What’s nature worth?

AJ Gonzalez | June 3, 2021

WHAT’S NATURE WORTH? — Biodiversity is setting up to be the next big fight in sustainable investing, as financial companies, regulators and environmentalists act to protect natural landscapes on a global scale.

Following in the footsteps of greenhouse gas activism, which has countries and corporations mapping carbon footprints and trying to put the brakes on global warming, global leaders are redoubling efforts to stem plant and animal extinction that could upset ecosystems vital to clean air, water and raw materials.

While world attention is laser-focused on November’s climate meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, G-7 climate and environment ministers are planning a big push for biodiversity at a summit in China in October, with a 10-year goal of conserving at least 30 percent of the world’s land and oceans.

It took business leaders decades to join the climate fight, but now that they’re on board with clean air, it might be easier to bring them on board with biodiversity protections.

“We are where climate was five to six years ago,” said Chris Hart, a senior sustainable finance associate at environmental group Global Canopy. “People are seeing connections between the destruction of nature and how that might have a material impact on investments and lending. How do we measure that? This is where we run up against a dead end.”

France’s BNP Paribas Asset Management is partnering with reporting alliance CDP to develop biodiversity disclosure metrics for corporations. And the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures, or TNFD, a group that organized last June with the backing of the U.N., is aiming to put a value on nature so capital can be channeled to companies and investments that protect it.

Biodiversity isn’t a new thing. What’s new is the attention being paid. World leaders set goals a decade ago under the Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD, but none were met by the deadline of 2020.

The pandemic has underscored the problem’s urgency. Biodiversity loss and climate change are interlinked crises that have made humans more vulnerable to emerging diseases such Covid-19, scientists say.

Any new framework will need strong accountability measures to track countries that are or aren’t making progress in industries driving biodiversity loss, such as fishing, agriculture, mining and construction.

“What the CBD lacks is implementation and resources, as in finance and capacity building and human resources,” said Li Shuo, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace China. “It tells the world where it needs to be, but without answering how we actually get there.”

Li wants China to take the lead on thorny political issues, such as helping persuade wealthy countries to help biodiversity efforts in developing nations such as Brazil and Argentina.

A rights-based approach for indigenous peoples who manage much of the world’s forests and waterways also is key, said Guido Broekhoven, head of policy research and development at the nonprofit World Wildlife Fund.

But the U.S. isn’t a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Congress never ratified it. A State Department official said the U.S. is “very engaged” and working closely with Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and other allies.

President Joe Biden’s plan to conserve 30 percent of U.S. land and water by 2030 is the administration’s way of showing commitment to biodiversity, the official said.

While negotiators negotiate, analysts are getting ahead of policy. They want to pinpoint private-sector contributions to biodiversity loss and how it could affect profits. It’s a nascent effort.

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