Government alone cannot save the world’s biodiversity. Understanding this, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is currently considering the role of the private sector in helping achieve the Aichi Targets1. This evolution in CBD thinking has been helped along by the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by businesses around the world, as well as the unyielding corporate support for the Paris Climate Agreement. At a time when business is flexing its citizenship muscles on global issues, the CBD is taking notice.
During the recent meeting of the CBD’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA21), an important item on the agenda was the discussion of mainstreaming of biodiversity into industry. More than 30 countries contributed interventions when the issue was considered during the plenary session and lively discussions were had at the numerous side events that addressed specific instruments or issues with respect to finalizing a proposal for adoption at the forthcoming COP14 (14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, the governing body of the CBD) in November 2018.
As acknowledged by the participants at the SBSTTA21 meeting and in the subsequently adopted Recommendation, mainstreaming is complicated. For one, the CBD is a governmental body informed by civil society groups, where knowledge of private sector drivers and concerns is not comprehensive. Additionally, the ability of government to enact transformational change in the corporate sector is driven by each country’s taste for imposing a broad biodiversity-focused framework on business across the lifecycle.
There remains a lot to be discussed in the run-up to COP14, but some common threads emerged during discussions at SBSTTA21 that can inform the work, as follows:
At the end of the day, mainstreaming biodiversity into industry will require a cultural shift in individual companies whereby all business units are engaged in valuing biodiversity protection and restoration. But to help business make this shift, a culture change is also needed across the CBD and its partner NGOs. The business and biodiversity function in the CBD secretariat is currently under-resourced during this critical time. Only one position in the entire secretariat is devoted to this important work, and it is mostly focused internally. With a lack of resources, it is no surprise that, apart from IPIECA, the industry sectors under consideration were not well represented at either COP13 or SBSTTA21.
To meaningfully mainstream biodiversity into the five industry sectors under consideration, the CBD must: recognize and utilize the full variety of approaches, tools and frameworks available; perform outreach to industry sectors to understand their everyday reality, from the C-suite to the factory floor; and maximize meaningful industry participation at COP14 by planning and communicating in a more business-friendly manner with business-friendly timelines.
Despite the challenges, mainstreaming biodiversity into industry is a worthwhile effort. Similar initiatives have taken root before. Over decades, business has prioritized the issue of safety to such a point that it is now in the very DNA of companies and their employees. As certain companies integrated safety as an imperative company value, this idea permeated to other companies and has since become mainstreamed across industries. Biodiversity can be mainstreamed across business in much the same way, allowing both economic livelihoods and natural communities to prosper.