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  • Writer's pictureLinda Mans

A health check for the planet: status 'critical'

‘Nature is essential for human existence and good quality of life.’ But ‘Nearly one fifth of the Earth’s surface is at risk of plant and animal invasions, impacting native species, ecosystem functions and nature’s contributions to people, as well as economies and human health.’


This is what the UN Global Assessment Report recently revealed. It is the most comprehensive study of life on Earth ever undertaken and serves as a health check for the planet. The United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) compiled this study from more than 1,500 academic papers and reports from indigenous groups.

It is not so much new information (as it is a huge summary of existing evidence), but what struck me most is IPBES’ call for transformative change that includes a focus on economic and financial systems. This is considered politically sensitive. I quote:

40. Decision makers have a range of options and tools for improving the sustainability of economic and financial systems (well established) {6.4}. Achieving a sustainable economy involves making fundamental reforms to economic and financial systems and tackling poverty and inequality as vital parts of sustainability (well established) {6.4}. Governments could reform subsidies and taxes to support nature and its contributions to people, removing perverse incentives, and instead promoting diverse instruments such as payments linked to social and environmental metrics, as appropriate (established but incomplete) {6.4.1}. At the international level, options for reacting to the challenges generated by displacement of the impacts of unsustainable consumption and production on nature include both rethinking established instruments and developing new instruments to account for long distance impacts. Trade agreements and derivatives markets could be reformed to promote equity and prevent deterioration of nature, although there are uncertainties associated with implementation (established but incomplete) {6.4.4}. Alternative models and measures of economic welfare (such as inclusive wealth accounting, natural capital accounting and degrowth models) are increasingly considered as possible approaches to balancing economic growth and conservation of nature and its contributions and recognizing trade-offs, value pluralism and long-term goals (established but incomplete) {6.4.5}. Structural changes to economies are also key to shifting action over long time scales, including technological and social innovation regimes and investment frameworks that internalize environmental impacts such as externalities of economic activities, including by addressing environmental impacts in socially just and appropriate ways (well established) {}. Although market-based policy instruments such as payments for ecosystem services, voluntary certification and biodiversity offsetting have increased in use, their effectiveness is mixed, and they are often contested; thus, they should be designed and applied carefully to avoid perverse effects in context (established but incomplete) {,,,}. The widespread internalization of environmental impacts, including externalities associated with long-distance trade, is considered both an outcome and a constituent of global and national sustainable economies (well established) {, 6.4}.

Thinking starts with doubting and daring to say 'no'

How the economic and financial systems can or should be transformed in favour of the health of people and of our planet is of interest to me. Recently I have read Geert Noels' plea for a 'from too big to fail to slower, smaller and more human' economic model ('Gigantisme' in Dutch, with an earlier explanation @ TEDx in English). And Jason Hickel & Giorgos Kallis' publication about the question 'Is Green Growth Possible'? (Answer: no.)

I don't know the answer yet, but Joke Hermsen's essay 'Turn the Tide' might be helpful (Het Tij Keren). She wonders to what extent the insights of Rosa Luxembourg and Hannah Arendt can help us in the transition to a more sustainable, human and solidarity-based society. Thinking starts with doubting and daring to say 'no', she says.

The outcome of this major health check shows that patient Earth is seriously suffering from the impact of us, the human population. The status is 'critical' and immediate action is required - from us. Perhaps with starting to say 'no'. Something 'extinction rebellion' is currently doing: it calls for non-violent, disruptive civil disobedience – a rebellion. In order to avoid 'extinction'. Transformative change is needed, indeed. And IPBES provides policy pathways for it. With ER as public push.


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