Sir David Attenborough will join the Cambridge Conservation Initiative as it hosts an event at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos today exploring the role of nature in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.

Restoring and sustaining the natural world is a powerful feat of creativity and imagination

Stephen Toope

During a panel discussion and round-table, business leaders, academics and conservation practitioners will share their insights on developing nature-based solutions that reverse the loss of biodiversity at scale.

Sir David has previously said that he does not recall hearing the word ‘conservation’ during his undergraduate days. But in the 70 years since, much has changed. We have increased our understanding of and appreciation for how the natural world underpins life on Earth, the fragility of our planet’s natural systems, and the need to protect these systems.

In this context, the private sector’s dependence on a healthy natural world is an area of particular focus and growing prominence. The World Economic Forum (WEF) included a number of environmental risks, including biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, in the top ten risks identified in the its Global Risks Report 2018.

Within Sir David’s adult life, the UN’s approach to the problems facing our planet has also undergone a significant change. The ongoing commitment to global well-being is now closely linked with the need for development to advance within planetary boundaries. In 2015 the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which strive to address the challenges we face using an integrated and holistic approach. Investing in nature has the potential to make a significant contribution to all 17 Goals, and the private sector is key to this investment.

The panel discussion will be chaired by Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and a prominent thinker on human rights and environmental law.

“Restoring and sustaining the natural world is a powerful feat of creativity and imagination, and a powerful commitment to building a more abundant and equitable society,” says Professor Toope. “It is also a challenge we must meet, because without it there is no meaningful future for society as we know it.

“I strongly believe that organisations such as the University of Cambridge have a duty to engage with these challenges, no matter how great. Through collaborations across disciplines and between sectors, including NGOs and business, we can better understand and identify solutions and demonstrate the leadership necessary to address these major issues.” 

The panel will draw on expert insight from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative partners, including IUCN, UNEP-WCMC and Fauna & Flora International. The role of the private sector in delivering the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will feature prominently, with a particular focus on nature’s contribution to sustainability, as well as to health, equality, justice and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Business is already investing significantly in managing and conserving nature, but there are still considerable opportunities to do more. As panellist Corli Pretorius, Deputy Director of the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, explains: “Nature’s sustainability should be explicit in our procurement decisions and consumer choices. It should form an integral part of the decision-making of a financial system for sustainable development.”

André Hoffmann, panellist and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Roche Holding Ltd adds: “The business community has the chance to take a leadership role in including the natural world in business thinking. For years the benefits delivered by nature have been undervalued by the private sector. We now require a wholesale shift to a new way of operating, towards innovative nature-based approaches that strive to improve the state of the natural world to ensure a sustainable future for society and our planet.”

This event recognises a pivotal moment in the fate of our natural world, both in terms of its parlous state and its increasing prominence in the limelight. Sir David Attenborough, who has witnessed both the birth of conservation, and an increasing focus on the environment across sectors, will conclude the panel discussion with his thoughts on nature’s role in the future of humanity.

A bold response to the world’s greatest challenge
The University of Cambridge is building on its existing research and launching an ambitious new environment and climate change initiative. Cambridge Zero is not just about developing greener technologies. It will harness the full power of the University’s research and policy expertise, developing solutions that work for our lives, our society and our biosphere.

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