3D pie chart with photographic elements on each of the segments showing different elements related to biodiversity and. sustainability

COP15 in China

Why businesses should nurture their future success in nature – and how they can do it

In October 2021, China hosted the first phase of a major two-part UN biodiversity summit that aims to set a new global framework for biodiversity governance through 2030. After being delayed twice due to the pandemic, the 15th Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – or COP15 in short – was split into two chapters, the first of which recently concluded in Kunming and saw more than 100 countries sign a new political declaration to guide final negotiations on the draft nature treaty.

Although overshadowed by the much better-known COP26, COP15 is just as important. The world has seen rapid and unprecedented biodiversity losses in recent years, with one million species now at threat of extinction. Given that more than half of global GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services, according to research by the World Economic Forum (WEF), a failure to act now and reverse current trends will lead to severe consequences for economies, societies and human health.

Yet while humanity’s reliance on nature is undeniable, awareness of the urgency of protecting biodiversity and halting the unsustainable use of natural resources has lagged far behind that of fighting climate change. It’s now critical to continue elevating biodiversity in the public’s mind and on political and business agendas in the build-up to COP15’s second phase in spring 2022, when global leaders will hopefully ratify a game-changing accord that will help transition the world onto a nature-positive trajectory.

Kunming Declaration adopted to guide upcoming negotiations

The main outcome of COP15’s first phase is the adoption of the Kunming Declaration by more than 100 countries. Signatory nations pledged: “to develop, adopt and implement an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework that would put biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030 at the latest, towards the full realisation of the 2050 Vision of ‘Living in Harmony with Nature’.”

While not committing to any specific targets, the declaration is intended to provide political guidance for further negotiations on the draft global treaty, scheduled for January 2022 in Geneva. Some of the key elements addressed in the declaration included:

  • Mainstreaming biodiversity across government decision-making
  • Phasing out and redirecting subsidies that damage nature
  • Strengthening the rule of law
  • Ensuring the full and effective participation of local communities

For global leaders, the key will be taking what is now simply a political statement and turning it into an action plan for protecting nature – a 2030 roadmap which features ambitious yet pragmatic, measurable targets and is backed by sufficient funding. This is especially important after a UN report last autumn revealed that the world had failed to fully achieve any of the 2020 targets set at COP10 in Aichi, Japan.

Rethinking the business world’s relationship with natural systems

Governments and civil society alone will not be able to reverse the loss of biodiversity. Successfully transitioning the world onto a nature-positive trajectory will require full buy-in from the private sector.  

If the world fails to act now and stop nature loss, it could cost the global economy trillions of dollars, disrupt countless industries and impact millions of people’s lives. Alternatively, the shift towards a nature-positive economy could create an incredible US$10.1 trillion of business opportunities and generate 395 million jobs by 2030, according to a study by the WEF.

Fortunately, there’s growing recognition within the business community not only of the dire risks of persisting with a business-as-usual approach but also the immense gains to be reaped by embedding biodiversity within their decision making. For instance, more than 1,000 companies, with a combined annual revenue of US$4.7 trillion, have signed Business for Nature’s Call to Action urging governments to adopt policies now to reverse nature loss by 2030.

However, while momentum is building, businesses still have a long way to go. Historically, companies have been much more active on climate change, and biodiversity continues to lag way behind on most corporate agendas. One major reason is that the business community has long struggled to understand the sheer complexity of biodiversity and the countless species and ecosystems around the world that need to be protected. The very multidimensionality of the nature agenda has made it much more challenging to come up with a single indicator or bench mark as simple as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s where the post-2020 global framework for biodiversity should come in. Nothing can replicate the need for strong policy charters that will drive action. For example, the Paris Agreement provided a clear guidance that governments and businesses have actively responded to with concrete measures. Unless COP15’s second phase produces a similarly robust framework for biodiversity – one that companies can easily link back to and use to scale up their own efforts – then hopes to systemise the corporate world’s approach to nature protection could remain unrealised.

Key recommendations

While the journey towards becoming nature-positive will not be easy for businesses, it will empower them to reinvigorate their purpose, strengthen their license to operate and unlock greater profits. And having just entered the half-year period between COP15’s first and second chapters it’s an opportune time for companies to rethink their relationship with nature and how to better position themselves for future success.

As they do so, here are six recommendations for them to consider:

Be an early mover

Act with a sense of urgency and charge out of the gate in support of COP15’s new roadmap for the next decade – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because those that are forward-thinking and take steps to transform early, stand to gain immensely. By capitalising on the growing movement to protect nature and positioning themselves at the centre of the transition, companies can secure a significant first-mover advantage that will enable them to capture new business opportunities and strengthen their corporate reputations with consumers, regulators and investors. So don’t sit on the side-lines and get left behind in the ‘Super Year for Nature’.

Embed biodiversity at the heart of business decision-making

Naturalise biodiversity throughout your corporate DNA by orienting your business model towards a nature-positive future. Take internal action within supply chains and business operations and external action by ramping up regulatory and other stakeholder engagement, positioning your company as a leading public champion and advocate for biodiversity. Redefine risk beyond a narrow view of short-term material risks by taking the health of nature explicitly into account as a threat to your own business health. This is imperative because the continued degradation of natural systems at current rates will eventually lead to massive disruptions throughout the global economy – and no company would be immune from the fallout.

Synergise efforts on nature and the race to net zero

As the world confronts the dual biodiversity and climate crises, businesses don’t need to prioritise addressing one over the other. These global emergencies are deeply intertwined, and by harmonising approaches, companies can establish a more holistic sustainability strategy that effectively plays to both agendas – and ultimately delivers a much wider impact. And given that there have long been far higher levels of private sector participation in the fight against climate change than nature loss, many businesses can leverage their achievements and deep experience in the climate space to inform their biodiversity efforts.

Align with the new biodiversity framework and set smart goals

The 2030 blueprint will provide businesses with a new framework that they can easily connect with and leverage to scale up their own nature-focused initiatives. Indeed, many of the draft targets are directly relevant to the private sector, creating huge space for companies to get involved, contribute, and help fill the gaps – around financing, knowledge and expertise, technical solutions, and more. After assessing the framework’s targets and identifying where their business would be best aligned to make a difference, companies can then set their own biodiversity goals. These should be specific, measurable, and feasible, rather than overly ambitious targets which are unlikely to be achieved. Clear action plans for realising them should also be drawn up.

Leverage dynamic partnerships and multi-stakeholder coalitions

Don’t act alone. No single actor can halt and reverse the tide of biodiversity loss on their own. This will be a framework for all, and its success will depend on collective efforts, with a high degree of coordination across policymakers, civil society, financial institutions and the business community. Companies will have to work in a highly collaborative environment where they deepen existing partnerships, forge new ones and join the multi-stakeholder platforms that can add the capacity and scale to achieve systemic change, such as Business for Nature and the Global Partnership for Business and Biodiversity.

Weave nature into corporate sustainability narratives

Companies should harness the power of storytelling to inform target audiences exactly what they’re doing to protect nature and the meaningful impacts being delivered. This will require the development of differentiated messaging that resonates with various groups, depending on their level of familiarity with the topic. For instance, highly technical communications may work best with the experts at environmental NGOs, but explaining the complexities of biodiversity in simple, compelling ways will be critical to engaging effectively with consumers.

For more insights and analysis download Hill+Knowlton's Accelerating the Global Movement to Safeguard the Natural World



Benjamin Cooper

Hill+Knowlton Strategies

published on

22 December 2021



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