The World’s Biodiversity Collapse Is a Business Issue

September 5, 2019, 10:22 AM UTC

The catastrophic collapse of the world’s biodiversity should be on the top of the globe’s environmental priorities, according to the United Nations’ top authority on the issue—and business should lead the way.

“Everyone needs to be seriously concerned,” said Cristiana Paşca-Palmer, executive secretary for the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, speaking at the Fortune Global Sustainability Forum in Yunnan, China on Thursday. She describes the issue as a “planetary emergency”, saying that “Biodiversity is the infrastructure that supports life on earth.”

While many have hardly noticed it, life in all its forms—from tiny bacteria, to plants, insects, and large animals—is quickly disappearing from the planet. According to a UN report issued in May, the earth lost 100 million hectares of tropical forest and 90% of its wetlands in the last 50 years; one million species are in danger of extinction by 2050.

“When we are losing the species we are losing the fabric that keeps together all these ecosystems and the services nature provides for us. Let us not forget our food comes from nature, the air that we breathe, the water we drink.”

Though it’s often considered an environmental or moral issue, she said she considers the world’s fast-declining biodiversity to be primarily an economic concern. That’s both because the problem is being driven by business activity—development, overfishing, etc—and because of the consequences the loss of diversity will have on the economy.

“Economic development policies needs to put nature at the center. It’s the the capital on which our economic and societal system stays,” said Paşca-Palmer.

She has observed increasing awareness and interest from the business community on the issue, and she says it must continue and must not be limited to a few “champions and pioneers.”

Huang Runqiu, China’s vice minister of ecology and environment, agreed and said at the Global Sustainability Forum that he has noticed a marked increase in action on the part of business in addressing biodiversity loss.

Though the global situation is dire—“according to the scientists, we don’t have a lot of time,” said Paşca-Palmer—both she and Huang expressed hope that a global conference China will host next year on biodiversity loss will lead to consensus on a 10-year plan to address the issue. It is governments who must have the courage to redesign policy measures and economic models, Paşca-Palmer said.

Noting one government-led example in China, Huang pointed to the recent restoration of Yunnan’s Fuxian Lake, a large freshwater lake whose waters had previously been contaminated by human activities and development.

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—Watch here: Fortune Global Sustainability Forum 2019 livestream
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—Dow CEO Jim Fitterling has a counter-argument to the plastic backlash
—Former Sinopec chairman says Chinese executives think climate change can wait
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