Nature in crisis: Rethinking development pathways

Kishan Khoday

Kishan Khoday


AS highlighted at the recent 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS- 4) it is clear that planet earth’s ecosystems are in an accelerating state of flux, and that a course correction is urgently needed if countries are to maintain and sustain their hard-won development gains in coming decades. Together, the changing climate, loss of ecosystems and escalating toxicity and pollution – known as the triple planetary crisis – have emerged as an existential threat to lives and livelihoods, with the coming years likely to see millions pushed into poverty, inequality, and mass displacement, unless action is taken. No longer a dystopian tale of the future, these trends are now upon us, threatening to derail development. So, what can be done? 

First is the value of multilateralism. As highlighted in the 2023/2024 edition of the Human Development Report, on the theme of reimagining cooperation in a polarised world, addressing the planetary crisis needs a renewed level of collective action and solidarity within the international community. The priority needs to be on solutions that bring justice and remedy to those communities across the Global South who have little to do with the cause of the planetary crisis but are feeling the brunt of the impact. 

This is particularly important for communities in Small Island Develop- ment States (SIDS), who have been vocal propo- nents of the need for scaled up international support to SIDS for building the resilience of oceans-based economies, adaptation to climate change, resilience of coral reefs and marine ecosystems, and rapid acti- vation of new systems to address loss and damage from climate change. Given the historical roots of the planetary crisis and growing conditions of vulnerability, enhancing global cooperation will also be about exploring forms of debt relief, scaled up use of blue and green debt swaps, and reparatory forms of development. 

Second is the need to embrace opportunities from the transition. Blue and green solutions will emerge as the greatest development opportunity in the coming decades, driven by a new generation of thought leadership, innovative technology, and sustainable finance instruments. New nature-based models of development can serve to restore and maintain an ‘ecological safety net’, ensuring productive land, water access, food systems and other services that communities rely on for lives and livelihoods. 

Embracing the opportunity rests on three critical shifts. Foremost will be a shift in behaviour and values, with a new generation of young leaders and creative thought leaders placing nature at the heart of their vision for the future. Importantly this includes evolving sensibilities around citizen rights to a healthy environment, participation in decision making on the use of natural resources, and access to systems of justice to remedy impacts. Another critical shift is being seen in economic and financial systems, from nature-negative to nature-positive fiscal policies, impact investments with social and environmental co-benefits, expansion of blue and green bonds, and capitalisation and rapid commercialization of clean technology investments. Equally important will be a shift in development practice and systems, through greater community empowerment and local action, and solutions driven by communities’ lived experiences and locally crafted solutions on ways to manage risk and build resilience. 

The impacts of such a transition will be seen in people’s lives, particularly for the poor and most vulnerable in society – through more equitable access to and benefits from use of the natural resources and the environment, more sustainable food systems, climate resilient water systems and rural livelihoods, future-proofed infrastructure and early warning capacities, greater access to affordable energy and reduced electricity costs, solar empowered health, edu- cation and water systems, more energy efficient and cost efficient buildings and transport, and new systems of environmental justice. 

UNDP is working with local partners on many of these issues, supporting over 2,000 projects today in SIDS across the world, with USD 400 million per year to achieve global and local goals of resilience. In the Caribbean, nature-based solutions are at the core of this cooperation. In The Bahamas, Belize, and Jamaica, local projects are helping protect critical forests and coral ecosystems, expand solar solutions, develop capacities for new climate resilient food and water systems, and restore damaged ecosystems. In addition to local adaptation and community resilience, our focus is also on upstream systems and policies to ensure impact at scale. This includes support in establishing national institutions for biodiversity and climate change, coupled with new climate and biodiversity finance plans, investment frameworks and tools for use of blue and green bonds, debt for nature swaps, and other instruments. 

With a view to the future, during the recent 4th International SIDS Conference, UNDP also launched a new Blue and Green Islands Integrated Programme, a USD 153 million grant-based initiative supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented in partnership with FAO, IUCN, UNEP, World Bank and WWF. Together, UNDP and partners will support participating countries around the world to integrate the value of nature into decision-making, advance innovative nature-based solutions within tourism, agriculture, and other sectors, crowd-in private sector finance, and empower civil society, women and youth as agents of change. 

The world’s collective response to the planetary crisis and the existential threat faced by vulnerable countries will be one of the greatest tests of solidarity and multilateralism in coming years. The time has arrived to move from dialogue to action, through renewed levels of global cooperation to future-proof countries’ hard-won development gains, and forward-looking policies and institutions that help embrace the transition to a new nature-based model of development. 

• Kishan Khoday serves as Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme in The Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and the Turks & Caicos Islands. Send feed- back to Kishan.khoday@ undp.org 

• Peter Young’s column returns next week.


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