What Business Needs to Know about COP15
Biodiversity, the variety of life in the natural world, is declining at the fastest rate in human history. The last crisis of this scale led to the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The survival of ecosystems, whether it’s coral reefs, deserts, or rainforests, depend on a diverse array of insects, plants, and animals. These organisms function like a complicated web, creating the processes upon which all life depends. Biodiversity underpins the global food system, soil and air quality, medicine, pollination and pest control, and climate regulation. Currently, over a million plants and animals are at risk of extinction, posing an existential threat to the natural environment and the human species. In the words of the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, “We are committing suicide by proxy.”
While humans are behind every significant driver of biodiversity loss—overfishing, hunting, mining, logging, climate change, and pollution- humanity also has the power to reverse course and restore our planet’s diverse ecosystems.
The scale and stakes of the biodiversity crisis prompted nearly 200 countries to convene last month in Montreal, Canada at the Biodiversity Conference of the Parties (COP15). Following two weeks of tense negotiations, delegates adopted the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), the most ambitious international conservation effort to date. Likened to the 1.5°C temperature target set out by the Paris Agreement, the GBF outlines four overarching goals and 23 specific targets to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.
Key outcomes from the Global Biodiversity Framework include:
- 30x30 target. One of the most highly publicized and ambitious targets, within the GBF, aims to conserve 30% of the world’s land and 30% of its oceans by 2030.
- Financial packages promising $30 billion per year to support developing countries’ conservation initiatives by 2030. Funding for biodiversity efforts in developing nations sparked a contentious debate. After weeks of negotiations and disagreements, developed countries agreed to provide $25 billion in annual financial support, starting in 2025 and ramping up to $30 billion annually by 2030.
- Pledge to protect the rights of indigenous communities and recognize the role of indigenous persons as stewards of the natural world. Indigenous lands contain 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Acknowledging the wisdom of indigenous communities and safeguarding land rights distinguishes this framework from historic conservation agreements. It also lays the foundation for greater participation of indigenous voices in decision-making processes and conservation work.
- Efforts to increase funding from public and private sector sources to at least $200 billion per year for biodiversity efforts.
- Measures to address unsustainable consumption and production, including a target to reduce global food waste 50% by 2030.
The United States was one of two countries that did not sign the GBF (the other being the Holy See). Despite this, the United States’ biodiversity envoy attended the conference and pledged $600 million in monetary support to the UN fund for climate and biodiversity over the next four years. President Biden also passed an executive order to mirror the GBF, committing to protect 30% of the United States’ land and waters.
“Profit and Protection Go Hand-in-Hand”
An overarching theme of the summit recognized the vital role businesses play in achieving biodiversity goals. The lofty objectives set out in the GBF require more than conservation initiatives; halting and reversing biodiversity requires widescale socio-economic transformation toward sustainable consumption and production models. Businesses must redefine their relationship with nature in a way that “recognize(s) that profit and protection go hand-in-hand.” A record number of private sector parties (between 700 and 1,000) responded to this call-to-action by attending the summit in Montreal. According to Elizabeth Mrema, the head of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, "[Business are starting to understand]… the impact of their operations on nature, the nature biodiversity which we all depend on and (they) also depend (on) for their businesses. If they are not part of the framework, their businesses will also suffer."
For the first time in a multi-lateral agreement, the BDF commits businesses to specific targets aimed at preserving the natural environment, a first step in redefining the corporate-nature nexus. While the United States is not a signatory, the GBF impacts Network USA businesses both directly and through their value chains. Businesses within Network USA have a responsibility to align with international efforts and set an example of corporate environmental stewardship within the U.S marketplace.
The Global Biodiversity Framework includes several targets specific to business:
- A mandate for large transnational companies and financial institutions to assess and disclose their risks, dependencies, and impacts on biodiversity across their operations, supply chain, and value chain. Businesses are also expected to provide consumers with information encouraging sustainable consumption patterns.
- Pressure on governments to phase out and reform $500 billion per year in subsidies that harm the environment (i.e., money for oil and gas, agriculture, fisheries, and more). At the same time, the target seeks to ramp up incentives to encourage companies to choose nature-positive outcomes.
Outside of formal negotiations, businesses and organizations collaborated on efforts to rally corporate ambition for nature. Initiatives include:
- Nature Action 100, which launched as a way for investors to engage with the companies most dedicated to preventing the loss of nature and biodiversity.
- Climate Fund for Nature, launched by Kering and L’Occitane, invests $300 million in nature-based solutions.
The landmark agreements at COP15 mark a turning point in global ambition to restore the natural world. The success of the GBF, however, depends on the implementation of these targets moving forward.
How can your business support the planet and reverse the decline in biodiversity?
- Invest in nature. Overhauling a market system from one that exploits nature to one that rebuilds and restores biodiversity, will take an estimated $900 billion per year. The role of business is fundamental in funding these targets. At COP15, Eva Stabel, Executive Director of Business for Nature, stressed, "There will be no economy, there will be no business on a dead planet." Nature is businesses’ most important asset, and thus companies need to start investing in nature as capital.
- Set goals, then measure and report the impact of your business on biodiversity. Business for Nature, a group of 330 businesses, is calling for a disclosure framework for businesses to report their impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity. While momentum is growing considerably around carbon and climate change reporting, an assessment by the World Benchmarking Analysis found that under 5% of corporations understand their impact on nature. To “make peace with nature,” businesses must first develop a deep understanding of how their operations, supply and value chain, and portfolios impact the natural world.
COP15 provides a framework to begin healing humanity’s relationship with nature. COP16, the next United Nations Biodiversity Conference, will take place in Turkey in 2024 and evaluate global progress on the GBF. For the world to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, the next year and a half is critical. Between now and 2024, businesses must make strides to transform the socio-economic system toward one that restores and protects our ecosystems.
Network USA will host programming in 2023 to engage businesses on this important topic. These programs will equip businesses with tools, resources, and partnerships to start integrating the targets of the GBF into business practice. Stay tuned for more details and information on Network USA’s upcoming biodiversity events.