Jenni Black, Nature Transformation Lead at the World Benchmarking Alliance, argues that we must hold businesses accountable for protecting and restoring nature
As the scale of our impact on nature has become clear, conversations in corporate responsibility spaces have expanded from a narrow focus on ‘net-zero’ to a clear need also to be ‘nature-positive’. We cannot achieve a net zero future without restoring nature and protecting the natural world and its communities. Biodiversity is declining alarmingly, with global wildlife populations plummeting by 69% since 1970, according to WWF, and one million species are currently at risk of extinction. These are the ecosystems on which our livelihoods, societies and economies depend.
Understanding biodiversity and its role in restoring nature
An agreement on protecting nature was finally reached in December 2022 at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference COP15 in Montreal, Canada. Nearly 200 countries agreed and adopted a new ‘Global biodiversity framework’ for restoring nature. (1) Akin to a Paris Agreement for nature, it is a commitment to take urgent action to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, including protecting at least 30% of land and sea by 2030.
Everyone has a part to play in achieving the Global Biodiversity Framework’s ambitious goals. We need governments, private institutions, banks and finance and NGOs to work together to tackle the complexities associated with protecting and restoring nature.
Our first Nature Benchmark assessed 400 of the world’s most influential companies in sectors with a significant impact on nature – across mining, construction, pharmaceuticals, packaging, tyres, apparel and chemicals. We found that only 5% of these companies have carried out a science-based assessment to see how their activities impact nature. Furthermore, less than 1% of the companies know how much their operations depend on nature.
Businesses must take part in restoring nature
Without understanding their relationship with nature and how their operations are either harming or helping biodiversity, businesses cannot identify and prioritise which actions they need to take. Our research highlights that businesses must measure and report on how they interact with nature – including how their activities affect deforestation, pollution, and nature loss. (2)
The ambitious and vital ‘30 by 30’ Global Biodiversity Framework has 23 targets. Target 15 specifically addresses the need for companies and financial institutions to contribute to the 2030 targets. It says that governments shall “take legal, administrative or policy measures to […] regularly monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, including with requirements for all large as well as transnational companies and financial institutions along their operations, supply and value chains and portfolios.” (3)
Impact of the private sector on nature
For the private sector to take meaningful action, governments must be clear about what they expect and under what conditions companies must deliver against these expectations. Requiring businesses to assess and disclose their impacts and dependencies on nature is an essential first step.
This is a rallying call for policymakers to hold the private sector accountable for its impacts on, and its role in restoring nature. When companies are held accountable by governments and society at large, they have the impetus to improve. Some of the best performers in our Nature Benchmark include companies that have been under high levels of public scrutiny in the past, and, therefore, now disclose more rigorous information about their impacts.
Nature loss poses a huge threat to businesses, but nature protection and restoration represent an opportunity. While many companies are still struggling to understand and disclose their nature impacts, others are seizing the chance to lead on one of the most significant challenges in human history.
Businesses also need to understand the interplay between nature and social goals. There is no credible pathway towards nature-positive without respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. We are two years into the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a rallying call for protecting and reviving the world’s ecosystems that focuses on the need for integrated social and environmental change that leaves no one behind. (4)
Need for a ‘just transition’ in restoring nature
The need for a ‘just transition’ to a greener and fairer future is why our Nature Benchmark assesses companies on social issues, such as human rights and Indigenous Peoples, alongside environmental and governance indicators. We found that less than 13% of companies assessed express a clear commitment to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights – which again shows we have a long way to go in restoring nature, but that action is not impossible.
Nature is declining faster than at any point in human history. As a result, business as usual is no longer an option. The new Global Biodiversity Framework allows humanity to move towards a different relationship between nature, people, and the economy. But it will only work if robust disclosure, accountability, and collaboration between public and private actors exist.
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