Toward COP14: Can the CBD Mainstream Biodiversity in Industry?

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:

  • There is no silver bullet. Discussions around strengthening the enabling environment for Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA), deploying ecosystem service valuation approaches, placing more stringent biodiversity requirements in financing agreements, and integrating SEAs into upstream planning efforts will all work in different ways in different industry sectors and in different jurisdictions. No single instrument or policy will, by itself, cause the transformational change needed. With this imperative in mind, the CBD must develop cross-sectoral strategies that can be adapted for, and within, different industries.
  • Business must be involved in the discussion. Apart from IPIECA (the global oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues), there was no other business or business association in the room at SBSSTA21, yet there was a strong consensus that CBD and its stakeholders did not have the expertise required to deliver practical yet achievable policy proposals that would drive the necessary transformation. Mexico and other countries are tackling this issue by building alliances with business and convening expert panels to address this knowledge gap – these efforts should be supported.
  • Inherent tensions exist in this effort. For all nations, industry is a key economic driver, and many developing countries welcome extractive industries as wealth creators. However, industry is also a key driver of biodiversity loss. In addition, the infrastructure needs of many countries can outweigh the push to protect biodiversity, while political realities often impact the speed with which development is permitted and new policies are implemented. In many jurisdictions, biodiversity efforts in the ministry of the environment may be in direct conflict with permitting in a ministry of energy or mines. The relationship between a country’s economy and the resources they are charged to protect is a complex one and needs to be recognized in discussions and planning of industry expansion and its role in biodiversity protection.
  • Bigger than a single COP. Effecting transformative change in one industry sector is difficult, yet the CBD seeks to effect such change across multiple sectors. The scope of the issue is beyond a single COP meeting and many countries who contributed interventions at SBSTTA21 made this point. If the COP adopts a mainstreaming decision, it must invest in future initiatives that focus on the individual industry sectors. In its current incarnation, the mainstreaming proposal includes the industries of energy and mining, infrastructure, manufacturing and processing, and health. Many of these sectors are individually complex and overlap across sectors multiply this complexity.

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.

  1. The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 is comprised of a shared vision, a mission, strategic goals and 20 ambitious yet achievable targets, collectively known as the Aichi Targets.

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