COP15 and challenges for business

The delegates at COP15 in Montreal have worked night and day to craft a coherent strategy to rescue the planet from oblivion. It’s an understatement to say that biodiversity collapse will present challenges for all businesses.

COP15 is the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Its objective is to find a (very long) form of words that will map out how countries and businesses engage with Earth in a less suicidal way over the next 8 years and beyond.

The CBD is a legally binding treaty with three core goals:

  • Conservation of biological diversity
  • Sustainable use of its components
  • Fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of genetic resources.

The European Union and 195 countries are now parties to the CBD, sending more than 10,000 delegates to Montreal, joined by civil society groups, indigenous peoples, scientists, representatives from business and finance.

COP15 also includes meetings of parties to two subsidiary international agreements and protocols, the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety and the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and fair and equitable benefit-sharing.

The post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), being worked on now in Canada, is the second piece of the puzzle – alongside the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change – in the quest to protect and nurture the planet. The two are inextricably linked.

If successful, Montreal will see the birth of a strategic vision and comprehensive roadmap for the conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems to the end of the decade. It should drive rapid policy change and help to reshape market environments.

Biodiversity decline

So, is there a problem? Well, yes.

The speed of decline in our biodiversity is unprecedented and chilling. The latest Living Planet Report says that wildlife populations have dropped on average by over two-thirds (69%) between 1970 and 2018. Numbers of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles are falling fast. There is a state of collapse in populations of sea lions, sharks, frogs and salmon, for example.

Hardest hit are countries of the Caribbean and Latin America, experiencing a 94% drop in the average wildlife population size, with Africa next at 66%, then Asia and the Pacific (55%), North America (20%), Europe and Central Asia experienced (18% ).

Nearly a million species are at risk of extinction from human activities and 75% of the land surface has been significantly altered by human actions, according to the 2019 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment Report. The damage is only accelerating.

By the way, another endangered lifeform, the United States, is the only member state of the United Nations that has not ratified the current CBD.

And to put it plainly, the biodiversity bloodbath is bad for business. Already, it is corroding the roots of economies, health, food security and quality of life across the globe. According to the World Economic Forum, more than half of the world’s GDP – $44 trillion – is at risk of disruption from nature loss, with every sector affected.

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Business and biodiversity

Business will need to get busy on biodiversity. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than half of the world’s economy is highly or moderately dependent on nature.

WEF says: “By addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss at a global level, the GBF will help mitigate nature-related risks to companies and their supply chains while creating opportunities for those with nature-positive business models. Companies that fail to address their impact on nature will risk damaging their reputations and falling afoul of regulators.”

Before businesses step up, there is a huge range of challenges facing negotiators, and historically, the success rate in implementation of pledges has been poor. In 2002, parties to the CBD committed “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss” but did not deliver.

Meeting 8 years later in Japan, they agreed a new plan, which included the 20 Aichi Targets, none of which was fully met before the 2020 deadline.

Which is why all parties agreed (in 2018) to set new targets under a Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to replace the Aichi Targets. And that’s what is being thrashed out in Montreal.

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Ecosystem restoration

Ahead of COP15 Inger Andersen, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director advised:

“In delivering on biodiversity, we deliver on climate, on pollution, on the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, and on the food and energy system transformation. So let us ensure that this COP will be remembered as the moment we finally set our societies and economies on the path to rebuilding the biodiversity upon which we all rely.”

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has highlighted five direct drivers of biodiversity loss which are also all crucial to business operations:

  • changes in land and sea use
  • direct exploitation of organisms
  • climate change
  • pollution
  • invasive alien species.

These have negative impacts on supply chains, commodity pricing and energy markets.

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Finance day

Given the central role business plays in exploitation and management of natural resources, COP15 included a dedicated full-day event on Finance and Biodiversity on 14th  December. This recognises nature as a “capital” at the core of business activity.

It reflects the embedded link between nature and the business world, recognising also the need to finance sustainable nature management through investment. The Finance for Biodiversity Foundation is the co-organiser, together with the CBD secretariat and other partners.

The day explored linkages between the draft GBF, the financial system and the economy, as well as an action plan to help implement the framework agreement. One focus will have been the means to enable conditions, mechanisms and opportunities for alignment of financial flows with the vision of the framework.

It’s seen as a perfect opportunity for negotiators to interact with and reflect on the roles and responsibilities of financial sector participants in implementing the GBF.

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Nature-related disclosures

And there is a proposal for the treaty to mandate nature-related disclosures from large businesses by 2030. The call comes from 330 corporates in 52 countries through the Business for Nature organisation. The companies have a combined annual revenues of $1.5trn and the UK is the most-represented country.

The companies include some stellar brands, including Sainsbury’s, Tata Steel, Unilever and Volvo Car Group as well as Burberry Group, Danone and L’Oréal. From finance, supporters include AXA Group, Aviva Investors, BNP Paribas,  Legal & General and UBP Asset Management.

Current activity in the business world is not impressive. A recent survey of 345 British businesses by CBI Economics and the University of Exeter found that while 62% had plans to address their biodiversity impact, only 15% were already implementing these plans.

British business is not alone. Not-for-profit CDP, which runs the global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions advises  that only 31% of companies have committed publicly to biodiversity-related initiatives, while a further 25% plan to do so within the next two years.

Whatever the outcomes of the finance day, COP15 will seek to build a clear, measurable framework for actions by governments and businesses to halt and then reverse catastrophic biodiversity losses. There are fervent hopes that there will be action on “30 by 30” a proposal to conserve at least 30% of land and ocean by the end of the decade.

COP15 aims to ensure that governments work coherently and resolutely with businesses, communities and conservation organisations to ensure the new framework is embedded in all economic decision-making.

With the conference now over, we will know how successful these aims have been in the coming days.

Companies needing help with roadmaps for sustainable business can book a free Carbon Mentor call giving expert guidance on where to start, what ROI to expect, budgets and what could be achieved. It’s open to any business no matter what sector or size. During the 30-minute Zoom consultation your mentor will assess main business drivers, answer questions and share recommendations to help the business save money and cut carbon.

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