Why and how businesses should nurture their future success in nature
At the first part of the United Nations (UN) summit—which took place in Kunming, Yunnan Province, in October 2021—global leaders took a modest yet promising step towards strengthening biodiversity governance and securing a nature-positive future. A Paris Agreement-style accord for biodiversity may now lie just over the horizon at COP15’s second phase in spring 2022. Benjamin Cooper of Hill+Knowlton Strategies (H+K) tells us more.
This autumn, China hosted the first phase of a once-in-a-decade UN summit that aims to set a new global framework for biodiversity governance through 2030. After being delayed twice due to the pandemic, the 15th Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)—or COP15 in short—has been split into two chapters, the first of which recently concluded in Kunming.
As the main outcome, more than 100 countries adopted the Kunming Declaration to guide final negotiations on the draft nature treaty, pledging to develop, adopt and implement an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework that would put biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030. In addition, China also announced several new global and in-country endeavours, including the creation of a global biodiversity fund to support developing nations and the launch of its first-ever group of national parks.
Urgency of reversing nature loss before it is too late
Although overshadowed by the better-known COP26, COP15 is just as important. The world has seen rapid and often unprecedented biodiversity losses in recent years, with one million species now at threat of extinction. Given that over half of global gross domestic product (GDP) is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services, according to research by the World Economic Forum (WEF), a failure to act now and reverse current trends would lead to severe consequences for economies, societies and human health.
Yet while nature’s contribution to humanity is undeniable, awareness of the urgency of protecting biodiversity and halting the unsustainable use of natural resources has lagged far behind that of fighting climate change. With COP15’s first phase now complete, it is critical to continue elevating biodiversity in the public’s mind and on political and business agendas ahead of phase two in spring 2022, when global leaders will hopefully ratify a game-changing accord that will help transition the world onto a nature-positive trajectory.
Rethinking the business world’s relationship with natural systems
Governments and civil society alone will not be able to reverse the loss of biodiversity. Doing so will require full buy-in from the private sector as well. Yet while biodiversity underpins economies, markets and businesses have mostly been designed to exploit nature rather than protect it.
But that is no longer sustainable. If the world fails to act now and stop further nature loss, it could cost the global economy trillions of dollars, disrupt countless industries and affect millions of people’s lives. Alternatively, the shift towards a nature-positive economy could create an incredible US dollars (USD) 10.1 trillion of business opportunities and generate 395 million jobs by 2030, according to another WEF study.
Fortunately, the business community is now increasingly recognising both the risks of persisting with business-as-usual and the gains to be reaped by embedding biodiversity within their decision-making. For instance, more than 1,000 companies, representing USD 4.7 trillion in annual revenue, have signed Business for Nature’s Call to Action urging governments to adopt policies now to reverse nature loss by 2030.
However, while momentum is building, businesses still have a long way to go. Historically, companies have been much more active on the climate agenda, as the sheer complexity of biodiversity and the countless species and ecosystems around the world that need protection is more difficult to comprehend. The very multidimensionality of the nature agenda has made it much more challenging to come up with a single indicator as simple as reducing emissions.
That is where the post-2020 global framework for biodiversity should come in. Nothing can replicate the need for strong policy frameworks that will drive action. Unless COP15’s second phase produces a robust biodiversity framework similar to the Paris Agreement—one that companies can easily link back to and use to scale up their own efforts—then hopes to systemise the corporate world’s approach to nature protection could remain unrealised.
For businesses, while the journey towards becoming nature-positive will not be an easy one, it will empower them to reinvigorate their purpose, strengthen their licence to operate, and unlock greater profits. As companies rethink their relationship with nature and how to better position themselves for future success, here are six recommendations:
- Be an early mover. Act with a sense of urgency and charge out the gate in support of COP15’s 2030 roadmap – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because those that are forward-thinking and take steps to transform early also stand to gain immensely. By capitalising on the growing movement to protect nature and positioning themselves at the centre of the transition, companies can secure an early mover advantage that will open up new business opportunities and strengthen their corporate reputations.
- Embed biodiversity at the heart of business decision-making. Naturalise biodiversity throughout your corporate DNA by orientating your business model with the drive towards a nature-positive future. Take internal action within supply chains and business operations, and external action by ramping up regulatory and other stakeholder engagement, positioning your company as a public champion for biodiversity. And redefine risk beyond a narrow view of short-term material risks by taking the health of nature explicitly into account as a threat to your own business health.
- Synergise efforts on nature and the race to net zero. As the world confronts the dual biodiversity and climate crises, businesses don’t need to prioritise addressing one over the other. These global emergencies are deeply intertwined, and by harmonising approaches, companies can establish a more holistic sustainability strategy that effectively plays to both agendas – and ultimately delivers a much wider impact.
- Align with the new global biodiversity framework and set smart goals. The 2030 blueprint will provide businesses with a framework that they can connect with and leverage to scale up their own nature-focussed initiatives. Many of the draft targets are directly relevant to the private sector, creating huge space for companies to contribute and help fill the gaps – around financing, expertise, technical solutions and more. After identifying where their business would be best aligned to make a difference, companies can then set their own biodiversity goals. These should be specific, measurable and feasible.
- Leverage partnerships and multi-stakeholder coalitions. Don’t act alone. No single actor can halt and reverse the tide of biodiversity loss. This will be a framework for all, and its success will depend on collective efforts, with a high degree of coordination across policymakers, civil society, financial institutions and businesses. Companies will have to work in a collaborative environment where they deepen existing partnerships, forge new ones, and join multi-stakeholder platforms that can add the capacity and scale to achieve systemic change.
- Weave nature into corporate narratives. If you preserved a tree in the forest, did anyone hear it? Companies should harness the power of storytelling to inform their target audiences exactly what they are doing to protect nature and the meaningful impacts being delivered. This will require differentiated messaging that resonates with various groups, depending on their level of familiarity with the topic.
Hill+Knowlton Strategies (H+K) is a public relations and integrated communications agency with 85 offices around the globe. In China, our Government & Public Affairs Practice provides bespoke policy and political expertise. As local and global policy experts, we know that politics doesn’t operate in a vacuum and that public affairs can’t either. More than ever before, it is vital that businesses understand and adapt not only to the changing political and regulatory environment, but also to the cultural and societal expectations impacting their futures.
At H+K China, we see the whole picture. We partner with our clients to find solutions. We help them successfully engage with their policy and regulatory stakeholders, to pre-empt and respond to the fundamental policy challenges facing their businesses. We focus on outcomes rather than processes and enable our clients to move with and shape public opinion. For further information, please contact Benjamin.Cooper@hkstrategies.com or Philippe.Healey@hkstrategies.com.
 Amanda Russo, Half of World’s GDP Moderately or Highly Dependent on Nature, Says New Report, WEF, 19th January 2020, 11th November 2021, <https://www.weforum.org/press/2020/01/half-of-world-s-gdp-moderately-or-highly-dependent-on-nature-says-new-report/>
 Amanda Russo and Max Hall, 395 Million New Jobs by 2030 if Businesses Prioritize Nature, Says World Economic Forum, WEF, 14th July 2020, viewed 11th November 2021, <https://www.weforum.org/press/2020/07/395-million-new-jobs-by-2030-if-businesses-prioritize-nature-says-world-economic-forum/>
 China’s new five-year blueprint paves way for 2060 carbon-neutrality, Xinhua, 9th March 2021, viewed 12th November 2021, <http://english.www.gov.cn/news/topnews/202103/09/content_WS6046cf92c6d0719374afa6a5.html>