Businesses Urge World Leaders to Do More on Biodiversity

"There will be no business on a dead planet," business owners tell heads of state.

wildflowers and wind turbines

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As the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) takes place remotely this month (October 11-15, 2021), chief executives of a number of major companies have signed an open letter from the Business for Nature coalition to world leaders, urging them to do more and to set more ambitious targets on biodiversity. 

A Paris Agreement for Nature

At COP15, which was originally due to take place in 2020 but delayed until this month, governments will negotiate new climate targets and reach an accord that will be a "Paris Agreement for nature." The second, in-person part of the conference will take place in Kunming, China, from April 25 to May 8 of next year.

As part of the overarching UN goal for people to be living in harmony with nature by 2050, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity published a 21-point draft of an agreement back in January which commits signatories to 2030 goals to protect at least 30% of the planet, control invasive species, and reduce pollution from plastic and excess nutrients by half.

Many argued, however, that these plans do not go far enough, and this open letter from the Business for Nature coalition is the latest attempt to push world leaders to do more to halt the destruction of the natural world. 

Why do we need a clear framework like the Paris Agreement for nature? Eva Zabey clearly stated the case in the Guardian:

“What happened with the Paris agreement is that, once you have political ambition, it gives companies that certainty to invest, innovate, shift their business models. By using the Earth’s limits as a framework, companies can make sure they are doing their fair share.”

Business for Nature

“The UN Biodiversity COP15 is our last and best chance of turning the tide of biodiversity loss. The draft post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework lacks the ambition and specificity required to drive the urgent action needed,” the letter says. It urges world leaders to speed up and scale up action, calling for a revised framework that is meaningful and useful for everyone. 

“We need to track our impact on the climate and nature with the same discipline [that] we track our profit and loss,” Roberto Marques, chief executive of Natura & Co, behind The Body Shop and Aesop, and a signatory of the letter, told the Guardian. “We are calling on governments to eliminate and redirect all harmful subsidies. Governments still provide a lot of subsidies for industries and initiatives that are very harmful for nature.”

Business leaders understand that biodiversity loss is an existential threat, but can also see the business case. A Swiss Re report last year found that more than half of the world's annual GDP—US$42 trillion—depends on high-functioning biodiversity, and that around one-fifth of countries risk having their ecosystems collapse. What is good for nature is good for business, and this understanding may be important in driving change in our capitalist world. 

A History of Failure in Tackling Biodiversity Losses

Next spring's COP15 in Kunming should not be overshadowed by COP26, taking place in Glasgow in November 2021. Tackling biodiversity loss is just as important as tackling climate change. The pressure to reach a satisfactory agreement that can lead to real and lasting change is immense. 

At the COP10 conference held in Japan in 2010, the twenty Aichi biodiversity targets to stem the destruction of wildlife and ecosystems were agreed upon. More than a decade later, the world has failed to reach even one of those targets. This history of failure makes it even more important that an ambitious and binding framework be crafted. 

While some say that plans to protect 30% of global land do not go far enough, others argue that protected areas are not the answer. "Big Conservation" can trample on the rights of indigenous peoples and fail to protect nature as intended. Many have called for dramatic changes to current models of conservation, which have not been working, as well as for a rights-based approach.

The complexities of social justice and environmentalism make this a difficult issue to untangle. But untangle it we must if we are to halt catastrophe.