Op-ed: Beyond COP15: Securing business accountability on biodiversity

By

Elodie Chêne

Published on
January 23, 2023
Elodie Chêne

Elodie Chêne is the standards manager at the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an independent, international organization guiding businesses and other organizations to take responsibility for their impacts by providing the global common language to report those impacts. The GRI standards are developed through a multi-stakeholder process and provided as a free public good.

Chêne has worked on the review of the GRI universal standards and is leading the revision of GRI’s biodiversity standard. Prior to joining GRI, Elodie held positions in state and local governments in Australia, at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and France’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The adoption of the Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework, signed at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in December 2022, is without doubt a major milestone, committing the world to halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030. This encouraging outcome is the result of a hard-won journey, after a two-year delay due to the Covid pandemic.

The stakes were (and remain) high, as the biodiversity collapse the word is experiencing is now clearly evidenced. The IPBES Global Assessment Report from 2019 highlighted unprecedented decline in biodiversity resulting from human activities: in just a few decades, over 85 percent of wetlands and about half of coral reefs have been lost; a third of fish stocks are overexploited; and 32 million hectares of forest in highly biodiverse regions – an area almost twice the size of France – has been destroyed. As U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres bluntly put it at the start of COP15, “humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction with a million species at risk of disappearing forever.”

The framework, signed by 196 parties, including the E.U., sets ambitious goals and targets to start addressing the underlying political, economic and societal causes of biodiversity loss. If implemented successfully, it aims to achieve:

  • 30 percent of the world’s land and sea protected and 30 percent of degraded ecosystems restored by 2030;
  • USD 200 billion per year mobilized by 2030 (including USD 30 billion from developed to developing countries);
  • Halting human-induced species extinctions, and sustainably managing biodiversity, including the harvest and trade of wild species;
  • Action to address the drivers of biodiversity loss – such as invasive species, pollution, and climate change;
  • Indigenous People’s rights respected and protected.

Targets on “tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming” of biodiversity focus on the role of governments, the private sector, and consumers. Target 15 specifically calls out businesses and financial institutions to “regularly monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies, and impacts on biodiversity.”

Over half of global GDP has a moderate to high dependency on biodiversity. Yet while economic activities greatly impact biodiversity, corporate transparency is low. The recent KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting revealed only 40 percent of 5,800 leading companies around the world currently report on biodiversity. Research from the nonprofit CDP and the World Benchmarking Alliance show similar trends.

The Global Biodiversity Framework makes it very clear that accountability and transparency by companies is crucial. The strong presence of business and finance institutions at COP15, and their willingness to be part of the solution, is a positive sign it can be achieved.

As was the case for many involved, participation in COP15 was a first for GRI. Joining the conference was a valuable opportunity to engage all relevant partners, including business associations, NGOs, regulators, and standard setters. In Montréal, we collaborated extensively with other organizations to emphasize the importance of corporate accountability.

Biodiversity is one of the most-pressing, yet most-complex, challenges that the global society faces. Several budding initiatives have emerged to set norms for determining and disclosing business impacts and dependencies. Behind an initial perception of complexity, given the number of approaches, it is important to understand their specificities and how they align with one another to avoid duplication.

Several frameworks and initiatives – in particular, the Taskforce for Nature Related Financial Disclosures, the Science-Based Target Network, the Partnership for Biodiversity Accounting Financials and Align – are defining the global practice for companies and institutions to assess and measure their impacts, set targets, and identify information that should be publicly disclosed.

These approaches underpin the development of overarching reporting standards. GRI, which delivers the global baseline for impact reporting, is currently undertaking a major revision of GRI 304: Biodiversity, with the exposure draft for the proposed standard published ahead of COP15. The IFRS Sustainability Disclosures Standards, which will incorporate nature into their climate disclosures, aim to set a global baseline for sustainability-related financial reporting. Together, these standards will offer a complete and robust suite of biodiversity disclosures to assess corporate performance. In the E.U., the disclosure system will include the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (namely “E4: Biodiversity and Ecosystems”), under the incoming Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive.

Information disclosed by companies can then be used to make informed decision on their performance. CDP’s questionnaire and the WBA’s Nature Benchmark assess companies’ efforts to manage their impacts on biodiversity.

GRI is working closely with all of these organizations to align to the greatest extent possible and create that flow of biodiversity-related information – from gathering data to disclosing it publicly in a consistent way that can effectively enable performance assessment by companies, investors, and civil society.

For 25 years, GRI has provided the world's leading and most-comprehensive sustainability reporting standards, driving transparency and accountability on impacts. Already back in 2000, the first GRI guidelines included disclosure on land use and biodiversity, which evolved to become the GRI biodiversity standard, in 2016. The update to GRI 304 will reflect the new Global Biodiversity Framework and emerging best practice.

As with all GRI standards, we are applying a robust multi-stakeholder approach, ensuring participation and expertise of diverse stakeholders and bringing together the perspectives of business, investors, civil society, academics, and other standard setters.

The revised biodiversity standard will pave the way for the next level of corporate sustainability, including:

  • Impacts in the supply chain – given the most significant impacts on biodiversity for many organizations are found beyond their direct operations;
  • Location-specific information, essential to understand the impacts on how to manage them;
  • Reporting on the drivers of biodiversity loss and changes to ecosystems and species,
  • Providing information on the impacts on people, as a result of the organizations’ biodiversity impacts;
  • Information on how those impacts are managed and mitigated.

The draft standard is now out for public comment, with webinars available to find out more about what the changes mean. We urge everyone with an interest in biodiversity to provide their feedback. This is the chance to shape global best practice on biodiversity impacts transparency for years to come.

For those businesses not yet taking steps to disclose biodiversity related information, the framework adopted at COP15 sends a strong signal that they need to respond to growing demands that they take action now. That process starts with reporting and transparency on their biodiversity impacts.

The ambitions set at COP15 will wither away without collective endeavor from all parties, and that includes business. The good news is that a thriving ecosystem of tools, frameworks, and standards will guide companies in their journey to assess, measure, disclose, and improve their biodiversity performance. Ultimately this is about this about helping business, society, and the natural world to flourish.

Photo courtesy of GRI

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