Mangroves in Tai O, Hong Kong. Protection and restoration of coastal wetlands is an example of the kind of multifunctional solution needed to address multiple global crises together. Credit: Chunyip Wong / iStock
  • Opinion by Paula Harrison – Pamela McElwee – David Obura (bonn)
  • Interpress service

In September, almost every government on earth will gather at the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development in New York to take stock of what has been achieved and what remains to be done.

Despite some progress, global development efforts have been hampered by unprecedented environmental, social and economic crises, in particular biodiversity loss and climate change, of course exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic.

Tackling these interconnected challenges separately risks creating situations that are even more harmful to people and societies around the world, exacerbating the already high risk of not meeting the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This is particularly true as the myriad drivers of risk and harm affect many different sectors simultaneously, across scales from local to global, and can result in compounding negative impacts. For example, when demands for food and timber are combined with the effects of pollution and climate change, they can decimate already degraded ecosystems, drive species to extinction, and greatly reduce nature’s contribution to humans.

The global food system offers another example of this negative spiral of interconnected crises – where food produced in an unsustainable way leads to overconsumption of water and waste, pollution, increased health risks and loss of biodiversity. It also leads to excessive emissions of greenhouse gases, which contributes to climate change.

Yet policies often treat each of these global threats in isolation, resulting in separate, uncoordinated actions that typically address only one of the root causes and fail to take advantage of the many potential solution synergies. In the worst cases, actions taken for one challenge directly undermine those needed to address another because they do not consider trade-offs, resulting in unintended consequences, or externalizing the effects, as someone else’s problem.

That’s why nearly 140 governments turned to Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) – To request that IPBES undertake a comprehensive multi-year assessment of the links between biodiversity, water, food and health in the context of the rapidly changing climate. this’Nexus assessment‘ are among the most complex and important expert assessments ever undertaken – crossing key biophysical domains of climate and biodiversity and elements central to human well-being such as food, water and health. It will also address how interactions are affected by energy, pollution, conflict and other socio-political challenges.

To fully address this “nexus,” the assessment considers interactions across scales, geographic regions, and ecosystems. It also covers past, present and future trends in these interconnections. And, most importantly, it will offer concrete options for responses to the crises that address the interplay between risk and harm jointly and equitably – providing an important set of possible solutions for the more sustainable future we want for people and our planet.

An example of the multi-functional solutions that will be explored are nature-based solutions – such as the protection and restoration of coastal wetlands. When coastal wetland ecosystems are healthy—whether preserved or, where necessary, restored—they are a refuge and habitat for biodiversity, enhancing fish stocks for increased food security and contributing to improved human health and well-being. They can also sequester carbon, help mitigate climate change, and protect nearby communities and settlements from flooding and sea-level rise.

To develop and implement this kind of multifunctional solutions, the solutions to deal with the major global crises must be better coordinated, integrated and made more synergistic between sectors, both public and private. Decision makers at all levels need better evidence and knowledge to implement such solutions.

Work on the nexus assessment began in 2021 – with the final report expected to be considered and adopted by IPBES member countries in 2024. A majority of the 170 expert authors and review editors from around the world are meeting in March in the Kruger National Park in South Africa to further strengthen the draft report, in response to the many thousands of comments received during a first external review period.

The assessment will also include evidence and expertise from indigenous peoples and local communities – whose rich and varied direct experiences and knowledge systems that consider people and nature as an interconnected whole have embodied a nexus approach for generations.

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the recently agreed Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework provide the roadmap for dealing with climate and biodiversity crises. The IPBES nexus assessment will offer policy makers a practical guide to bridging the important linkages between the two challenges, to other relevant frameworks and linking to the sustainable development agenda.

For more information on IPBES or on the ongoing progress of the nexus assessment, go to or follow @ipbes on social media.

Prof. Paula Harrison is a Principal Natural Capital Researcher and Professor of Land and Water Modeling at the UK Center for Ecology & Hydrology, UK.

Prof. Pamela McElwee is a professor in the Department of Human Ecology at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, USA.

Dr David Obura is a founder of CORDIO (Coastal Oceans Research and Development – ​​​​Indian Ocean) East Africa, Kenya.

IPS UN agency

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service