As the United Nations COP15 Biodiversity Conference comes to a close in Montreal, governments around the world have set ambitious goals to protect 30% of land by 2030 to stop irreversible loss of our natural world. This will not be an easy task to complete.
Government efforts to halt biodiversity loss have been pitiful, despite the gravity of the situation. At a biodiversity summit in Japan in 2010, world leaders set 20 goals, none of which have been met. The world is in desperate need of help right now, and the government has yet to involve one community that is both well-equipped and eager to assist. Companies with innovative employees, significant resources, and large tracts of land under their control may be able to provide the necessary assistance.
THE STATUS QUO
The ongoing decline of biodiversity has been dubbed the “sixth extinction,” and the problems it poses are significant. The current level of global biodiversity is only 75% of its pre-industrial peak, which is much lower than the 90% threshold commonly accepted as safe for maintaining key ecological processes. Plant pollination is one example of a process that is entirely dependent on a few insect species. The chocolate midge, the cacao plant’s eponymous pollinator, has seen its population in West Africa plummet to the point where humans are now manually pollinating cacao flowers.
Due to direct human activity, pollution, and climate change, one million plant and animal species are currently threatened with extinction. There is, however, a silver lining. According to the World Economic Forum, reducing the pressure on biodiversity caused by factors such as food, land, and ocean use, infrastructure, construction, energy, and mining could save approximately 80% of threatened and near-threatened species.
COLLABORATION FOR SUCCESS
Governments looking to involve business should look at the successful partnerships that emerged quickly during the pandemic. Despite the fact that the trend toward remote work and education was gaining traction, 6% of UK households lacked consistent internet access. In response, Dell Technologies established the Digital Inclusion Impact Group, a public-private partnership that distributes donated computers and other technology to underserved communities.
It is critical that the biodiversity crisis be treated with the same urgency that the pandemic was. The government could form a similar impact group for biodiversity and solicit contributions from the tech community, for example, to track DNA in nature and quantify biodiversity recovery in a manner similar to Nature Metrics, or it could gladly accept the assistance of investors with financial means to help fund biodiversity projects. The Nature Action 100 Group, which was launched at COP15, is comprised of 11 high-profile investors such as AXA and BNP Paribas, and it is tasked with identifying 100 companies critical to the cause of reversing biodiversity loss. The government would be wise to approach this pre-assembled group of powerful businesses about forming alliances.
According to our own poll of over 2,000 CEOs, there is a strong desire for companies to be more hands-on. More than 80% of people say biodiversity is very important to them personally, and 84% believe large corporations have the power to slow biodiversity decline. It’s also good for business: according to BCG, biodiversity generates more than $150 trillion in annual economic value, which could be lost if we don’t take action.
Some privately owned landowners in the United Kingdom are beginning to take biodiversity conservation more seriously. Southern Water has made specific commitments to biodiversity in addition to keeping the waterways and environments clean. It is now working to halt the spread of alien species and eradicate them wherever possible. M&S has also worked with Wildlife Trusts to create and improve natural areas on their farms.
Companies that are serious about restoring habitats or recovering endangered species should think about forming partnerships with local governments.
Governments should capitalise on the $5.2 trillion global technology sector, which contains a wealth of innovative technology and ideas. We are already developing our own tool to digitise UK biodiversity, which will include creating a visual map highlighting areas where biodiversity has recovered and forming partnerships with other organisations to connect those pockets to have a greater impact. SPARC (Spatial Planning for Area Conservation in Response to Climate Change) is a groundbreaking global technology project that uses data to forecast species migrations in response to climate change. Countries will be able to better prepare for the effects of climate change on biodiversity by using this data when planning protected areas.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE TREE CANOPY
Even though it is still early, businesses are showing signs of wanting to assist. 300 businesses are measuring their own environmental impact to better understand the scope of the problem and how to address it, and they have urged world leaders to require other companies to publish their impact on biodiversity by 2030. Accurate measurements are a critical tool in the fight against biodiversity loss; otherwise, how can we be certain that the natural ecosystems we leave behind will be in better condition than when we found them?
A groundbreaking law requires British construction companies to demonstrate a “biodiversity net gain” of at least 10% for each new structure they build. To help with this, the UK government’s environmental adviser developed the biodiversity metric. Though this is currently only applicable to real estate firms, other businesses could voluntarily implement similar methods to learn about the impact of biodiversity loss on the land they manage.
Central governments can contribute to biodiversity improvement by facilitating partnerships between local governments and community businesses, as well as enacting more laws requiring businesses to improve biodiversity. Locally funded projects can take the form of staff time donations or the purchase of degraded land to restore biodiversity.
EXPANSION WITH DURABILITY
The loss of biodiversity, which is exacerbated by the effects of climate change, is one of the greatest existential challenges that humanity has ever faced. Still, there is both mental and material reward for doing things correctly. According to the World Economic Forum’s report “The Nature Economy,” preserving biodiversity will open up annual business opportunities worth $10 trillion. These policies have the potential to strengthen supply chains and financial markets, potentially creating 395 million new jobs by 2030.
The economic advantages of conserving the world’s natural resources and biodiversity are undeniable. Companies are waking up to the problem, and a grassroots movement to address it is forming. Some preliminary evidence has been discovered; these findings call for further investigation. Governments must now make connections and advocate for business action to reverse global biodiversity loss.
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