In an effort to combat the mass extinction crisis, notorious environmental brigands such as Nestlé and H&M have signed an agreement urging government leaders to hold companies across the world accountable for their effect on biodiversity. This was done alongside over 300 other companies who have also signed the COP 15 Business Statement for Mandatory Assessment and Disclosure ahead of COP 15.
What does this call to action mean for the upcoming conference, which so far has been characterised by slow negotiations? Is the private sector collectively realising that the depletion of natural resources will affect profit in the long run? Or is this just a case of greenwashing en masse?
COP 15 and the urgent need for a new biodiversity framework
The UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) will be held held from December 7 to 19 in Montreal, Canada. This is not to be confused with the better-known COP27, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Egypt in a few weeks.
COP 15 was originally planned to take place in 2020 in Kunming China, but has faced delays from the COVID-19 pandemic and slow negotiations.
The fundamental aim of the conference is to establish a new Global Biodiversity Framework, although the United Nations Environment Program has an even more ambitious (and admirable) goal in mind:
“The UN Biodiversity Conference will convene governments from around the world to agree to a new set of goals for nature over the next decade through the Convention on Biological Diversity post-2020 framework process. The framework sets out an ambitious plan to implement broad-based action to bring about a transformation in society’s relationship with biodiversity and to ensure that, by 2050, the shared vision of living in harmony with nature is fulfilled.”
The UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is the international legal instrument that governs conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from utilising natural resources. It has been ratified by 196 nations.
In this mission statement, the post-2020 framework refers to the need for a new framework to replace the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the most recent framework implemented through CBD, which expired in 2020.
Originally agreed to in Japan in 2010, not a single one of these Aichi Targets were met by the end of the decade. The targets themselves were broad and ambitious, but mostly unmeasurable and deemed unrealistic.
Additionally, the convention mandated a biodiversity action plan from nations, but did not mandate any reporting of progress or achievement. Nations were required to produce a statement of their ambitions but not to report their success or failure in reaching these ambitions.
Since the expiration of the Aichi Targets, nations have been unable to come together and agree on a new framework.
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Negotiations for a new deal ahead of COP 15 were held in Geneva in March of this year, but reports indicated that they were unproductive.
The talks have been repeatedly stymied by the issue of financial disparity between member nations. Delegates from Latin American, African, and Caribbean countries expressed frustration that the wealthier developed nations were spouting a rich rhetoric not backed by any meaningful resources.
Developed countries failed at Cop26 in Glasgow to contribute at least $100 billion a year to the developing world to meet the agreed climate targets. This has caused a crisis of faith amongst poorer nations who rely on external aid to fund the infrastructure changes necessary to reach these targets.
The lack of progress in Geneva has sparked concerns that COP 15 will fail, with nations unable to come together to agree upon a new framework.
Whilst international governments stall, plummeting biodiversity and the urgent extinction crisis has sparked action from an unexpected place: the world of business.
Over 300 businesses sign agreement to request change
The COP 15 Business Statement is a set of expectations that its signatories would like for the convention’s final treaty to include. It essentially requests in strong terms that businesses be required to assess and disclose the impact of their activities on biodiversity.
More than 330 corporate and financial institutions have expressed support for this proposal. These entities represent voices from 52 countries, although the UK is the most-represented. These businesses were convened by Business for Nature, who have said of the need for this proposal:
“Businesses cannot address this global crisis on their own. To scale and speed up business action, leading businesses are now calling on governments to work together to create a positive policy feedback-loop that levels the playing field and encourages further business action.”
The statement then lists a series of actions that the signed companies currently incorporate into their operations, which they feel should be made mandatory across the private sector in order to even the playing field. These actions include assessing their impact and dependency on nature and transforming their business strategies and models to restore and regenerate nature.
The logic behind this proposal is that, if all the players are forced to follow the same rules, the market will no longer be able to reward those who choose not to implement eco-friendly policies. There is always a financial disincentive to abide by restrictive regulations that do not apply to competitors.
This measure hopes to remove this disincentive by making all large businesses take equal accountability for their effect on the environment and biodiversity.
Business for Nature says:
“Mandatory assessment and disclosure will create fair competition for business, increase accountability, engage investors, empower consumers, involve SMEs through supply chains, help ensure the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities and ultimately accelerate the transformation of our economies.”
The agreements made at conventions of this nature are not always legally binding, and often nothing more than a very public promise. Even agreements made in 2021 at COP26 have already been largely left by the wayside – essentially because none of them were mandatory.
One of the central proposals for the convention to adopt is a commitment from countries to preserve 30% of their lands and seas for nature by 2030.
New #research shows that a #marine protected area in the #Pacific #Ocean has allowed Bigeye and Yellowfin #Tuna pop'ns to recover! #protectedareas #marine #blueplanet #nature #wildlife #biodiversity #conservationoptimism #conservation #LetNatureThrive https://t.co/a0SJ24XrTW
— Global Conservation Solutions (@_GCS_) October 27, 2022
Over 100 countries agreed to this target, including the UK, which is already behind in its effort to reach this target.
Our new report: A World Richer in Nature, has just landed! 🌍🌿
With fewer than 50 days until @UNBiodiversity #COP15, the RSPB has released a new report on how the UK’s leaders need to translate global promises into a decade of action for nature 👇 pic.twitter.com/exfYxaieMM
— RSPB (@Natures_Voice) October 24, 2022
In addition to the simple challenge of compliance, any broadly ambitious proposal entails the same challenge experienced by the Aichi Targets: definition.
For example, the assessment and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions has been nearly standardised worldwide. The GHG protocol, in place since 1998, forms the international standard that governs emissions reporting, and the Paris Agreement paved the way for more countries to mandate disclosure from 2015.
When it comes to biodiversity, the nature of the raw data and the ability to measure it is less well-defined. When the Paris Agreement was signed, an internationally accepted protocol for the collection and reporting of data had been in place for 17 years, but there is no equivalently standard methodology for biodiversity.
One of the central failures of the last global biodiversity framework was a lack of definition. For the COP 15 Business Statement to be effective, if it is adopted, the fundamental standards of measuring and reporting need to be firmly in place first.
Biodiversity can be measured by species per area, the range of genetic variability, the number of endemic species, or the number of intact ecosystems per area. These definitions need to be embedded within data-driven parameters in order for the convention to make progress. Otherwise, nations will linger over definitions in order to delay commitment.
The proposal by Business for Nature is a worthwhile and necessary goal, but it must be backed by action. Given the track record of some of the companies who have signed, many will have to see the action before they believe it.
On the other hand, perhaps the only thing Nestlé needs in order to stop exploiting the planet’s natural resources is for its competitors to stop first.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: The critically endangered Sumatran elephant, one of the many victims of the mass extinction crisis. Featured Photo Credit: Geran de Klerk.