New framework assesses nature-related risks and opportunities

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For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have lived in and around the forests of British Columbia. They used wood to build houses, make canoes and carve totem poles. They also used various parts of the tree for clothing, masks, ropes, mats and other tools. Forests were an important source of medicine and spiritual connection.

When harvesting from the forest, they held ceremonies to ask permission and only took what was necessary, making sure to cause as little damage as possible. With this care and respect, they acted as an integral part of nature and the ecosystem thrived indefinitely.

Prior to the arrival of European settlers, large stands of trees stretched across Vancouver Island and the mainland, the majority being what we now classify as old-growth forests. It was not until settlers arrived and later mechanized that the forests began to disappear for good. A new spirit developed where trees became timber and harvesters sold and exported the fruits of their labor.

Foresters valued the natural environment in monetary terms and older trees became prized for their ability to generate profits. The great forests of British Columbia were a source of unlimited wealth and the only difference in the mentality of today is that they recognize that the complete transition from ancient logging to secondary logging is inevitable. We are reaching the limits of available supply.

The Ancient Forests Strategic Review Committee released its report in 2020, calling for a paradigm shift in forest management where management of natural resources for its timber is replaced by management of ecosystems to ensure health and protect biodiversity .

In apparent acknowledgment of this realignment with the Indigenous view of nature, the report’s first recommendation states: “Engage the full participation of Indigenous leaders and organizations in reviewing this report and any policy or strategy development and implementation later”. The NDP government made an election promise to implement the report’s 14 recommendations.

Due to the climate crisis, more and more people are beginning to embrace a nature-based view, closer to an Indigenous worldview. There is a growing body of scientific evidence that confirms that we must look to nature as the planetary life support system that we have seriously compromised over the past few centuries.

Despite this growing wisdom, there is a strong backlash due to fear that climate action threatens existing socio-economic systems and those who benefit from them. Logging companies and their workers are fighting hard against any change that places restrictions on their harvests of high-value timber. They threaten layoffs, loss of revenue from government resources, and minimize future financial risks of continuing the current method of forest management.

Industry associations and lobby groups claim that BC’s economy will be irreparably damaged by ecosystem health management, while insisting that they are already doing a fantastic job of managing sustainability and of biodiversity.

Their message is well received by many because the status quo has been very profitable for everyone involved. Timber harvesting has supported well-paying jobs, generated large corporate profits, contributed to public services through tax revenue, and ultimately enabled hundreds of thousands of people to purchase homes, vehicles, and all amenities. of a wealthy society. It’s hard to change the way we enjoy what nature gives us.

The Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosure (TNFD) recently released its prototype Framework for Risk Management and Disclosure. Like the Climate-Related Financial Disclosure Task Force, companies can use the framework to identify their exposure to risks associated with nature loss, as well as to identify nature-related opportunities.

Opportunities are defined as “activities that create positive outcomes for organizations and nature by avoiding or reducing impact on nature or contributing to its restoration”. According to TNFD, nature-friendly business models could generate $10 trillion in opportunities and support 350 million jobs by the end of the decade.

Many forest ecosystem services such as the production of oxygen, the purification of our waters and the filtration of our air are considered free, although their true value to society is inestimable. It is important to create a system for quantifying the values ​​of natural assets for the purpose of fair comparison with the economic systems that Western society is most familiar with.

We must also assess the cost of the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity. For example, insurance companies face greater financial risk as the frequency of forest fires, floods, hailstorms and drought-related agricultural losses increases. These events are intimately linked to the depletion of natural assets, including the degradation of forests, wetlands, watersheds and soil health.

Opinion: The great forests of British Columbia were a source of unlimited wealth. We are now reaching the limits of available supply, writes Rob Miller @winexus. #OldGrowth #AncientForest #LastStand

What future business opportunities are British Columbians giving up by allowing the last three percent of old-growth forests to be logged for low-margin products like shingles, furniture and musical instruments?

Once the old growth forest is harvested, the potential for natural asset values ​​and income streams that persist and grow indefinitely will be gone. The obvious example is tourism. Protected forests provide tourism income for generations. Logged forests provide ‘one-time’ revenues to logging companies, where profits and value are unevenly distributed between senior management and major shareholders.

Tourism businesses are threatened when deforestation destroys their product, as well as the region’s reputation for its natural beauty and thriving ecosystems.

Forests, wetlands and other “eco-assets” will become increasingly valuable as resource extraction, the climate crisis and mass extinction of species continue to shrink natural environments around the world. . Under the TNFD, environmental assets are recognized for their value in terms of biodiversity and ecosystem services. This is an important milestone, as more than half of the world’s economic output, or US$44 trillion, is highly or moderately dependent on nature.

It would be unwise to consume what remains of these environmental assets since old-growth forests take centuries to regenerate. For decades, we have deprived future generations of nature’s assets and converted them into short-term financial gains.

The time has come for a more Indigenous worldview where our connection to nature is more important than our connection to consumer products and social media. This change will not come easily when natural assets are taken for granted and far too many people value traditional extractive resource economies over more symbiotic business models with nature.

The TNFD framework is a step on the way to making this difficult change possible.

Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer, formerly with General Dynamics Canada, who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action. As a climate activist, he works to stop ancient logging in British Columbia, reject coal mining on the eastern slopes of Alberta, facilitate community participation in urban afforestation, and to defend renewable energies. Miller uses a “systems thinking” approach to learn, understand and defend ecosystems threatened by climate change and rampant resource development. He lives in Calgary.

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