The 15th UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15), delayed from 2020, is finally convening. The meeting will now happen in two parts: the first part virtual this October, the second in-person in China in the spring of 2022. It’s purpose? To guide governments’ development of strategies to protect the natural world.
This pursuit of biodiversity solutions should be applauded given the darkening picture for global biodiversity. Just last year, the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet report noted that between 1970 and 2016, populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians declined by an average of 68 percent. Despite such grim statistics and the aspirational language espoused by governments and companies to combat biodiversity loss, global biodiversity action has been insufficient. While hoping this COP will succeed in increasing awareness and action to address the urgent challenges of the nature agenda, here is what to expect from the proceedings and what your company can do to help counter biodiversity loss.
COP 15 and the Promise of a New Biodiversity Framework
At COP 15, parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity will look to accelerate action by adopting a new biodiversity framework and setting new goals to replace the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (the targets set under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which the new framework will replace). Under the new framework, governments will be expected to outline their strategies to achieve “a shared vision of living in harmony with nature” by 2050 and to set more measurable and explicit goals than represented by the Aichi targets. Companies will be wise to follow COP 15’s outcomes and to plan to develop biodiversity plans and targets of their own. Given the growing corporate momentum behind biodiversity and the value it brings to business, it seems likely they will.
The Corporate Biodiversity Conundrum
With the breakneck pace at which companies are making climate commitments and revamping corporate climate strategies in the lead up to the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), climate change sometimes appears to be the only important corporate sustainability trend. However, in recent years, biodiversity loss has come to be seen as a challenge of growing importance for the private sector, with for instance 90 percent of sustainability professionals responding to the 2021 GlobeScan / SustainAbility Leaders Survey considering it an urgent issue, an almost 20 percent increase from 2011.
Corporate eyes are on biodiversity in part due to increasing recognition and appreciation for the economic value that biodiversity creates. According to the World Economic Forum’s New Nature Economy Report, $44 trillion, over half of the world’s total GDP, is either moderately or highly dependent on nature.
With growing corporate urgency around biodiversity, we might expect to see companies acting decisively on this topic. In actuality, few companies have taken steps to understand and reduce the risks associated with their dependence on nature. In KPMG’s 2020 Survey of Sustainability Reporting, only 25 percent of companies found to be at high or medium risk to biodiversity loss actually report on the potential impacts this poses to their businesses.
Turning Inaction Into Action
Companies biodiversity action should consider the following five actions:
- Evaluate your business’ biodiversity impact and biodiversity’s impact on your company.
- Develop approach to manage biodiversity impacts and set attainable but impactful goals.
- Publicly disclose the outcomes of your work.
- Prepare for the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures.
- Design a strategy to become a nature-positive company.
Companies must evaluate what biodiversity means for their business – from operational biodiversity impacts to the impacts of biodiversity on their ability to operate. Companies should then develop a position on biodiversity to guide future actions. BP’s Biodiversity Position outlines why they are acting to preserve biodiversity and how they plan to do so.
Once impacts are evaluated, companies should develop an approach to managing these impacts that connects the unique circumstances of their business to the biodiversity issues where their actions can be most impactful. This approach should include clear, attainable, and effective goals. Iberdrola's Biodiversity Management Approach, which outlines how they manage the impact of their activities on biodiversity, is an example of such an approach.
With a biodiversity position developed and a management approach formed, companies need to plan how to approach biodiversity-related disclosure, for instance through their sustainability reporting suite or in a standalone report. Transparency will help ensure stakeholders understand the company’s approach and the way it manages potential impacts on its business. The Habitat & Wildlife Protection section of Dominion Energy’s Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility Report does this by highlighting the company’s biodiversity actions, including protecting wildlife, creating, protecting, and restoring habitats, and supporting pollinators.
With a reporting approach established, companies should prepare to align their biodiversity reporting with the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), which will launch in 2023. Like the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) did for climate, TNFD will provide a framework for companies to follow when reporting and acting on nature-related risks, helping “to support a shift in global financial flows away from nature-negative outcomes and toward nature-positive outcomes” in the process. While the exact scope of TNFD is still being determined, companies can prepare by organizing their reporting in a manner that communicates how they address nature-related issues and by incorporating nature-related elements of existing reporting standards such as GRI and SASB. At AXA, an insurance firm supporting the TNFD, its investment arm’s decision to limit involvement with companies involved in deforestation and ecosystem conversion provides an example of preparatory action.
Finally, your business can start thinking about becoming nature-positive, meaning a company that helps to restore more biodiversity than it removes. As we noted in another 2021 blog, the term nature-positive is gaining traction in corporate sustainability circles as companies begin to realize what increasingly degraded natural systems might mean to their business success. While committing to be nature-positive is important, companies should first work out what such a commitment would mean for them and devise an achievable plan that builds confidence in their ability to achieve it. One private sector example of a nature-positive commitment is GlaxoSmithKline’s goal to achieve “a net positive impact on nature by 2030.”
The Time to Act
Global biodiversity seems to be at a precipice. Governments and companies can either take the necessary actions to preserve the biodiversity that adds so much value to society and the economy, or risk letting this fragile balance collapse. With the development of a new biodiversity framework at COP 15 and the pending launch of the TNFD, governments and companies are gaining access to the information and tools they need to act. As a society, it’s time to move decisively to preserve nature for generations to come.