Committing to biodiversity easier than acting on it: New research

According to research conducted by the UN, more than a million plant and animal species are teetering on the edge of extinction. (Photo by Karen H Black via Shutterstock).
  • New research surveying more than 7,000 companies reveals the extent to which biodiversity factors into corporate thinking.
  • The results come just as Cop15 of the UN Biodiversity Conference convenes and hopes world leaders will settle on a Global Biodiversity Framework.
  • The manunfacturing sector has the lowest levels of public commitment linked to biodiversity.

Despite setting public targets, nearly three-quarters (70%) of companies are not measuring the impact of their value chain on biodiversity. This is one of many findings to come from the CDP, a charity focused on investment-related disclosure, who conducted a global-wide survey on biodiversity.

The research appears to be the first attempt by an NGO to measure corporate commitment to biodiversity on this scale. Just shy of 7,700 companies across the globe took part in the survey. The findings reveal the real difficulty companies face in transitioning from public commitment to meaningful action.

The survey focused on a company’s commitments to tackling biodiversity risk and the extent to which this is formalised within it. For example, the CDP distinguishes between commitments – specific targets set by the company – and endorsements, whereby companies acknowledge the importance of  biodiversity; the former focused on action.

Other highlights include:

  • 56% of respondents have yet to make a public commitment and/or endorse any initiatives related to biodiversity….
  • …Although 25% (of total respondents) say they will do so within two years.
  • Just over 50% of companies do not have either board of executive level oversight of biodiversity commitments.
  • Just under three-quarters (72%) of companies within the power sector have made some form of commitment or endorsement to protecting biodiversity.

For more insights from the survey, please see charts below.

Hopes for Cop15

The results come just as Cop15 of the UN Biodiversity Conference convenes. There are high hopes world leaders will be able to settle on a Global Biodiversity Framework – replacing the Aichi Targets, which aims to stop and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. However, they need to align on four headline goals and 21 targets.

Environmental charity, ClientEarth, hopes to see the Global Biodiversity Framework contain two key components: setting clear standards for how to achieve the framework’s goals and targets while supplying tools to measure progress; and ensure that only land that is “fairly governed, effectively managed and where indigenous people and local communities rights are respected and upheld” is protected.

As with most of what we cover at Capital Monitor, the urgency for action is acute. According to research conducted by the UN, more than a million plant and animal species are teetering on the edge of extinction; the WWF believes that wildlife has plummeted by 69% since 1970.

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There is broad scientific consensus that a failure to protect our biodiversity will lead to major consequences for our global systems, and a breakdown of the earth’s capacity to produce clean air, food and water. Climate change is considered a primary factor for biodiversity loss.   

A recent AXA Insurance report on biodiversity lays the issue out:

“An estimated 20–30% of the world’s land is degraded – much of it by crop production, livestock and other forms of agriculture; over 33% of world fish stocks were being fished at unsustainable levels as of 2015, while global food production will have to increase by an estimated 50% by 2050 (compared with 2005) to feed the world’s growing population.”

For those who need to see it in monetary terms, the world’s ecosystems provide benefits worth an estimated $125trn to $140trn a year – the equivalent to more than one-and-a half times global GDP.

Loss of biodiversity leads to social unrest

Other side-effects of biodiversity loss that are not immediately obvious is the link to social unrest. A concern for insurers and banks is what damage to ecosystems will do to our societies. Migration has increased nearly 50% in the last two decades and, according to AXA Insurance, 40% of all conflicts within states in the last 60 years can be tied to natural resources.

So, having a clear corporate agenda to directly tackle or support our biodiversity is not just a nice to have, but a business imperative. If CDP’s findings are broadly representative, appetite to tackle biodiversity is sincere and fairly widespread. The real challenges for corporate boards is knowing what to actually measure in the first place.

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