What do businesses want from next month’s biodiversity COP15 meetings in Montreal?

EXCLUSIVE: To mark biodiversity day at COP27, Business for Nature’s Eva Zabey sits down with edie to outline the private sector’s rallying cry for a strong ‘Paris-style’ treaty for nature to be finalised by UN member-states next month.

What do businesses want from next month’s biodiversity COP15 meetings in Montreal?

The COP27 Presidency followed in the footsteps of the COP26 Presidency and dedicated a thematic day in the two-week agenda for the summit to biodiversity today (16 November). This, along with the inclusion of biodiversity in this year’s G20 communique, is yet more evidence that international diplomacy relating to matters of nature and matters of climate and becoming more interlinked.

This year, the themed day’s timing is particularly important. After flying home from Egypt this weekend, many environment ministers will be jet-setting again next month, for meetings of the 15th biodiversity COP in Montreal, Canada. This COP is overseeing the creation of a new ‘Paris-style’ deal for nature and will see all nations committing to halt nature loss and bring the world into a period of widespread nature restoration.

The aim is laudable and incredibly necessary. Yet the treaty is now two years overdue. Delays due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions and a reported lack of ambition and collaboration by negotiators have resulted in the UN and hosts China postponing meetings and shoehorning in additional talks.

Eva Zabey, the executive director of Business for Nature, tells edie that she remains optimistic that a final agreement will be reached before the year is out, “given the amount of pressure and the momentum building up”.

She elaborates: “I think there is an overwhelming level of engagement with COP15 that we’ve never seen before, especially from the business and finance communities. Hundreds of businesses are planning to attend to show their support and send a strong signal to governments.”

“This is providing governments with engagements they haven’t had before, directly, on these topics. So this is giving them the confidence, the comfort and, hopefully, the courage to make ambitious agreements in Montreal. “

Mandatory reporting

Business for Nature is convening more than 300 businesses and more than 70 other organisations across the private sector in a rallying call for a strong agreement to be reached in Montreal.

Regular edie readers may have heard an update from the campaign last month, when 330+ businesses and financial institutions spanning 52 countries signed a joint ‘make it mandatory’ declaration supporting the treaty’s 15th target, on corporate reporting on nature. The target could require national governments to lay out plans for businesses, beginning with largest businesses in sectors with the most negative impacts on nature, to disclose their impacts and dependencies on biodiversity. As with all other targets in the treaty, nations would need to implement the mandate in or before 2030.

Given that many of the world’s richest nations don’t even have unified emissions reporting mandates yet, and that progress on nature reporting is running behind climate reporting, we ask Zabey whether businesses truly see 2030 as a plausible deadline.

She explains that some companies wanted Business for Nature to push for more ambitious deadlines, not for low ambition. This sentiment, she says, is common among corporates in Europe.

“In some cases, like in the EU, companies are already required to disclose activities that negatively impact biodiversity,” Zabey notes. “They already have the elements, they must be extended.”

Moreover, there are hopes that nature reporting will become far easier in the coming months and years. The Natural Capital Protocol is due a significant update in 2023. At the same time, the Science-Based Targets Network is pushing to finalise science-based targets for nature and water and the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) is due to issue its guidance in full.

“The global biodiversity framework from the UN is only negotiated every ten years, so we have a slight timing mismatch – we have a year or before we will have these frameworks,” Zabey says. “This can be overcome. Governments know these frameworks are coming.”

Holistic recommendations

‘Making it mandatory’ is by no means the start and end of Business for Nature’s call to action. Zabey calls the campaign’s set of recommendations “quite comprehensive”.

The overarching recommendation is agreement on a strong top-line ‘mission statement’. Nations have agreed to work to halt nature loss by 2030, but questions remain about when they will commit to entering a period of nature restoration. Business for Nature wants the restoration phase to begin by the turn of the decade, also.

Zabey notes that her organisation has provided guidance on how businesses can get ahead of the curve and enter a restorative, regenerative phase in the coming years. She also says: “Businesses and the finance sector must see themselves as contributing to this societal goal for net-positive nature impacts. This goal needs to be upfront in the framework to provide that clear rallying call for all stakeholders to contribute – a bit like 1.5C for climate. In negotiations so far, this has been quite a positive area for building some consensus across negotiators.”

As noted above, building consensus at these talks beyond the top-line ‘mission statement’ has proven particularly challenging so far. Climate diplomacy experts are now calling for nations to get serious and recognise that they won’t achieve their top-line climate commitments without ambitious action on nature.

Underneath the nature-positive mission, Business for Nature’s two main recommendations are on that mandatory corporate reporting goal and on phasing out and down environmentally harmful subsidies. The organisation estimates that $1.8trn of subsidies – equivalent to 2% of global GDP – are provided each year by governments to industries that are fuelling nature loss and climate change.

It wants to see the final treaty from Montreal including hard numbers for reducing harmful subsidies and reallocating them – specifically covering $500bn per year. In this way, all harmful subsidies could, in theory, be ended within four years or less. Nations already committed at COP26 to “phase down and out” all “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies; nature-wrecking subsidies may yet be the next frontier.

Joined-up policymaking

Other issues set to be covered by the treaty include redirecting private finance flows; properly valuing nature in national and sub-national decision-making; mobilizing and expanding public sector resources; creating more nature jobs and bringing together biodiversity and climate strategies.

It is in this latter field that Zabey believes businesses have a unique opportunity to lead and inform governments.

She tells edie: “There’s a compelling story here. From a climate perspective, many companies do see their climate and nature strategies as an integrated approach, whereas, in the policy sphere, they are usually separate.”

In the UK, for example, where edie is based, the past few weeks have been a testament to mixed messaging and information from the UK Government departments overseeing business and energy, and food and the environment. Under Liz Truss, the latter reportedly considered limiting solar development on agricultural land, undermining the top-level renewables targets already outlined by the former. Solar industry players scrambled to evidence that the energy transition and nature restoration can go hand-in-hand and that claims that solar threatens British food security are unfounded.

Zabey also argues that businesses could potentially lead governments in terms of accountability. After the UN confirmed that none of the 2010-2020 targets on biodiversity were met, under the Aichi framework, the questions of who must be held accountable and why progress was not better tracked along the way have been prevalent.

She summarises: “We need to move from pledges to action – that’s what everybody is saying. We also need accountability for the actions that are taking place, in an integrated way.”

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