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Why businesses need to take biodiversity seriously

During COP26, all eyes are on Glasgow as leaders descend on the city to decide the future of our planet. The world is watching, and there’s a lot at stake.

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, if not the most, and businesses are not shy about highlighting their sustainability credentials. The environment has been a hot-button issue for decades now, and businesses know they must do their part. Impact on the environment even forms the first letter of the acronym ‘ESG’, which is very much a flavour of the decade term.

However, biodiversity is an issue that should be spoken about in the same breath as climate change, but often isn’t. They should go hand in hand, and businesses that fail to care about biodiversity do so at their own peril. It is a fundamental component of long-term business survival.

In the 2020 WWF Living Planet Report, it was found that global wildlife populations dropped by 65% between 1970 and 2016, and different industries will be affected to varying degrees. Similarly, a study by the Royal Botanical Gardens in the UK found that almost 40% of plant species are being threatened with extinction. Almost all businesses somewhere in their supply chain rely on the natural world for resources, and these resources require intact ecosystems and healthy levels of biodiversity.

Many biodiversity elements help to provide crops, lumber, food and other commodities vital to global trade. Some industries act like biodiversity isn’t important to them, but diverse organisms help to regulate nitrogen in our soils, and pollinating insects help to increase the yield of agricultural crops globally. Without these important features, companies all over will suffer, which is why businesses need to act now.

So, what can be done?

First of all, funding is needed. The World Economic Forum estimates that hundreds of billions are needed in order to fully protect the natural world, above what is already supplied. Likewise, a UN Financing Forum last year heard that $700 billion extra per year from businesses and governments was required to protect plants, animals and ecosystems, and reverse the damage that humans have done.

There are a huge range of actions that businesses can take. For example, any businesses that rely on any form of agriculture, be that for food, materials, or something else can try to reduce their net land conversion to zero. This means complete eradicating the amount of non-urban land that is converted to new, urban or agricultural land, to zero. Similarly, producers can also use pollution-free and soil friendly agriculture, and increase crop diversity.

Companies should also strive to turn the energy, infrastructure and transport they use from high-polluting options into those with low emissions. Likewise, a reduction in waste overall will help up and down the supply chain.

Where ever possible, businesses should try to help the natural ecosystems flourish. But this doesn’t just mean in their own businesses. They need to hold their suppliers to account, and only source materials, goods and services from other like-minded businesses who are doing their part to prevent biodiversity loss as well.

Pooling the efforts of different individuals and organisations from all walks of life is essential to solving the problem of biodiversity. While many NGOs, academics and policymakers are already working hard on this issue, business and industry is an area that falls short. This interdisciplinary approach is undertaken at many leading research centres, such as the University of Cambridge. Here, the Turner Fellowship Programme, established by Dr. Patricia Turner, brings together academics, lawyers, politicians and NGOs to tackle biodiversity issues.

If businesses truly want to start making a difference in this field, they need to collaborate. It isn’t enough for researchers to act alone. Instead, businesses must realise the influence they have and start wielding their power to fight against species loss and keep our ecosystems healthy for future generations.

It is a widely accepted fact that the natural world, at the ecosystem, species, and genetic level, is being destroyed at an alarming rate. However, it is time that businesses also accepted that this has huge implications for their long-term survival. The sooner industry pulls behind the prevention of biodiversity, the sooner we can all go about reversing it.

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