Are you a threat or an opportunity for biodiversity?

By Josephine Wawira 

Kigali, a city that rhythms with African charm, prides itself on biodiversity so well maintained, sprawling over green valleys and ridges, the capital of the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda. I am here for the annual World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF), and like millions of other people who have visited Kigali, I am in awe of the progressiveness of an African people who have chosen to rise from dust to glory. The streets are clean and flowers blossom along the roads; safe for your morning jog or an evening bicycle ride with provisions for both pedestrian and cycling lanes. On multiple corners sustainable buildings are coming up; some are already in existence. A city on the move towards the right direction. A direction of peaceful co-existence, a spirited art scene, an alluring business environment, delightful gastronomic experiences and an incredibly inviting culture.

Amid my deep analysis and comparison with my country Kenya, my thoughts are interrupted by the arrival of my guest, Kari Herlevi. He is the Head of Unit, Global Collaboration at the Finnish Innovation Fund – Sitra, the lead organization for the WCEF. A delightful gentleman who is driven by a bigger purpose to contribute to a better future. For Kari, it’s not just about the economy but also about the environment, making for an interesting sideline chat on the biodiversity topic that has captured the attention of global policymakers as well as the private sector.

As a background, WCEF presents the world’s leading circular economy solutions with business leaders, policymakers and experts participating from around the world. Hosted in the Global South for the first time in Kigali from 6th to 8th December, this year’s Forum presented a unique opportunity for African countries and the world at large to transition toward an inclusive low-carbon and climate-resilient economy while tackling key societal challenges.

For this transition to happen, we cannot understate the importance of biodiversity, as it’s not only important for our co-existence with nature, but also supports our economy, civilization, and survival of the human race. At this juncture, Kari reflects on the gravity of biodiversity loss globally, the correlation with climate change, the dangers we face unless we take prompt action, and the opportunities we have to turn the tide. Unfortunately, biodiversity loss is more acute in Sub-Saharan Africa under business as usual scenario. This is mostly driven by an increasing agricultural land use to feed a growing population. On the other hand, the primary forest cover continues to decrease, leaving Sub-Saharan Africa even more vulnerable to longer-term impacts.

Are you a threat or an opportunity for biodiversity? Kari asks me, and it immediately gets me wondering. How am I, you, individually contributing to this menace? Let’s take our daily consumption patterns for example.

 According to a 2022 Sitra Report on Tackling Root Causes, Agriculture uses 50% of habitable land globally, of which 77% is used to farm livestock for meat and dairy consumption or to grow crops for livestock consumption. Almost half of the forest area lost in the tropics has been converted to agriculture, chiefly for beef, palm oil and soybean production. So, every time you and I crave a beef burger, we must evaluate our contribution to the biodiversity loss and ask ourselves if it is necessary to consume it as often as we currently do.

How about the tones of clothes lying around our wardrobe unworn for years on end, yet we keep adding to the heap each passing day? And how often do our torn clothes find their way into the dustbin, more often mixed with wet waste and into the landfill? But what if we focused on quality instead of quantity? What if we bought clothes only when we need them and not because we just wanted them? What if designers and manufacturers increased the durability of the materials so we can wear them longer without wear and tear? What if we refurbished more and recycled them at the end of their lifecycle? What if the textile industry used more regenerative methods to cultivate fibres? What if we shifted our consumption behaviour and adopted more regenerative and circular models that will then transform our economies to become more resilient and unlock new growth by giving us more, from what we already have? What if?

As I write this article, the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) is underway in Montreal, Canada (7 – 19 December 2022). More governments and policymakers convene from around the world to agree to a new set of goals for nature over the next decade through the Convention on Biological Diversity post-2020 framework process. But until we redefine how we produce, consume and manage the materials and products we already have; until we transition to a circular economy and implement tangible impact-driven solutions that reduce the impacts on biodiversity by reducing resource use; unless we urgently change course and start acting in conjunction with nature and not against it by starting the process of biodiversity recovery; then year on year, while all these discussions continue, biodiversity loss will keep accelerating. Temperatures will keep rising and the frequency of extreme weather experienced. The habitat will continuously degrade, and nature’s glory will deteriorate thus diminishing returns from its contribution to the people.

An hour of conversation with Kari goes by too fast; both of us are engraved in a global challenge that affects both our countries’ futures though from different contexts. And while varying drivers differentiate Finland, Rwanda and Kenya and so many other countries represented in the World Circular Economy Forum, we feel united by one mission, that of saving humanity from the pangs of our own doing. As we bid goodbye we remind each other of the key question, are you a threat or an opportunity for biodiversity? 

Josephine Wawira is the Communications Lead at Sustainable Inclusive Business, the Knowledge Center under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA).