Hopes run high for COP15 ‘Paris moment’ for biodiversity
Sustainability-focused firms want COP15 to deliver an ambitious global framework with clear and measurable biodiversity targets and mandatory disclosures.
Despite the disappointments of COP27 – especially the failure to safeguard the 1.5°C temperature target – sustainability-focused firms remain hopeful that COP15 could do for biodiversity what the Paris Agreement did for climate change.
For such firms, an ideal outcome from COP15– due to be held in Montreal from 7-19 December – would consist of a new biodiversity framework, with concrete targets to orientate policymaking for both state and non-state actors. For example, one of the draft targets – reducing the impact of pesticides by half by 2030 – is not only clear but allows for transition guidance to be given to the affected sectors with a clear timeline.
The latest publicly available version of the draft framework has four long-term goals for 2050 and 22 targets to achieve by 2030. The goals focus on conservation, sustainable use of biodiversity, fair benefit-sharing and adequate means of implementation, while the targets cover a range of topics, from expanding conservation areas to phasing out harmful public subsidies.
Previous multilateral efforts via the Convention on Biological Diversity have ended in failure. For example, not one of the 20 Aichi Targets, which were set back in 2010, was fully met by the 2020 deadline.
This time the hope is that things will be different. In the last few years, awareness has been building around biodiversity issues, with the rise of the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), the need for biodiversity stress testing highlighted by Network for Greening the Financial System, and a raft of other reports and initiatives.
COP27 was also the first year that the phrase “nature-based solutions” to climate change appeared in the final COP text – one of the positives that did come out of the conference.
“The draft framework is shaping up nicely,” said Lucian Peppelenbos, climate strategist director at Robeco, a Dutch asset manager with a strong biodiversity focus. However, the “more than 1,800 brackets” that remain in the text (as of two weeks ago) testifies to the difficulties in hammering out a framework with a global consensus.
The level of ambition that goes into the final text is likely to be a contentious area, as those with vested interests may not wish to be too clear on what needs to happen. “That will boil down to finding the right wording,” Peppelenbos said. Another contentious point will be who pays for the transition to a nature-positive economy.
Awareness of biodiversity risk is particularly high among financial firms in the Netherlands thanks at least partly to the Dutch Central Bank’s landmark paper Indebted to Nature. Robeco itself has partnered with WWF-The-Netherlands and has recently launched a “biodiversity equity fund”.
For investors at the beginning of their biodiversity journey, Peppelenbos recommended using the open-source tool ENCORE to analyse portfolios for nature risk, similar to what firms are already doing to assess their carbon footprint. ENCORE typically indicates which sectors have the key risks and helps investors understand the dependencies and impacts of their investments.
For positive-nature investing to truly kick off, there’s still a massive data gap that needs to be filled. That’s partly why, in the run up to COP15, a group of more than 330 business and finance institutions from 52 countries is calling for mandatory requirements for all large businesses and financial institutions to assess and disclose their impacts and dependencies on nature by 2030.
More biodiversity-related information about the impact of economic activities across sectors will ultimately help investors to fine-tune their investment strategies and reduce their greenwashing risk.
“What we really want with this initiative is a global consensus around how to tackle biodiversity loss, and especially a common language for the ins-and-outs of what being nature positive means,” said Alexis Haass, chief sustainability officer at Arcadis, a company that specialises in finding nature-based solutions for climate change.
Currently, being “nature positive” can mean different things in different parts of the world, which complicates the work of firms with a global reach such as Arcadis.
Signing the Business for Nature campaign, was a “no-brainer” for Arcadis, not only because it aligns with the firm’s values, but also because it offers an element of future-proofing in terms of regulatory action. “In the EU, with the CSRD [Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive], we’re already seeing firms being asked to disclose their impacts and dependencies, which is commonly known as double materiality,” said Daisy Hessenberger, global nature and biodiversity expert at Arcadis.
“This initiative is about aligning with other jurisdictions to create global, harmonised requirements. This can’t just be the standard for Arcadis or European corporates, especially in the context of a globalised world with global supply chains,” Hessenberger added.
Harmonisation was a key word for Christophe Delafontaine, head of global markets regulatory affairs at BNP Paribas, which has also signed the Business for Nature campaign. The main challenge for investors is making sense of the “diverging rules and views” across the world, as clearly evidenced on the most advanced ESG topic, which is global warming.
“While it's fair to expect that regions and states won’t move at the same pace, sustainable regulations need to be interoperable so that investors are able to compare what is green in one region with what is green in another region,” he said.
“The quicker harmonisation happens, the better,” he continued. “Disclosures need to happen, but the pace needs to be right. If we push too hard and too quickly, we may increase the risk of divergence. It’s a fine balancing act between ensuring investors have enough information to invest in the sustainable economy as soon as possible and not creating a global patchwork of fragmented standards.” Harmonised disclosures would also help create a “level ESG playing field” for financial firms.
Regarding potential divergence in the developing biodiversity framework, even within the EU, member state have taken different routes. France’s Article 29, for example, is the only piece of European legislation that has already made biodiversity reporting for financial firms mandatory.
Moreover, France’s 2017 Devoir de Vigilance (Duty of Care) – is way ahead in the push to make multinationals accountable for biodiversity loss and has already resulted in high-profile biodiversity litigation against supermarket giant Casino. The EU’s due diligence directive is following hard on its heels.
In 2021, two BNP Paribas experts joined the TNFD, which is working to define a global reporting framework that enables financial institutions to better articulate their risks, dependencies and impacts on nature.
For multi-sectoral conglomerates, harmonised rules would also come as a relief. For example, Tata Group operates in 150 countries and across diverse industries, including oil and gas, mining, vehicles and aviation. “It’s not just the differences between sovereigns but the sector-by-sector differences that we, and any conglomerate, find challenging,” said Navin Rauniar, sustainability partner at Tata.
Making disclosures mandatory and creating a common language for nature risk will make it easier for firms like Tata Group to implement sustainability policies across their businesses. Although the group as a whole hasn’t signed up to Business for Nature, Tata Steel, the world’s 10th largest steel manufacturer, is one of the signatories.
Peppelenbos commended the Business for Nature initiative, as disclosures can help investors understand a company’s impacts and dependencies on nature. However, he also said that disclosures shouldn’t be used as an excuse to postpone action. “We don’t have the luxury to wait for the perfect data,” he said.
As for the format of the disclosures, Peppelenbos said they “absolutely have to be double”, meaning both impacts and dependencies. They should also include targets, specify green revenues and capex, and provide a satisfactory level of granularity of mitigating actions that companies have at their disposal.
“We already have a good idea of what the impacts are at the sectoral level, but the company-level data remains challenging,” Peppelenbos said. Only company-level data enables firms like Robeco to identify the biodiversity leaders and laggards. Robeco’s biodiversity strategy consists primarily of supporting the leaders and engaging with the laggards to make them do more.
Investors like Robeco would also like to see clear transition pathways for key industries. These already exist for climate, but, as yet, have no equivalent for biodiversity.
In addition to the Business for Nature campaign, the Finance for Biodiversity pledge has been signed by 103 financial institutions representing over €14.7trn in total assets across 19 countries.
Its aim is to reverse nature loss by 2030 and is seeking members to collaborate and support this mission.