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What will the post-2020 global plan for nature mean for business?

15 July 2021
Germany 2064517 1920 (1)


This week, a draft of the new global biodiversity ambitions, the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, was published.

From the draft, the final framework will be negotiated in the coming months, before being adopted by national governments at CBD COP15, in Kunming, China. However, although the framework is being developed through an intergovernmental process, all of society - including businesses - have a role to play in achieving the framework’s ambitions.

Matt Jones, Head of Business and Biodiversity, UNEP-WCMC, explains what the framework means for the private sector.

What is the significance of the post-2020 framework to businesses?

What it really does is send a signal. Obviously, it's non-binding; it doesn't actually make a business do anything, but what it will do is to spell out what the ambitions of governments are on biodiversity over a 10-year timeline and beyond, and that is a long enough time horizon for business to really internalise and respond to it.

One thing that I find really interesting is, if you look at the Paris Agreement and draw that comparison, it didn't take very long for companies to start talking about what it was they were going to do in response to it, and we've seen that momentum build and build and build on climate change. What the Paris Agreement did, I believe, is give business the confidence to commit and act on climate change, because there was a clear sense of direction: align with Paris.

I would hope that the global biodiversity framework will allow exactly that to happen for biodiversity. You know where the global policy direction is going, and that’s where national policy and regulation are going too. Businesses will need – and many will want to move quickly – to align.

The draft published this week is the basis for further negotiation by governments. Should the private sector be engaging with that process, and if so, how?

Yes, they absolutely should be engaging with that process, if nothing else, they need to know what's happening. If they're not engaged, then they can't respond. That’s bad for them, and it's also bad for the conservation community and what we want to achieve. Businesses are agents of change, and they are implementers of this framework.

Businesses also should be engaging to help strengthen the framework and ensuring that it resonates with the business community. There’s more to be done by business, particularly around their dependencies on biodiversity, but there are plenty of businesses out there that have been doing good, on-the-ground conservation. They’re taking robust actions which deal with their own impact, and they can use that experience to articulate the art of the possible within and across sectors.

They can engage with their national governments and those in the countries where they operate to call for more ambition and clarity. Businesses can say: “Here are the things that we're doing, we think everybody in our sector should be able to do this too”. Having leading companies show what’s possible can give governments the confidence to be more demanding in what they expect of the private sector as a whole.

The other way that they can engage is by calling for a more ambitious framework with clear targets and measures of progress, particularly through the Business for Nature Coalition.

Once the framework is agreed and adopted, what role does business have in delivering it? What sort of actions would you expect to see?

As I said, business will be implementing the framework, they are agents of change. For example many businesses are significant landowners; they are stewards of biodiversity. So, they need to be implementing action in the places where they have direct control and do everything possible to support the conservation, sustainable use, and restoration of biodiversity.

There's also resource mobilisation, which means securing sufficient resources to achieve the ambitions of the global framework, and ensuring allocation of existing resources doesn’t undermine progress towards them. The private and financial sectors can feed into that, whether it's through impact investing, philanthropy, investments in their own actions, supporting other organisations, or working collectively to deal with cumulative impact. We’ve got to mobilise both public and private sources of finance and align all financial flows to ensure they are positive for nature.

In terms of what businesses can do, the first thing is to avoid any further impacts, and where it’s not possible, they've got to be following a mitigation hierarchy. But actually, we've got to look beyond that; avoiding and mitigating further impacts helps us to level off the current rates of loss, but it doesn’t bend the curve.

So, we need to engage the private sector in the restoration agenda. Businesses need to go beyond silos of net-positive mitigation actions for individual future projects and think about how they can be contributors to an overall nature positive future. Despite differential responsibility for historic impacts, all businesses across all sectors are in it together to address the loss of biodiversity.

Once it’s negotiated, how will the adoption of the framework impact businesses?

The framework is non-binding, but we know it will change national policy and legislation, and we know that in many cases regulation will follow. This will shift minimum compliance requirements. And companies that don't make sufficient progress are going to find themselves on the wrong side of that hard line.

The stick has got to get bigger, but so will the carrot. This framework will create opportunities for businesses, especially if they're the first ones to adapt and align. There are opportunities for business that come out of transformational change, as shown by the work by the World Economic Forum in 2020. Consumers and investors are also increasingly looking to align with the ambitions of the framework, with significant implications for businesses.

So, whether you engaged with the framework or not, the world after its adoption is going to be different. We know that the only way out of this is transformative change; that’s what the IPBES Global Assessment concluded. It's not too late for us to address biodiversity loss if we act now and make substantive changes to our global economy.

For me, that’s the message that hit home hardest, because it has huge implications for the private sector. It's not just reorienting what we've currently got and putting it back together in a different way, and not every industry as it stands and operates now will survive. It’s a new map, with a new way of doing business.