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The Doctrine of Decarbonization – What About Biodiversity? (5/6)

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

As we’re greening up capitalism and purging ourselves of environmental sins, the ‘green invisible hand’ is getting stronger.

In this article, we are exploring what the giant decarbonization train means for the biodiverse-rich bushes wilting on the sides of the tracks.

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Note: this video covers the same topic.

The Doctrine of Decarbonization has the reduction of greenhouse gases as its singular goal … and this ‘green invisible hand’ often mishandles – even castrates – when it replaces structurally complex forests with monoculture tree plantations (carbon farms) …

… or when it reaches for EV-minerals that lay beneath primary rainforests.

This hand is getting stronger every day

What makes it so strong?

Its four fingers, four attributes below:

a) Clear and singular goal

Reducing global warming by limiting the release of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) into the atmosphere has been singled out as the ONE goal when it comes to climate action. This goal was agreed on and endorsed by 200 signatories of the Paris Accord.

b) Clear targets

There are two targets:

Temperature: We need to limit the warming to 1.5C – as per the Paris Accord.

Timeframe: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that we need to peak the release of GHGs by 2025, halve the release of GHGs by 2030, and, consequently, reach net-zero by 2050.

Many countries, including 80% of Australia’s trading partners, have set net-zero targets (e.g. Germany by 2045) either as a policy or law. Australia has legislated an emissions reduction target of 43% by 2030, which isn’t as bold as net-zero but a significant move for Australia given its poor track record.

(Net-zero is the balance between the release of GHGs and increase of carbon sinks; if it were only reduction of GHGs – we’d have ‘zero by 2050’, not ‘net zero by 2050’).

c) Clear metric

For temperature, obviously, that’s Celsius (°C).

For emissions, that’s tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO2), and/or tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). They’re measurable and trackable, and our carbon accounting frameworks, e.g. the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, are constantly improving.

d) It’s global

We have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. True, individual countries have their own targets but they’re all tied to this one global goal/target.

In this respect, the Paris Accord (2015) resembles the Montreal Protocol (1987), where all UN member states committed to phasing out the production and use of various ozone layer-depleting substances (ODSs - about 100 chemicals such as aerosols in deodorants, refrigerants…).

But unlike the legally binding Montreal Protocol, which is considered “one of the most successful environmental agreements of all time,” the Paris Agreement is binding only on paper, not in reality because it doesn’t have mandatory targets for countries, there are no penalties for offenders (e.g. embargoes, fines), and no mechanism to enforce compliance (in the international court). It’s “all carrots but not sticks,” in the words of W. Nordhaus, the Nobel prize winner for the economics of climate change.

These^ four points – four fingers of the green invisible hand – make the doctrine of decarbonization so powerful…

Now, let’s contrast that with biodiversity

(Note: Credit for this distinction goes to Natasha Cadenhead, a Conservation PhD Researcher at the University of Queensland. I attended her presentation at the 2021 Landcare conference.)

Unlike climate change, biodiversity doesn’t have ONE singular goal, one target, and one metric. It’s also location-specific, not global.

There are Aichi Biodiversity Goals & Targets (below), but just by glancing at them, you can see that they’re not as punchy and easy to grasp, which makes them harder to “sell,” communicate, endorse … and therefore, implement. (Unlike “net-zero by 2050!”)

Aichi Biodiversity Strategic Goals & Targets:

· Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society

· Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use

· Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity

· Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services

· Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building

(Each of these goals has specific targets under it.)

So, we have a roarin’ 20s green decarbonization train … and threatened biodiversity.

Yet, without biodiversity, there is no life … and no business

Farmers need crops; crops need pollination and pollinators. Pollinators need biodiversity.

Therefore, without biodiversity, farmers have no business, and we have no food.

Natacha also shared that more than half of the global GDP of $44 trillion depends on ecosystem services (=biodiversity). These services underpin the financial performance of businesses. A loss of pollinators, for example, would result in a loss of $500 billion in crop value.

Underpinning economic activity, providing food … these are attributes of nature’s instrumental value (what we get from nature).

Unfortunately, it’s the instrumental value, and “benefits” that we need to focus on because that’s what attracts funding and investment.

Of course, nature has intrinsic value (on its own, not through our pragmatic, what’s-in-it-for-me lens), but that is still invisible in the market-based society. The notion that nature is ‘priceless’ is a cruel paradox, because ‘priceless’ in economic terms means WORTHLESS - having no price, therefore, not accounted for, as pointed out by Tim Cronin from WWF-Australia.

So, what’s going to happen with biodiversity?

These three scenarios come to mind:

· Biodiversity will be embedded into decarbonization/action on climate change. This, I think, would be a loss for biodiversity, because it’d be competing against the singularity, concreteness, and time-framed decarbonization (“net-zero by 2050!”).

· Biodiversity will be separate, and will get a comparable singular goal-target-metric. It’ll have its own ‘biodiversity credits,’ an equivalent of carbon credits. Biodiversity credits will be traded on ‘biodiversity markets’ in a comparable way that carbon credits are traded. (Biodiversity offsets are unlikely.)

· Biodiversity will remain neglected (unlikely).

In the context of the green invisible hand we’ve been exploring in these series (previous three articles and videos), the green invisible hand is now solely focused on decarbonization…

… which is a big problem, because there are many environmental issues that need fixing but don’t fall under the compelling one global goal, one target, and one metric.

So, will we continue to sacrifice primary rainforests for EV-minerals? Continue mass planting invasive, fire-prone monoculture crops as carbon farms instead of protecting/restoring mixed native, structurally complex forests?

Do you want to enhance biodiversity in your outdoor space?

I’m looking to work with few more people who want to green up their service/school/home.

This is mainly for teachers/educators, early childhood/school directors, greenery/sustainability enthusiasts, education pros, parents, and students.

Register here if you’re interested.


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