Widespread environmental decline poses serious risks to every facet of our society—challenging economic security, global stability, and human health and wellbeing. However, concerns over climate change, stress on natural ecosystems, and biodiversity loss have historically been undervalued by decision-makers and leaders favoring short-term growth over longer-term resilience.
But as environmental risks become reality, perceptions and priorities are changing fast. For example, in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020, respondents to the Global Risks Perception Survey, completed by approximately 800 diverse members, ranked climate change and related environmental issues as the top five risks in terms of likelihood. Notes WEF President Børge Brende, “This is the first time in the survey’s history that one category has occupied all five of the top spots.”
The situation is clear: This Earth Day, climate change, ecosystem degradation, and biodiversity loss pose deep risk and demand action from governments, companies, and communities alike.
New Climate and Sustainability Targets for Governments and Companies
To respond to the increasing urgency of environmental risks, governments and major companies are setting bold sustainability, climate, and biodiversity conservation commitments that align with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and global priorities.
For example, this month, the Biden administration invited 40 world leaders to a Leaders Summit on Climate, to galvanize worldwide efforts to tackle the climate crisis. At this summit, President Biden announced a new target to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade—nearly double the target the U.S. originally agreed to under the 2015 Paris Agreement. The European Union, meanwhile, is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030.
The private sector is also emerging with aggressive targets:
- Amazon has launched “The Climate Pledge,” which other companies including Verizon, Infosys, and Reckitt Benckiser (RB) have signed onto. These companies have committed to reaching net zero carbon by 2040 (a decade before the Paris Agreement target). Amazon has also created its Climate Pledge Fund, with an initial $2 billion in funding, to accelerate investment in companies and solutions that facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy.
- This month, JPMorgan Chase announced that the company will finance and facilitate more than $2.5 trillion by 2030 to address climate change and advance sustainable development.
- Microsoft has pledged to be carbon negative and produce net zero waste by 2030 and protect more land than it uses by 2025. Further, through its new Climate Innovation Fund, it plans to invest $1 billion over four years in new climate technologies and innovative sustainability solutions.
- And PepsiCo has recently announced that it will target a more than 40% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across its value chain by 2030. The company has also pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.
Such commitments from the public and private sectors, if realized, have the potential to change our environmental trajectory.
But, first, we need to translate bold targets into reality on the ground. And, for that, we’d argue that cross-sector collaboration is critical. Through cross-sector partnerships, we can bring together companies, government, the finance sector, and civil society to leverage shared resources, networks, expertise, technology, and human capital to solve today’s biggest challenges.
In honor of Earth Day, we are highlighting five recent examples of inspiring, high-potential cross-sector collaboration between companies, governments, NGOs, and other organizations focused on conservation, climate, and sustainability.
5 Examples of Cross-Sector Collaboration for Conservation, Climate Change, and Sustainability
1. Partnering to deploy technology and better data to protect forests
(Partners: Google, the University of Maryland, and Global Forest Watch).
Historically, documenting and understanding the scope of deforestation has been challenging due to a lack of data. Google introduced Google Earth Engine to change this: Google Earth Engine uses satellite imagery and geospatial datasets to help scientists and researchers detect changes and map trends on the Earth's surface. Google Earth Engine provides a high-resolution global forest map that can visually and quickly demonstrate deforestation.
Now in partnership with the Global Forest Watch (GFW), the Earth Engine offers free forest-monitoring support for tropical nations. GFW uses this monitoring to provide timely tree loss updates via Global Land Analysis and Discovery alerts. Deforestation that could take years to discover now happens within weeks. Such surveillance helps forest managers and law enforcement protect endangered forests.
2. Mobilizing public and private investment to advance global climate solutions.
(Partners: Global public sector, finance, civil society, and private sector partners under the Green Climate Fund.)
The Green Climate Fund (GCF) emerged out of the Paris Agreement as the world’s largest climate fund. It draws on public and private finance and collaboration to help emerging markets lower emissions and shift to climate-resilient pathways, as determined by their individual national climate plans and targets. GCF deploys a range of financing instruments to catalyze climate innovation, test new business models, and crowd-in private finance. GCF partners with international and national commercial banks, multilaterals, regional and national development finance institutions, equity fund institutions, UN agencies, and civil society. Further, GCF has established a dedicated Private Sector Facility to engage the private sector in climate finance and de-risk private investment.
3. Collaborating to uncover the intersections between human health and deforestation.
(Partners: Johnson & Johnson and the World Wildlife Fund).
Human health is intimately tied to the health of our natural systems, but how much and in what ways? To better understanding the connection between human health, disease outbreaks, and deforestation, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has partnered with Johnson & Johnson on the Healing Forests Initiative. This three-year project will document how deforestation can undermine human health and economies and will note what efforts can be used to curb future disease outbreaks. Focusing on Sabah, Malaysia, where palm oil plantations have devastated forests, the Healing Forests Initiative hopes to “show how conservation of forests can serve as preventative medicine for us all—fostering proactive remedies to some of the world’s most pressing environmental and health concerns.”
4. Harnessing the power of cross-sector collaboration to expand renewable and clean energy across sub-Saharan Africa.
(Partners: USAID and more than 150 companies.)
In Africa, two out of three people can’t access electricity. This has social, economic, and environmental consequences. Through USAID’s Power Africa initiative, the United States Government has a bold goal to bring online 30,000 megawatts of cleaner and more renewable energy and to connect 60 million new homes and businesses. To achieve this, USAID is partnering with more than 150 of the world’s top companies, political leaders, and financial institutions to help overcome various regulatory, legal, financial, and other barriers that stall or prevent energy projects from moving forward to completion across sub-Saharan Africa. Small-scale or off-the-grid projects can receive support, as do projects, programs and policies that promote gender equality and female empowerment
5. Leveraging a blended finance facility to invest in sustainable solutions.
(Partners: The UN Environment Programme, The World Agroforestry Centre, BNP Paribas, and ADM Capital).
To promote green growth and sustainable rural livelihoods across Indonesia’s 17,000 islands, key stakeholders came together to form the Tropical Landscapes Finance Facility (TLFF) to mobilize finance for long-term sustainability initiatives. TLFF will leverage public funding to help unlock private capital for sustainable land use including in agriculture and ecosystem restoration, and for investments in renewable energy. TLFF’s inaugural transaction is a US$95 million Sustainability Bond arranged by BNP Paribas and issued by TLFF to help finance a sustainable natural rubber plantation on heavily degraded land. The project incorporates extensive social and environmental objectives and safeguards that will also help protect a threatened national park from encroachment. The project will also feature climate-smart, wildlife-friendly, and socially inclusive production of natural rubber.
Addressing Today’s Environmental Threats through Cross-Sector Partnership
A growing contingent of governments and leading companies recognize the real and present threat that major environmental challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, extreme weather, and natural disasters present to our way of life. Across industries and around the world, companies and governments are standing up, making commitments, and collaborating for impact.
The examples above are just a small sampling of the innovative partnerships taking place today. These cross-sector partnerships demonstrate the power and progress that can be achieved when organizations meaningfully engage diverse players to translate bold environmental and sustainability targets into real impact on the ground.
Reversing environmental threats will not happen overnight. But we can make progress through innovation, determination, and collaboration at scale.