COP15: Why should business care about biodiversity?
By Debbie Daly
In April 2022 the postponed UN Conference on Biodiversity (COP15) is taking place in Kunming, China, but you could be forgiven for having missed the fact. In stark contrast to COP26, this conference has been practically invisible in the media, wider public discourse and particularly so in the business world. But why is COP15 the poor relation to COP26 and why should business care about biodiversity?
According to scientists across the world, we are facing the sixth mass extinction in the history of our planet with nearly one million species on the verge of disappearing, as a direct result of human activity.
Whole ecosystems could cease to exist as the vital 1.5C threshold for climate change approaches and many are already losing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide. As such, the carbon sinks we are currently relying on (and that businesses are currently investing in) are turning into carbon sources.
These ecosystems and their natural resources are the basis for our global economy. According the recently published, sixth IPCC Report, more than half of the world’s total GDP is either “moderately or highly dependent on nature”. The collapse of ecosystems could have critical implications for humanity, from the collapse of food and health systems to the disruption of entire supply chains, threatening the foundations of our economy and our way of life.
So why is biodiversity so far down the list of priorities in the boardroom? What was abundantly clear at COP26 is that climate change and biodiversity loss are twin global challenges. Climate change can undermine efforts to conserve and sustainably manage biodiversity, while biodiversity offers some of the most effective mitigation and adaption solutions to climate change.
Furthermore, business and nature are inextricably connected. A disturbance to biodiversity has serious consequences for companies, their bottom line and the larger environment in which they operate.
It is clear that businesses need to rethink their relationship with nature, not just on how they extract materials from the earth, or use soil and land, but also in terms of adaptation and mitigation of their impacts. But while companies are turning to nature-based solutions (NbS) to offset emissions, nature’s ability to do so is weakening by the year. Therefore, we need immediate, transformational action to stem biodiversity loss.
Companies can play a critical role, both by leveraging their impact and relationships across the value chain to support and scale conservation efforts; and through collaborative approaches with new and existing business partners to create rich sources of innovation and differentiation.
A great example of this is a partnership forged between publisher Raincoast Books and environmental not-for-profit, Canopy. Working together, the two organisations were able to leverage the huge print runs of the Harry Potter books to support the development of new, sustainable paper stocks that helped protect forest ecosystems. The books, printed on ancient-forest-friendly paper were the greenest in history and triggered innovation in the supply chain that resulted in 40 new environmentally friendly papers for the book publishing industry.
Clearly conservation action presents businesses with a real opportunity for leadership and competitive advantage, and it is time it took its rightful place alongside action on climate change.
While nations meet at COP15 in China to look at capacity building and resource mobilisation to protect and conserve the world’s natural ecosystems, much more may be needed to help these ecosystems cope with decades of neglect and damage. Business can play a key role in helping to scale and extend that activity to build resilience, protect our future and the health of our planet.
If you’d like our help facilitating a discussion about this topic in the boardroom or support identifying the nature-based risks and opportunities for your business, get in touch with our experts in our Reinventing Responsibility team.
Written by Debbie Daly, Associate Partner