Nature: A global fix for global risks


At a time when environmental threats to humanity loom ever larger, IUCN stands as the organisation to fully harness the power of nature in addressing the challenges we face – and to guide the world towards the vision set out in the Sustainable Development Goals, writes IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.

Mangroves and wetlands help purify water

Nobody should be surprised that the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) Global Risks Report, published last week, saw environmental threats maintain their dogged grip on the top of the list for the third year in a row. Within its pages lies the recognition that action on environmental degradation is long overdue, and that the perils of ignoring nature are not in some distant tomorrow – they are here now.

Climate-related disasters hurled 39 million people into food insecurity in 2017, sea-level rise caused home values on the American Eastern Seaboard to plummet by US$14.1 billion. And increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will make crops less nutritious and could curse 175 million people with zinc deficiencies by 2050.

Rising sea levels in the United States Rising sea levels make coastal communities more vulnerable to storm damage, contributing to a US$14.1 billion loss in home values on the East Coast of the United States. Photo: U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen-Released-CC2.0

And against this backdrop one might think that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – those hopeful 17 targets the world set for itself – will become increasingly unattainable. With challenges such as extreme weather, failure to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, and disasters both natural and man-made all topping the Global Risks Report, one may start doubting that we can end hunger (SDG 2) and ensure access to water and sanitation (SDG 6) by 2030.

To achieve the SDGs, we must get the natural world right.

Faced with this worrying picture of the future, we must realise that to achieve the SDGs, we must get the natural world right. Our wetlands are our water treatment plants. Our forests are our air purifiers. Our insects and birds are our food pollinators. More fundamentally, we must protect nature for that is where life itself resides – below water (SDG 14) and on land (SDG 15).

Our natural world is intensely connected to all we strive for in the great SDG vision: if we get nature right the rest is much more likely to fall into place.

Birds and insects are essential pollinators for food crops Birds and insects are essential pollinators for food crops, making the health of their populations a significant factor in ending hunger worldwide (SDG 2). Photo: Ragesoss, CC3.0

And it is here we must remember that while the problems now facing humanity seem overwhelming, IUCN is one of the few organisations with the reach and influence to move the needle on global action. With our 70 proud years of history, global reach of more than 1,300 Member organisations and 13,000 experts, and deep knowledge of almost every facet of the natural world, we have the skills and expertise to guide humanity as it enters the 2020-2030 development decade.

So to impact the world even more powerfully, even more effectively than before, we will use 2019 to achieve three things: Shape the 2020-2030 development decade; modernise and “industrialise” IUCN to expand our global impact; and ensure we are prepared for our vital June 2020 rendezvous in Marseille at the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

Shaping the 2020-2030 development decade

The world set the 17 bold SDGs in 2015. But in the few years since, social circumstances have changed drastically, threatening the spirit of cooperation that helped the globe lay down these targets in the first place. Public anger seems set to increase against authority and “the elite”, more are clamouring to “take back control”, and barriers are rising everywhere. Behind the push against government and globalisation rumbles the voice of a civil society that feels forgotten.

Nature and its conservation is probably one of the few challenges that could unite more than it fragments.

Yet nature and its conservation is probably one of the few challenges that could unite more than it fragments. It could be a catalyst for greater coalition as we face more divisive challenges. And this is where IUCN stands strong and tall. We, unique among international organisations, put civil society on equal footing as governments as we implement change. IUCN connects thousands across all swathes and sectors of society and gives them a voice in protecting the natural world.

Integrating all members of society into our work amplifies our positive impact on nature many times over, and because nature lies at the heart of the SDGs, this is how we will shape the 2020-2030 development decade.

Bodies on a rooftop IUCN, as a Union and through its World Conservation Congresses, brings government, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organisations together to address global conservation and sustainable development challenges. Photo: IUCN / Maegan Gindi

To modernise and 'industrialise' conservation

As we move to expand and deepen the scope of our achievements for nature, we should be mindful of the changes afoot in the world at large and in the development sector. And while we celebrated our 70th anniversary in 2018, it is now that we start shaping the IUCN of the next 70 years by reflecting on some key, hard questions: Is our message as audible to outside audiences as it should be? Are we operating at the right scale to tackle the environmental challenges ahead of us (or rather, as the Global Risks Report highlights, are now upon us)?

To soar to the heights we aim for, we need to keep ensuring that the organisation’s internal machinery is well-oiled. The Union will become even more transparent, we will crack down even more strongly on harassment, bullying and fraud. IUCN will and must become a model of operating effectively, for anything else will hinder us in our mission of achieving the SDGs through nature.

Preparing for our French rendezvous

One key stage of our mission in getting nature right takes place in June 2020, as the IUCN World Conservation Congress convenes in the French city of Marseille. It will set the course for ambitious, science-based conservation action post-2020, inaugurating a decade of great change. It is then and there where thousands will converge to chart the course for a better, greener, more sustainable Earth.

Marseille The IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 in Marseille will be a critical step in aligning the world’s efforts to simultaneously address the needs of nature and of society. Photo: Jbdodane via Flickr, CC2.0

And if we look a bit closer to the present, IUCN is today at Day One of the WEF, whose schedule promises a rich tapestry of nature-related events and sessions. The natural world has never featured so strongly before at this annual gathering of the world’s movers and shakers, and we are well-poised to ride this wave and make the case for the environment at our strongest and loudest yet.

To me, IUCN is the organisation to set nature at the heart of sustainable development.

To me, IUCN is the organisation to set nature at the heart of sustainable development. With our vast reach, our deep knowledge, and our driven people who recognise the interconnections between all aspects of life, we will help shape a world that increasingly realises that risks to the environment are risks to us all. And in this space our voice must be heard to help the Earth slowly, but surely, pull back from the edge.

I see the 2020s as the decade when humanity will unite towards a common goal. I see the 2020s as the decade that will change the world, for the better. I see the 2020s as the decade that sees the seven billion who live on this planet rise to the challenge, a decade that begins in June 2020, at the IUCN Congress in Marseille.

Climate change
Food security
Sustainable development

Inger Andersen

Inger Andersen assumed office as Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in January 2015 and served through May 2019. Ms Andersen has more than 30 years of experience in international development economics, environmental sustainability and policy-making. Prior to joining IUCN, Ms Andersen held various leadership roles at the World Bank and United Nations. Following IUCN, Inger Andersen joined UN Environment as Executive Director.


  • English
  • Français
  • Español
  • العربية
  • Nederlands
  • Deutsch
  • Italiano
  • ภาษาไทย
  • Tiếng Việt
  • Cambodian
  • 简体中文
  • 繁體中文
  • Bahasa Indonesia
  • 日本語
  • Laothian
  • Portuguese
  • Русский
  • اردو

All Blogs | Blog authors directory

Go to top