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Plants, insects and other animals are vanishing at an alarming rate. Seventy per cent of global biodiversity has been lost in the past 50 years.HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images

Emmanuel Nyirinkindi is vice president of cross-cutting solutions at the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group.

Growing up in Uganda, I was always fond of the sounds of grey-crowned cranes, our national bird. Hearing their sounds grow fainter as their very existence is threatened saddens me. Some wetlands where the cranes go to breed are being contaminated by pesticides or drained for farmland. What I’ve noticed is not unique. Now I call Washington home, and it’s startling to think that almost three billion birds have disappeared in North America in the past half century, from forests, from grasslands, even from backyards.

The natural world is growing quieter, as species silently disappear one by one. It is not only birds on the decline. Plants, insects and other animals are vanishing at an alarming rate. Seventy per cent of global biodiversity has been lost in the past 50 years.

This is an existential threat to humanity.

Biodiversity is essential for the processes that support all life on Earth. It keeps us healthy. It keeps us fed. It keeps our economies running. In fact, half of global GDP is dependent on nature, according to a report from the UN Environment Programme. Food production depends on pollinators. Construction depends on timber. Infrastructure and energy production depend on reliable water sources that flow from healthy ecosystems. Yet, ironically, how these sectors operate is also suffocating biodiversity by depleting natural resources, spoiling forests and seas, and crowding out and killing native species.

Breaking this cycle of loss is daunting, but we know what to do. We must transition economic activity to be compatible with what nature can sustain. We must address the key drivers of biodiversity loss – how societies produce and consume – to have a fighting chance. In short, we must work with nature, not against it.

Strategically investing in the transition to nature-based solutions in equitable and inclusive ways is more urgent than ever. The sustainable transition of food production, land and ocean use, infrastructure and the built environment, and energy and extractives could create US$10.1-trillion in annual business opportunities, 395 million new jobs by 2030 and significant opportunities for income diversification. Realizing such potential requires us to think of bold, ambitious solutions that have the scale to affect entire value chains.

This is why biodiversity finance has emerged as a fast-growing area in green finance. Currently, however, criteria for project eligibility are lacking. To bridge this gap, the International Finance Corp. (IFC) – a member of the World Bank Group focused on the private sector – has launched the first manual for businesses and investors that describes how they can support biodiversity in their operations and investments. The Biodiversity Finance Reference Guide recommends addressing certain infrastructure needs with nature-based solutions. This includes constructing mangroves, wetlands, green roofs and rain gardens, which also benefit climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. It also lists investment activities that contribute positively to biodiversity.

We already see investments in these types of solutions. Global shipping company MSC retrofitted its container ships with ballast water treatment systems to prevent transporting invasive marine species that fuel biodiversity loss. Nespresso has helped coffee farmers in Ethiopia reforest their fields with native tree species to grow better-quality shade-grown coffee. The project is increasing biologically-diverse native tree species, improving soil health and reducing deforestation. Another example is Sabesp, a water and sanitation company in Brazil that is expanding sewage treatment along the Pinheiros River to 94 per cent from 55 per cent, improving the health of people and the river while reducing pollution.

The world has gathered to hash out a ‘Paris Agreement for nature’ at the global biodiversity conference, COP15, in Montreal. As with climate, which is intimately connected to biodiversity, business will play a key role in a sustainable future that protects nature. Rebuilding business models to do so is an urgent need that we can’t ignore.