Nature Positive Economy: An Opportunity and a Responsibility for the IoT Community 

Gerald Santucci

History is accelerating.

The acceleration of change concerns not only Science and Technology, but policy and governance as well.

We are witnesses of phenomena that are deemed to transform human activity and the relationship between Humankind and Nature. It is also due to transform the very Idea of Man and the principles and values that underpin the type of man of our civilizations.

On 6-7 March 2024, I was in Dublin to attend the Kick-off event of the GoNaturePositive! project and to participate to the 1st Meeting of the Project’s Impact Board. It was for me a privilege and an honor to sit next to about 25 thought-leaders from all relevant disciplines across the world. GoNaturePositive! is likely to become a flagship project of Europe to initiate and accompany the thrust to an NPE, based on a strategy of collaboration, co-creation, participation, and inclusion.

I believe that the design and future realization of an NPE will depend significantly on the role that will be given to the internet of things (IoT). Why? Because NPE will require a massive transformation of Industry and its Value Chains to regenerate Agriculture, Forestry, Tourism, Ocean Farming, Buildings, and so forth, which will require lots of data from the sensors and other digital devices pinned on objects. 

I contemplate the idea of a NPEDay, like there is today a Global Ethics Day and an indeed  IoTDay, in order to mobilize all actors – engineers, scientists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, thinkers, philosophers, etc. – and to foster worldwide conversations at all levels on the definition of NPE, the expectations it generates for us, the challenges and opportunities we believe it addresses.

What actually is NPE?

Two years ago, the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched a signal to the whole world that impacts of climate change can be observed today in many ecosystems (changes in ecosystem structure, species range shifts, changes in timing) and human systems (impacts on water scarcity and food production, impacts on health and wellbeing, impacts on cities, settlements and infrastructure). For example, the degradation of land and marine ecosystems undermines the wellbeing of billions of people, costing about 10% of the annual global gross product.

Global warming, reaching 1.5°C in the near-term, would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans. The level of risk will depend on concurrent near- term trends in vulnerability, exposure, level of socioeconomic development and adaptation. Near-term actions that limit global warming to close to 1.5°C would substantially reduce projected losses and damages related to climate change in human systems and ecosystems, compared to higher warming levels, but cannot eliminate them all.”

In July 2022, the United Nations General Assembly declared in a resolution that climate change and environmental degradation were some of the most pressing threats to humanity’s future and that everyone on the planet has a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. States are called to step up efforts to ensure their people have access to such an environment.

Since the first industrial revolution, and even more since the advent of the Digital Transformation (DT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the uncessant sequence of technologies developed by humans have triggered a disruptive phenomenon that is radically changing the existing social and economic systems. It is, as author Thomas Siebel put it, an “evolutionary punctuation” that could be “intimately linked with the widespread death of species (…) Evolutionary punctuations are responsible for the cyclic nature of species: inception, diversification, extinction, repeat.” In the past 500 million years, there have been five global mass extinction events that left only a minority of species surviving. The voids in the ecosystem were then filled by massive speciation of the survivors (for example, the elimination of the dinosaurs made possible the reign of mammals). Many scientists today argue that disruptive punctuations are on the rise, and the periods of stasis in between punctuations are fading.

Earth scientists have established that our self-regulating planetary life support system is a single, dynamic integrated system, and not a mere collection of ecosystems as we once thought. This view has led to three linked breakthroughs in Earth system science: (i) the Anthropocene, which suggests we have entered a new geological epoch defined by human influence on Earth system function; (ii) The Great Acceleration, i.e. the extraordinary increase in human impacts on Earth system function since the end of the Second World War; and (iii) the concept of Planetary Boundaries, i.e. limits within which we need to stay if we are to create a safe and viable planet for humanity to survive.

Even if a few days ago, a panel of experts voted down a proposal to officially declare the start of a new interval of geologic time, one defined by humanity’s changes to the planet, geoscientists don’t deny that products of modern civilization such as radionuclides from nuclear tests, plastics and industrial ash, concrete and metal pollutants, greenhouse warming, sharply increased species extinctions, and so forth, are leaving unmistakable remnants in the mineral record, particularly since the mid-20th century. But apparently, the task of interpreting what it all means, and how it fits into the grand sweep of history, will fall to the future inheritors of our world. For the moment, we’re still living in the Holocene, an epoch that started with the end of the last ice age 11,700 years ago.

Against this dismal background, there is a growing community of people – multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary – who prefer to take on a more optimistic view that the restoration of nature presents tremendous economic and social opportunities. They advance the idea of a nature-positive economy(NPE), i.e. an economy that fully considers environmental impacts and sustainability and works towards improving the state of nature.

In June 2021, G7 leaders announced that “our world must not only become net zero, but also nature-positive, for the benefit of both people and the planet.” This represents a paradigm shift in how states, businesses, investors and citizens view nature.

In April 2022, the European Commission released an independent expert report on the role of nature-based solutions in the transition towards a nature positive economy. Since then, experts have recognized that initiating a nature-positive economy requires a clear and credible roadmap, and a powerful alliance of actors from across society, including public and private financial institutions.

Today, a consortium coordinated by Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and involving 20 partners across 14 countries, is running a four-year project (from 1st January 2024 until 31st December 2027), named GoNaturePositive! and financially supported by Horizon Europe – the EU’s funding programme for research and innovation – to accelerate awareness and transformative action towards a nature-positive economy. The project will deliver a clear definition and conceptual framework for the NPE, identify policy and governance pathways towards a NPE, demonstrate how nature-positive practices can generate multiple benefits for people and planet on the ground, and eventually to stimulate, foster and guide the necessary transformation of our economic systems.

Forgetting the historical context, I am reading again the words of President John F. Kennedy in June 1963: “So, let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” 

Personally, I have nothing to change.

The concept of nature positive asks: What if we go beyond damage limitation, if our economic activities not only minimize impact, but also enhance ecosystems? The nature positive approach developed by the GoNaturePositive! project will aim at enriching biodiversity, storing carbon, purifying water and reducing pandemic risk. It will seek to enhance the resilience of our planet and our societies.

In the meanwhile, stay tuned for the GoNaturePositive! project!

And let’s discuss not what NPE can do for IoT, but what IoT can do for NPE!


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LinkedIn: Go-Nature-Positive

Instagram: @GoNaturePositive