Biodiversity has been central in conversations about climate change. Preserving natural habitats and saving different species from extinction has been presented as a key component of taking climate action and has a central role in major conversations about our environmental impact, such as the upcoming COP26 UN Climate Change conference. But why should businesses be informed about biodiversity? We have prepared this article to explain the key components of biodiversity and how it is connected with businesses who want to incorporate sustainable practices into their business model.
Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth. It is often referred to as the ‘web of life’ and has three main components:
Biodiversity has intrinsic value, which means that it matters in and of itself, that species have a right to exist as much as we do, and that it has an inherent worth that is independent of its value to anything or anyone else. It also has what is known as instrumental value, which relates to its value in terms of what it does for people. As part of our natural capital along with water, soils, minerals and air, a healthy biodiversity is a crucial and vulnerable asset that delivers a range of benefits that societies and economies depend on. These include everything from food, fuel, medicine and fibre to clean air, pure water and a stable climate, as well as the recreation, inspiration and wonder that enrich our lives. Biodiversity provides ecosystem services worth at least US$125 trillion/year globally which businesses benefit from at no cost. Ecosystem services yield significant value; it is estimated that US$235 billion – US$577 billion (5 to 8%) of current global crop production is directly attributable to animal pollination, and that the supply of free water reached €16 billion a year at European level for the consumption of economic sectors and households.
Biodiversity is rapidly rising up the corporate agenda as more and more companies understand both the moral imperative and the business case for protecting the web of life. Nature is at a tipping point. More than 1 million species are threatened by extinction, 75% the world’s land and 66% of the marine environment is significantly altered by humans, and global temperatures are expected to rise between 2.6°C and 3.9°C. COVID-19 has given us a stark warning of the risks, vulnerabilities and inequalities of our interconnected systems – and what’s at stake for everyone if we cannot mobilize ambitious action. We must learn from this and seize the opportunity to build back better for an equitable, net-zero, nature-positive world.
We are losing biodiversity in Ireland, too. Eurobarometer surveys show that 97% of Irish people agree that we have a responsibility to look after nature, but despite this, 90% of our EU-protected habitats – the jewels in the crown of our countryside – are classified as being in ‘poor’ or ‘bad’ condition. According to the National Biodiversity Data Centre, a fifth of assessed species are threatened with extinction. These include many of our most charismatic species, such as the curlew, Atlantic salmon, great yellow bumblebee, freshwater pearl mussel and the yellowhammer bird.
The Sustainable Development Goals, which have a 2030 deadline, include targets for biodiversity (Goals 14 and 15). The new Global Biodiversity Framework, due to be agreed at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15), in Kunming, China, later this year (date tbd). The CBD has published the first draft goals, targets and policy directions for our global society over the next three decades which will lead the way to achieving the CBD 2050 vision of “Living in Harmony with Nature”
Businesses all over the world are taking action for biodiversity. From creating simple habitats to financing restoration projects, from supporting community conservation to accounting for natural capital impacts and dependencies, the private sector is realising the value of nature. Why? There is a strong moral case for biodiversity conservation that is endorsed by Irish people: 97% of us agree we have a responsibility to look after nature. But there is a business case too that shouldn’t be ignored.
Businesses have a vested interest in biodiversity and ecosystem services: biodiversity decline is linked to risk across major business areas such as operations, regulatory compliance, reputation, market, supply chain, product, insurance and finance. Half of corporate earnings could be at risk from environmental externalities, while financial estimates for loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services have been estimated at $6.6tr – that’s 11% of global GDP. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has outlined a roadmap to a sustainable 2050 that describes a vision for the future in which nine billion people enjoy both a high ranking on the Human Development Index and a low Ecological Footprint. Central to this vision is well-managed biodiversity that “flourishes”.
Businesses have enormous potential to help reverse biodiversity loss and create positive impact in our landscapes. Aside from raising awareness with employees and encouraging them to take action at home and in their communities, businesses can affect real change through their value chains by choosing suppliers and materials that are managing biodiversity effectively. What’s more, businesses often own or rent large landholdings that can be managed for wildlife. Doing so can benefit the business by enhancing community relationships and also by providing wild spaces that staff can enjoy, helping to reduce stress, improve cognition, concentration, workplace attitude and productivity. There is evidence to suggest that these psychological and physical benefits may increase with species richness and habitat diversity.
Businesses can take action on biodiversity in a variety of ways. The first step all businesses must take is to understand their impacts and dependencies on Nature. This will help businesses to identify their significant biodiversity risks and identify the areas which they need to focus on. Once business truly understand their material impacts and dependencies on nature, they can look at undertaking actions to protect and enhance biodiversity. Depending on what companies’ biodiversity risks are, they can decide to focus their attention on the following types of actions:
To learn about how your business can take action on biodiversity download the Business Handbook for Biodiversity which includes our biodiversity framework helping your business take an holistic approach, tips and case studies.
To find out more how BITCI can support your goals check out our environmental business offering.
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