Businesses Could Pay $1 Trillion Biodiversity Bill

As the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity meets on Wednesday, governments and businesses are being urged to commit to ambitious new targets.

“We have failed to meet any of the biodiversity targets we set in Japan 10 years ago,” UN Secretary General António Guterres told the virtual Leaders’ Pledge for Nature on Monday. “We need a new biodiversity framework.”

The new framework the UN Convention on Biological Diversity has in mind is to place 30% of the Earth’s surface under conservation status by 2030. This would almost double the amount of land and sea currently under protection.

On Monday, prime ministers of the U.K. and Canada, Boris Johnson and Justin Trudeau, said their countries would commit to protecting 30% of their land and sea by 2030.

Others are expected to follow suit on Wednesday (30 September) as leaders meet virtually for the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity. All eyes will be on what China brings to the table as Xi Jinping addresses the summit.

Up for discussion will be the post-2020 global biodiversity framework that will be adopted at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. (The event was originally due to take place in Kunming, China, in October but has been postponed to May 2021).

However, conservation groups and organisations are concerned about who will foot the bill for these lofty new goals. Between Monday’s Leaders’ Pledge for Nature and Wednesday’s Convention on Biological Diversity many have already started the rallying cry of fundraising.

Paying The Price For Biodiversity

In the U.K., The Wildlife Trusts, a federation of 46 grassroots charities, is seeking to raise £30 million ($39.1 million) to support the initiative. “The science is really clear. It needs to be 30% if we’re going to have nature property working again in the way that we need to,” says its CEO, Craig Bennett.

However, more will be needed over time he says, and companies should play their part: “Those that have adopted targets to get to net-zero have to be doing everything they can to cut emissions at source. So investing in landscapes or investing in nature that will suck carbon out of the air is going to become increasingly important.

“We need business to come with us on that journey and be part of the solution.”

The total bill for the 30 by 30 goal campaign could be between $103 billion and $178 billion says a working paper from the University of Cambridge. But meeting other biodiversity targets will be closer to $1 trillion per year according to research by the Paulson Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability at Cornell University. So far barely a tenth of that has been raised.

“How can you help the investment community understand the impact of their loan book or their investment portfolio on nature?” asks Richard Mattison, CEO of Trucost, which analysis the ESG (environmental, social and governance) impact of companies.

“There’s no science in building electric vehicles and cleaning the electricity grid by making it entirely renewable if you then denude the world of forests through your consumption pattern.

“So the economic value at stake for the loss of various different ecosystems around the world is incredibly significant and vastly underappreciated by many in the capital allocation process,” says Mattison. In order to convince the financial world he believes the same analysis on climate change should be applied to biodiversity targets.

This could make biodiversity another metric in the all important world of ESG investing, where money managers allocate funds to higher scoring companies. Already there is evidence that biodiversity makes investment sense: A paper authored by over 100 researchers in July says every $1 spent on conservation could see a future return of $5. But convincing the corporate world that $1 trillion might one day equal $5 trillion will be a harder sell yet.

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