BFBI Platform Lead Lucy Gaffney writes: It was a great privilege to attend COP15 at the  Palais des Congrès in Montréal for the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 15th Conference of the Parties last December. This was the first COP I’ve ever been to so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

The trip was funded by the wonderful team at the National Parks and Wildlife Service and facilitated by our colleagues at the CoHab Initiative. I was representing Business for Biodiversity Ireland with the primary aims of learning, networking and building on our existing links within the Business and Biodiversity space.

I focused on attending sessions that were a part of the Business and Biodiversity Forum on the 12th and 13th of December. These sessions covered topics like ‘Greening Value Chains’ and ‘Valuing Nature in Decision-Making’. The Finance-centred day on the 14th saw Mark Carney of GFANZ take the stage to talk about making the most of the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework for financial decision-making.

Woman and two men smile  at event

Lucy at Cop in Canada in December with Patagonia CEO Ryan Gellert and, right, EU Business @ Biodiversity Platform’s Yann Verstraeten

I had the great pleasure of meeting Ryan Gellert, the CEO of Patagonia at an inspiring side event detailing the collaboration between the governments of Albania, Greece and Macedonia and their commitment to conserve the Vjosa-Aoos river system, Europe’s last wild river. I also got the chance to speak to Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan and discuss his continued support of the Business for Biodiversity Ireland platform.

5 key takeaways from COP15:


1. Harmful subsidies need to be identified and phased out (GBF, Target 18). Governments are still spending in excess of $500bn annually on subsidies for agriculture, forestry and fishing that incentivise environmentally harmful activities. The CBD called for governments to assess their potentially harmful subsidies and the OECD produced guidelines for this but governments were non responsive. We need to identify and reform these subsidies to incentivise nature protection and restoration, ensuring that key stakeholders are strongly engaged in this process.


2. Consumers must understand their role in the biodiversity crisis. We need to adopt a whole-of-society approach to addressing biodiversity loss and this translates to an immediate need to urgently and accurately inform the general public about the key issues (as we would in any other emergency) , how consumption behaviour compounds the crisis and how information and a shift in consumer demand will be a significant catalyst for change.


3. Data and finance are available to enable the nature restoration agenda. There is lots of nature data out there but it is scattered and fragmented. There is an abundance of finance out there but it is being channelled into the wrong places. The funding gap for biodiversity is estimated at around $700bn per year, less than the average global spend on soft drinks or the annual spend of the US military. There is work to do to create good financial flows but the capital is there.


4. We need to disrupt and transform the way we do business (GBF Target 15). Through mandatory assessment and disclosure of impacts and dependencies, meaningful biodiversity strategies and science-based targets. Voluntary action is not enough, action needs to mandated. Businesses need to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, rather than waiting around for the perfect metric. There will be a certain amount of learning-by-doing and businesses need to be courageous and innovative in their approach. Sustainability will redefine what it means to have a competitive advantage in the next decade.


5. Our current food systems are fragile. The way we use our land and grow our food has resulted in 3bn people being undernourished, 1bn people being malnourished (from eating poor quality processed foods) and all the while 30% of our food is wasted. Our current systems are not capable of feeding the global population of 8bn. There will be 9bn people to feed in 2037 and if the food systems are not transformed, there will be a massive global food crisis in the next 15–20 years. Our food systems are subject to water and thermal stresses and we have no mitigation or transition plan in place to deal with the extreme problems that lie ahead.

Finally, delighted to have met Kevin O’Sullivan, Science Editor from the Irish Times where he included quotes from some of our discussions in Montreal. You can read the article HERE

 

Day 2 of the Business and Biodiversity forum of COP15 in Montreal – and a long day of sessions and panel discussions about the role of government got me thinking. The #MakeitMandatory campaign focuses on Target 15 of the Global Biodiversity Framework and creating a driver from government level to mandate the assessment and disclosure of nature-related risks for all businesses.

How will businesses feel about this? Will these regulations be met with contempt?

It is my view, having run my own business for 15 years, that businesses won’t mobilise unless they have to. We need to discover the key that will unlock that motivation. I’m not sure that top-down government-mandated requirements alone will be enough.

The Irish government declared a biodiversity emergency in 2019. But it doesn’t really feel like we’re in a state of emergency. Most people are simply unaware of the deteriorating situation, or if they are, they feel powerless to address it.

The Irish government needs to treat this issue like the emergency that it is and invest money in enhancing awareness in the general public, much like they did for COVID-19 or how they create awareness about an upcoming referendum or census. 

 

We need a broad, mainstreamed advertising and awareness campaign, run on TV, radio, social media and print media to inform the public and mobilise their inherent power to catalyse change.

 

The people of Ireland need to understand their role in this crisis. We consume irresponsibly, but we don’t realise it. An awareness campaign would help create a bottom-up driver from consumer level. A demand for change. A demand for more responsible business, more nature-friendly products.

How would businesses feel about this? Will these consumer demands be met with respect? With urgency? Knowing that if products and services don’t align with evolving consumer sentiment, can the business expect to survive? Or go extinct?

The top-down regulation from government and the bottom-up change in consumer demand will create a space in between. And this is where the magic happens.

 

Lucy Gaffney – Business for Biodiversity Ireland

After a phenomenal week in Brussels as co-hosts of the European Business and Nature Summit (EBNS), I noted that there was a distinct lack of attendance by the Small-to-Medium Enterprise (SME) community, despite having numerous sessions dedicated to them. Why is that?

Having previously run an SME myself, I know only too well that engaging with something like EBNS is incredibly challenging for an SME. The day-to-day work of an SME is ever-changing, dynamic and all-consuming. How can an SME possibly undertake any more challenging, seemingly external problems, like becoming nature-positive? My view is that SMEs won’t truly mobilise until they have to. Regulation and mandatory disclosure is the only way that we can push this sector of the economy forward, but it needs to be simple, a word that is not typically associated with nature and biodiversity.

SMEs often feel like this kind of work is only relevant to large corporations and that their relative impact is small and insignificant. This is something that those of us working in this space need to demystify. SMEs have a massive collective impact and like everyone else, they too need to assess their impact on nature and try to minimise it. It is estimated that around 60-70% of environmental impact comes from the SME sector. (Marshall Report)

To have any chance of making progress SMEs need a few key things. Regulation, funding, education and long-term support. There is a significant awareness and education gap within business that needs to be addressed quickly. SMEs need to build their own capacity to manage these new business strategies that we are expecting them to produce. Most will probably need external expertise and that costs money. Should we employ a “Robin Hood” style approach to mobilising SMEs? Where larger corporations fund the SMEs in their value chain to help them become more nature-positive. Or should this kind of support come from government or local authorities?

Either way, for SMEs to mobilise for climate or nature, they need:

  • Awareness & understanding of the issues
  • Additional financial support to help them develop & action environmental strategies
  • Long-term support to enable them to continue to operate in an ever-changing economy

More than that, real change will only be triggered with regulation. And that needs to happen quickly.

Many of us have heard this term “nature positive” used in the context of business and biodiversity, but what does it actually mean?

“Nature positive” does not have an official definition…yet, but a nature-positive business is generally understood to have certain qualities and values.

Nature positive businesses understand how their business operations impact on the environment, and they also understand how they benefit from nature, or how they depend on it, for example, through an ecosystem service like pollination.

Once a business understands their impacts and dependencies, they can transform how they do things to avoid or reduce pressure on the natural world. The impacts may be hidden within their value chain, but a business has the power to switch suppliers and make that shift towards organisations that are more tuned in to their environmental or social impact.

A nature positive business mobilises resources to enhance ecosystems and enrich biodiversity. They can do this by enhancing the natural habitats that occur within their landholding, by working with communities to enrich local ecosystems or by providing funding to NGOs to enable rewilding projects further afield, perhaps in key geographic areas and ecosystems that have high biodiversity value or critical habitats, like the Amazon Rainforest.
Carbon storage is another priority for a nature-positive business. Cutting carbon emissions, protecting natural carbon sinks, and transforming agriculture to enhance sequestration are fundamental ways that businesses can improve their carbon storage capacity.

Respecting the right to safe water means that businesses must be compliant with liquid waste disposal and discharging into rivers and streams.

Experts claim that we may have entered an era of pandemics driven by the anthropogenic degradation of nature and biodiversity. If we are to escape this quagmire of rapidly spreading global diseases, we need an enormous shift towards prevention. It is estimated that there could be another 850,000 undiscovered viruses that could have the ability to jump to human hosts. The way we currently use our land, trade unsustainably, disrupt natural systems, interfere with wild populations of animals paves the road towards increased pandemic risk. This risk is lowered significantly by intercepting the drivers of biodiversity loss.

The cost of inaction is growing exponentially. The longer we leave it, the more it will cost us, financially and in terms of our heath and wellbeing.

Momentum is building and percolating down to businesses of all sizes and across all sectors. The Nature-Positive movement is here, and it will make us stronger, happier, and more resilient.

Join the evolution of business. How can your business become more nature positive?