Net-zero must be at the heart of the business response to restoring the health of nature

World Environment Day 2020 aims to trigger action to protect and restore the health of nature around the world. This couldn't be more timely. Whilst evidence abounds showing that nature is bouncing back due to less human activity resulting from Covid 19, the statistics are still alarming.

Net-zero must be at the heart of the business response to restoring the health of nature
  • More than 1 million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction, primarily due to human activities.
  • Nature provides between $120tn and $140tn worth of services that underpin our economy, our businesses and our health – more than 1.5 times the value of the global economy.
  • The links between biodiversity loss and the transmission of diseases between other animals and humans (zoonosis) is established, with more than 1 billion cases of disease incidents a year occurring.  Scientists warn that without rapid action these will increase.

At BITC, our Responsible Business Tracker insights report showed that only 6% of respondents saw the health of nature as a highly material issue for their business, with more than double that ranking the circular economy as highly material at 15%, and 46% rating net-zero carbon as a highly important issue for them.  And it is easy to see why.  The potential legacy we leave by not tackling the climate breakdown is terrifying.  The same is true for the health of nature, but it is more difficult for most businesses to see the direct links between their operations and the ecosystems they depend on. Achieving net-zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible could, therefore, be an important guiding star for businesses to aim at.  Rethinking how we use resources and rebuilding the health of nature’s carbon-absorbing sinks are both key components of an effective net zero-carbon strategy.  Not to mention how cutting carbon and limiting temperature rise will reduce polar ice melt, sea level rise, ocean acidification and loss of habitat due to increased heat and extreme weather.

So, I would argue that it is time to focus in on net-zero and harness the power of public opinion, government action and investment pressure to tackle both issues at once.  These are the key actions you can take:

  • Understand what net-zero carbon means to your business.  Calculate your carbon footprint, set your target as close to 2030 as possible and put together your action plan.
  • Aim to align yourself with the Paris agreement of minimising the global temperature rise to 1.5°C, focusing on reducing carbon through efficiencies, innovation and behaviour change.
  • Invest in removing carbon from the atmosphere to compensate for those emissions you can’t remove yet. 
  • Focus removals on restoring natural carbon sinks (soil, forests, peatland mangroves etc) that help to ensure permanent, additional takeback of carbon and/or supporting community projects that help people build better lives by protecting nature.
  • Think creatively about carbon reduction activities that can make a difference.  For example, helping your employees take action at home and at work.  Ideas include: tackling food waste (if food waste were a country it would have the third-highest emissions in the world), supporting local projects to build green spaces that will help remove carbon and increase resilience to climate impacts.  I am sure you can think of lots more!

It is clear that we need to redesign our relationship with nature as we emerge from the Covid19 crisis.  However, it is also clear that there are many demands on businesses time and energy.  If the business community focuses hard on tackling the climate crisis by getting to net-zero, harnessing opportunities to rebuild nature as part of their plans we have real potential to restore our home planet’s life support systems, which will give us a fighting chance to leave a legacy we can be proud of.

Gudrun Cartwright is BITC’s environment director

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