Biodiversity: why should we worry?

Monday 10 July 2023

Lina Pimentel Garcia

Marina Montes Bastos

According to the 2019 Global Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) (a biodiversity equivalent of the widely known Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC)), global indicators of ecosystem extent and condition pointed to an average decrease of 47 per cent compared to their estimated natural baselines. Approximately 25 per cent of species in assessed animal and plant groups are threatened, with species declining rapidly since 1970 (40 per cent reduction for terrestrial species, 84 per cent for freshwater species and 35 per cent for marine species).

This is not a new topic in the global agenda. Since 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has sought the ‘conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources’. In 2010, the CBD Conference of the Parties adopted a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, including targets to be achieved by 2020 (the ‘Aichi Targets’), aiming at taking effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity. Recently, in December 2022, these targets were updated via the Global Biodiversity Framework, with several objectives to be achieved by the member states by 2030.

So, if this topic has been under discussion globally for at least 30 years, why should it become important in the global agenda only now?

We should remember that, not so long ago, the climate crisis was not considered a hot topic for people outside the environmental/sustainability areas of expertise. Nowadays, economists and businessmen are very familiar with terms such as global warming, GEE emissions and others. In this sense, the 2023 Global Risks Report from the World Economic Forum shows that failure to mitigate climate change and failure of climate-change adaptation are rated as the most severe risks on a global scale for 2033.

However, the same report shows, as the fourth major risk for 2033, the ‘biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse’. ‘Natural resource crisis’ also is shown as the sixth major risk. This comes to show that the biodiversity issue is becoming more and more of a concern not only for biologists and ecologists but for businesses all over the world.

It cannot be denied that the biodiversity crisis is knocking on our doors, and most of the perception of this risk comes from the alerts brought by the climate crisis. With the climate crisis, people started to notice and understand the importance of science alerts to predict and avoid risks and impacts on our lives and our businesses. Now, the voice of biodiversity loss is gaining momentum.

It is curious to note that the climate crisis has a major influence on biodiversity loss. According to IBPES’ 2019 Global Assessment Report, the three main causes for biodiversity loss are (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; and (3) climate change. Moreover, it is expected that the role of climate change in biodiversity loss will increase in the next decades, surpassing the other causes.

The climate crisis is a risk that, in many ways, is being addressed by the global community—with mechanisms such as carbon markets, carbon taxes, climate disclosure and so on. It demands a huge global effort, but it seems that the path forward is largely developed, with measures under adoption such as energy transition, tackling deforestation and adaptation to irreversible impacts. However, when it comes to biodiversity, it seems that we still have a long way to go – but we can see that the path is under construction.

Firstly, it should be stated that the strategy to reverse biodiversity loss is very different from the strategy that can be adopted for the climate crisis, mainly because of one important point: each extinguished species is a point of no-return, and scientists are not sure if the mass extinctions that are underway will or will not cause an ecological collapse. In this sense, the loss of a species in Brazil, for example, can be unique and crucial in the biodiversity puzzle, and cannot be ‘compensated’ by maintaining the existence of other species in India. Therefore, the compensation mechanism applied for GEE emissions (such as carbon credits) should be subject to detailed studies if we want to seek the creation of ‘biodiversity credits’ – this is not an impossible task for science.

As mentioned above, the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) already exists, with targets to be met by governments and companies by 2030, and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAP) that work similarly to the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in climate change. For states, GBF created important targets such as Target 3, demanding that 30 per cent of terrestrial, inland water and coastal and marine areas are effectively conserved and managed by 2030. For companies, GBF’s Target 15 establishes that they should regularly monitor, assess and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity.

In this sense, several international frameworks for corporate and financial institutions are being developed to help companies understand their impacts and dependencies, risks and opportunities in biodiversity. We mention, particularly, the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure (deriving from the success of the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure), to be finalised in September 2023, and the Science-Based Targets for Nature (developed by the Science-Based Targets Initiative), disclosed in May 2023. Corporate reporting standards for biodiversity are also being developed or updated by well-known institutions such as the Global Reporting Initiative and the International Sustainability Standards Board so that companies will have a common basis for their biodiversity reports.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that biodiversity has come to the global agenda to stay, in the same way that the climate crisis has. The sooner companies understand and navigate in this new theme, the better for their businesses.