The COP no one wants you to know about

December 7, 2022, 11:18 AM UTC
The loss of biodiversity threatens vital natural processes such as pollination.
Artur Widak—NurPhoto/Getty Images

Leaders from around the world are gathering in Montreal this week at the UN COP15 Biodiversity Conference to address an urgent crisis: the loss of our natural world.

Global biodiversity levels have fallen to 75% compared to preindustrial levels–well below the 90% limit needed to maintain important ecological processes that are crucial to human survival, such as pollination.

You may not have been aware that this important conference was happening. That’s not very surprising when getting the bigger topic of climate change on the political agenda is so difficult.

Last month, all eyes were on Egypt as world leaders assembled at COP27 to discuss actions to tackle the climate crisis. In the U.K., Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s initial decision not to attend the conference was widely criticized by media and environmental groups. Sunak ultimately changed his mind–but it still felt like there was a lack of political willpower to tackle climate change. 

Nothing illustrates this better than the way leaders from around the world have failed to make COP15 a political priority. COP15 is the nature equivalent of COP27, and due to the intrinsic link between biodiversity loss and climate change, both conferences are equally important to the goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees.

Yet, COP15 has been delayed four times–and attracted comparatively little public or media attention.

With China, the summit’s co-host, not actively issuing invitations to world leaders, very few heads of states are expected to attend the conference, despite it representing a critical juncture for the future of the planet.

The biodiversity crisis and climate change go hand in hand

Biodiversity loss is an issue that we cannot afford to neglect. The UN has estimated that 1 million plant and animal species will be extinct by 2039, with scientists warning that we are entering the planet’s sixth mass extinction.

Protecting animal welfare and our natural environment is important in itself–but the fact that the destruction of ecosystems exacerbates climate change makes the biodiversity cause all the more urgent.

The WWF estimates that an alarming 15% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the destruction of forest ecosystems.

The organizers of the Paris Agreement have urged COP15 attendees to reach a sister deal for nature at the talks, warning that global warming will be unmanageable without protecting and restoring ecosystems. As biodiversity continues to decline at an alarming rate, political progress in protecting ecosystems has been too slow. More than 100 countries have committed to the goal of protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030, but currently, only 3% of land and 8% of the sea are effectively protected.

The role of business in building back biodiversity

While politicians have been slow in responding to the global decline of nature, business leaders have started to recognize that taking the lead on biodiversity is not only the morally right thing to do but also good for the bottom line. In fact, protecting biodiversity could generate business opportunities worth $10 trillion and create 395 million jobs by 2030.

Ahead of the Biodiversity Summit, more than 300 businesses, including Unilever and H&M, have called on governments to make it mandatory for companies to measure and reveal their impact on nature.

Many businesses are supporting words with action through tree-planting and rewilding projects that aim to restore natural ecosystems and natural habitats.

While small steps are being made by the corporate world to protect biodiversity, there are still barriers preventing business from maximizing its impact. Research from our Time To Act report found that while 82% of business leaders report that biodiversity is personally very important to them, only 14% say their business has committed to making their land more biodiverse.

Many businesses have the desire and financial firepower to build back biodiversity–but their efforts need to be guided by clear direction from national governments.

Joining forces for a better tomorrow

We spoke to biodiversity experts to examine how to get business involved in supporting biodiversity recovery and building momentum around it. Abby Chicken, the head of sustainability at Openreach, said governments must do more to get business involved in finding solutions to biodiversity loss: “If governments can say this is a problem that we need to tackle and these are the kinds of people who we think can help solve it together, that would be really helpful.” 

There is a lot at stake at COP15. Environmental experts including the chair of Natural England Tony Juniper are warning that the conference is the “last chance we have to halt and reverse the decline of Nature around the world.” We can’t afford to let this critical moment slip away.

While politicians need to get better at prioritizing biodiversity and getting help from the private sector, businesses must take responsibility for the communities they operate in–not only because it makes long-term financial sense, but also because it’s the right thing to do.

If corporations, political leaders, and activists form a unified front against the biodiversity crisis, it’s not too late to protect the future of the planet.

Jason Knights is the managing director of Ground Control.

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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