Nature crisis: implications and impacts of COP15 for business

As the dust settles from hard-fought negotiations at COP15, a path to ‘living in harmony with nature’ is emerging. Dr. Clare Allen, Risilience Senior Environmental Risk Analyst and Sara Pruckner, Risilience Environmental Risk Modeller, consider the implications of the new agreement for businesses and why companies must incorporate biodiversity as part of their business strategy.

There were high hopes that the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) would deliver a defining moment for biodiversity, in the same way that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement set ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions.

While some say the disputed outcome is not enough to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, others argue the Kunming-Montreal Global biodiversity framework (GBF) marks a significant achievement and should be given a chance to enable governments, businesses and citizens to address the nature crisis.

The Global Biodiversity Framework

Achieving the framework looked highly unlikely at points during the annual UN Biodiversity Conference delayed and displaced due to COVID-19, that finally took place in Montreal, Canada, in December last year.

Despite the challenges, close to 200 countries, with the notable exception of the United States, have agreed to the four goals and 23 targets that comprise the GBF – including a direct message for businesses and financial institutions to prepare to assess and disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity.

Headline target

The headline target of ‘30x30’ intends to conserve 30 per cent of the world’s land, freshwater and ocean by 2030. For some, the goal is not ambitious enough falling short of the hoped-for defining Paris Agreement moment. Others argue the target cannot be measured or enforced, or that 30x30 is not based on science but merely sounds catchy. There is no doubt that 30x30 raises many questions, including whether the target should be global or national, which could be a problem for small countries with little space for nature. On the other hand, if a country, such as the Seychelles, already has more than 30 per cent of its land allocated as protected areas, could this result in a significant loss in nature?

Financial accord proved challenging with disappointed developing-country delegates walking out of negotiations over the particulars of international biodiversity funds. Nations with greater biodiversity; mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, maintain they should receive more funding to protect their biodiversity. The EU, however, argued that newer large economies, such as China and Brazil, need to contribute more. While a compromise was reached in the end, with developed countries pledging US$20 billion per year by 2025, increasing to US$30 billion per year by 2030, in biodiversity finance assistance to developing countries – this debate will surely continue long after the event.

The danger of establishing more ‘paper parks’ – areas which are protected by law to meet targets but are not adequately managed to bring any tangible benefits to nature – was also discussed. However, the real bone of contention is historical, as Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) have suffered greatly in the past, thanks partly to area-based conservation practices, where they were forcibly displaced from their homelands. The final 30x30 target, along with six other targets, explicitly addresses the rights of the IPLCs, who are now recognised as key protectors of nature, which led to the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity stating that they “have spoken and you have heard us”.

Implications for business

Advancing progress to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 requires participation by all stakeholders – including business. Companies attending the event met at the Business and Biodiversity Forum to discuss impacts and actions for business. Luxury goods multinational Kering and premium beauty brand L’Occitane announced a €300 million fund for nature, and the World Economic Forum and PwC China launched a report titled: ‘The Global Biodiversity Framework and What it Means for Business’. The report highlights the criticality of innovation, investment and business models required to halt biodiversity loss, and considers how the GBF will impact businesses.

Many companies also supported a call to make biodiversity reporting mandatory for businesses and signatories include key Risilience clients Burberry and Nestlé. While all companies should take heed, the final Target 15 of the GBF does weaken the language by bringing the focus to taking legal, administrative or policy measures to ‘encourage and enable’ business to monitor, assess and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity – rather than making such disclosure mandatory. Despite this, some countries might be encouraged to decide on requirements for all large and transnational companies and financial institutions, which could include operations, supply and value chains, and portfolios.

Prepare to act on opportunity

While mandatory disclosure is not part of the final text, there is growing momentum for what is seen as a potentially transformative target of the GBF compelling governments to require disclosure from businesses. Proactive corporates already recognising the business risk that climate change and biodiversity loss bring, and incorporating these variables as part of their business strategy, are more likely to mitigate impacts – and be ready to act on opportunities presented by the transition to a low-carbon economy. COP15 may not have delivered an equivalent to the Paris Agreement for nature, but the Kunming-Montreal GBF indicates a direction of travel that business as well as government must prepare for.