as ecosystem discounts, green or blue bonds, debt-for-nature swaps, or carbon credits.
Whether it is on the local, national, regional, or global level, there is a significant potential to identify synergies and try to design actions around them that can support economic growth and recovery, contribute to the conservation of nature, strengthen human and planetary health, mitigate climate change, and build the long-term resilience of all systems.
This blog post was originally published as a guest column in Daily Financial Times on December 31st, 2022, and is available here.
Dennis Mombauer currently lives in Colombo as a freelance writer and researcher on climate change and education. He focuses on ecosystem-based adaptation and sustainable urban development as well as on autism spectrum disorder in the field of education. Besides articles and research, he has published numerous works of fiction in German and English.