COP15 in China: businesses role in protecting biodiversity

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Zhang Bowen, Deputy Secretary-General, SEE Foundation


  • As part one of the UN’s COP15 biodiversity summit ends in China, we look at what’s been achieved so far.
  • Although progress has been made towards finalising the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework more action is needed.
  • All eyes will be on China next year for COP15 part two as pressure mounts on businesses to play their part in protecting biodiversity.

This summer, a family of wild Asian elephants in Yunnan Province of China left their original habitat and ventured 500 kilometres north towards the provincial capital Kunming. This event illustrates the severity of the crisis the biosphere is facing. For some, it is an irony that wildlife is even more eager than the world leaders to gather in Kunming to talk about biodiversity conservation.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 will draw on its 196 parties to negotiate and settle the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) which will guide the pathway from now until 2030 and reinforce the 2050 vision. Although some progress has been achieved, the severe loss of ecosystem services and the trajectory of 1 million species extinction have not been fully stemmed. According to GBO-5, none of the 20 Aichi targets have been fully met.

The already twice delayed Kunming CBD COP15 meeting is split into two phases: October 2021 and April/May 2022. The real negotiations around the GBF will only be concluded in-person in 2022. In September this year, multiple events bolstered anticipations leading up to the major global gathering. At the recently concluded IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, over 1,500 government and civil society members called for a post-pandemic nature-based recovery. The CBD NGO Parallel Forum, held on 27-28 September this year, highlighted the non-state actors’ contributions to biodiversity including foundations, indigenous communities and transborder initiatives. https://www.youtube.com/embed/yJo__jw4674?enablejsapi=1&wmode=transparent

It is the GBF that will guide humanity to make a new deal for nature, and launch an all-of-society effort for a transformative change. After 18 months of gruelling negotiations and extensive consultancy, GBF’s first draft has been formalized, and it’s been widely praised for its improvements by the CBD parties during the OEWG-3.1, including among other things recognition on the role of business in co-leading the transformation towards an equitable, nature-positive net zero future.

All in all, there are four goals, 10 milestones, 21 action targets and 38 headline indicators. One significant change is that a fourth goal has been raised to explicitly state the requirement for financial and other means of implementation by 2050. Furthermore, a financial gap of $700 billion per year is requested to be closed by 2030. But unlike climate change’s well below 2C goal, there is not yet a refined and easy to communicate statement for biodiversity conservation. GBF’s goals, milestones and targets are so discrete and entangled with wide-ranging economic and social issues – it poses great challenges for implementation.

While a timely finalization of GBF is crucial to avoid failure – like the world performing poorly towards the Aichi targets – philanthropists, responsible businesses and national initiatives can spearhead the transformative change the world needs.

Business and NGO collaboration for nature

To encourage the private sector to play their part, the first draft nailed a clause in Target 15: “All businesses assess and report on their dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, … progressively reduce negative impacts, by at least half and increase positive impacts”. If this requirement is enforced as such, it will require the business sector to internalize their negative externalities against nature and ecosystems. Similarly, the Taskforce on the Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) has triggered more than 30 financial institutions to strengthen reporting on biodiversity. These enhanced disclosure and assessment initiatives should result in an uptake of nature-friendly practices and mainstream the concept of biodiversity in business sectors. Nature

What is the World Economic Forum doing about nature?

Biodiversity loss and climate change are occurring at unprecedented rates, threatening humanity’s very survival. Nature is in crisis, but there is hope. Investing in nature can not only increase our resilience to socioeconomic and environmental shocks, but it can help societies thrive.

There is strong recognition within the Forum that the future must be net-zero and nature-positive. The Nature Action Agenda initiative, within the Platform for Accelerating Nature-based Solutions, is an inclusive, multistakeholder movement catalysing economic action to halt biodiversity loss by 2030.

Dynamic and flourishing natural ecosystems are the foundation for human wellbeing and prosperity. The Future of Nature and Business report found that nature-positive transitions in key sectors are good for the economy and could generate up to $10.1 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs by 2030.

To support these transitions, the Platform for Accelerating Nature-based Solutions has convened a community of Champions for Nature promoting the sustainable management of the planet for the good of the economy and society. The Nature Action Agenda also recently launched the 100 Million Farmers initiative, which will drive the transition of the food and agriculture system towards a regenerative model, as well as the BiodiverCities by 2030 initiative to create an urban development model that is in harmony with nature.

Get in touch if you would like to collaborate on these efforts or join one of our communities.

But there are great gaps and inadequacies in biodiversity awareness, assessment and planning techniques and implementation capacities among business. “So far 37 companies in the Greater China region have set climate targets and there are not yet any companies who have signed up to develop and implement science-based targets for nature.” To address these issues and provide an enabling environment, NGOs and business sectors need to work collectively.

For instance, Business for Nature, a global coalition, have mobilized over 1,000 companies worldwide to sign up to the call to action “Nature is Everyone’s Business” ​urging governments to adopt policies now to reverse nature loss in this decade. The Global Joint Initiative on the Partnership of Biodiversity and Finance (PBF) – recently launched by 13 institutions and 32 banks, investors and NGOs – supports joint efforts between financing and biodiversity. Since forward looking business also need tools and solutions to get started, Society of Entrepreneurs & Ecology works with partners like IUCN and The Capitals Coalition, to translate and facilitate the adoption of Guidelines for Planning and Monitoring Biodiversity Performance, and Natural Capital Protocol. These tools will support Chinese businesses to assess their impacts on biodiversity and make the green transition in due cause.

China’s role and hopes for the next 10 years

China is experienced at hosting UN environment conferences – the UNCCD COP13 was held in Erdos, Inner Mongolia, China in 2017. Despite China’s current COVID-19 restrictions, the organizational team is determined to make CBD COP15 a success. But the real success will reside on the negotiation table, where China can exert great influence.

As the world’s second largest economy, China possesses four of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots, and is considered one of the planet’s most “biologically wealthy” countries. China champions the use of “Nature-based Solutions” in tackling both climate and biodiversity crises.

The Chinese government is committed to working with all parties and stakeholders to deliver a truly transformative Global Biodiversity Framework. We need to generate change across all sectors of society to create ecological civilization an and a nature-positive economy.—Liu Ning, Executive Committee, CBD COP15

China’s domestic conservation policies, such as its Ecological Redline and its achievements – about a quarter of land is covered by the red line by the end of 2020 – provide an opportunity for China to lead by example. It’s approaching the global biodiversity governance with the view that the GBF should strike a balance between ambition and reality. As the largest developing country, China supports other developing countries to the best of its ability under the framework of South-South Cooperation.

Historically, China has been an earnest contributor to the Paris Agreement in 2015, but it may need a forceful commitment as strong as the 2060 carbon neutral target announced last year to signal to the world its intent and ambition.

One day before the release of the most alarming Assessment Report 6 on climate change by IPCC on 9 Aug, the Asian elephant family finally returned to their habitat, safe and sound. Maybe one day humans can live in harmony with nature, but to achieve that we must take action now.

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