Biodiversity is the new climate. In other words, the goals that the world has set for limiting climate change are now being transferred to the topic of biodiversity and its conservation. And this is not an ambition, it is now a fact. It will pass through business and its impacts.
Even if you haven’t followed the topic closely, you might know that the Paris Agreement of 2015 set two global goals – to cut greenhouse emissions by half by 2030 and to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Such goals are expected to be set this December at the COP 15 global climate meeting in Montreal, but in terms of biodiversity. It is clear what the goals will be – protecting 30% of land and sea by the end of the decade, and bringing back some of what has been lost by 2050.
So far so good. The question is are companies ready to meet more climate goals now that they are already in the spiral of ESG requirements and regulations? Resistance is highly expected, but there is so much to learn from what has already been done. In the past, businesses viewed their economic goals and environmental protection as two unrelated things. Now, however, they have to be pursued simultaneously. This will be a positive direction for those who look for long-term opportunities to improve their results and make the new requirements work for their success.
Biology taught us that biodiversity is the symbiosis between all plant and animal species that surround us and their interaction with water, air and soil. The balance between all is delicate and a minimal disturbance often has huge consequences. Many factors threaten biodiversity and almost all are caused by human activity. We are messing with nature, which can be dangerous for us. According to a WWF report, wildlife populations have declined by 69% since 1970. They also estimated that $44 trillion worth of natural resources needed by businesses are at risk due to declining biodiversity.
For more than three decades, world leaders in politics and business have united to solve these problems. However, the results so far have been unsatisfactory to say the least- none of the goals set at the previous major climate forum in Japan in 2010 have been met. Therefore, it is expected that the decisions taken now will be quite specific and will once again be pushed through the various regulations and reporting standards. Currently, about 1/3 of the world’s market capitalization is affected by the emission reduction targets. This is the result of introducing the SBT standard, which sets science-based targets for business. There is now a sequel with a biodiversity focus – SBTN. In Europe, corporate requirements are rapidly approaching business through the Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) and the EU Taxonomy. There is a ready proposal for revising GRI biodiversity reporting – the standard companies will follow to meet CSRD requirements. The experience shows that standards precede regulations. Investors prefer a sustainable business. They are looking for companies ready to demonstrate that they are socially responsible.
Bringing biodiversity upfront, however, is not just a matter of prestige or standing out from the competition. The changes in nature have very real consequences for business – for example, the loss of a particular plant in an area can lead to erosion and flooding, ruining local producers and businesses. The earth is currently experiencing possibly the greatest loss of life since the dinosaurs, and humans are largely to blame. The way we mine, pollute, hunt, build, travel, and live puts millions of species at risk. There are clear trends of biodiversity loss – some researchers estimate that more than 500 species of land animals are on the brink of survival and likely to go extinct within 20 years, one in five reptiles and one in eight bird species are also threatened.
There is no one-size-fits-all biodiversity action plan. Nature reporting is complicated because there is no single reporting metric. In order to guarantee the protection of biodiversity, we must also address the causes – use of resources, changes in land use, emissions of harmful substances. Each type of impact should be viewed with a relevant metric to it. There is a hope that the climate meeting in Montreal will fix this mistake and set concrete targets, along the lines of those on climate – the future Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which will pave the way for the next decade. Even then, however, an individual approach and consultations with specialists will have to be applied, in order take into account the given company – its size, activity, expectations, location. The easiest way is to start by conducting a sustainability report. It will highlight the strong and weak points of a business. It is a different kind of risk management. Then, it will give way to global goals – reducing the negative impacts and increasing the positive ones, first in the company’s own productions, and then in the entire value chain. Everything has to be adjusted to the specifics of the particular company, so that it is efficient and useful. By all accounts, it seems that soon biodiversity will be regulated by specific rules and requirements. Fortunately, some of the businesses are already familiar with the topic. For example, ten years ago, a large Bulgarian company wanted to mine in a specific place but they found a turtle nest. They successfully relocated the turtles and the company has a mine on the site that operates to this day, and the biodiversity has been saved. This proves that regulations are not needed where business is aware of its role and influence. This new reality will measure companies on a different scale – some of them will be excellent in both protecting the nature and being successful.