As the latest meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity draws to a close, Orlaith Delargy discusses the future role of biodiversity in Irish business, and some of KPMG’s recent work in the area.
Ireland declared a climate and biodiversity emergency back in 2019, and last year fixed a national objective, enshrined in law, seeking “to pursue and achieve a transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity-rich, environmentally sustainable and climate neutral economy” by no later than the end of the year 2050. While the climate component has captured most of the public and policy attention to date, this is about to change as both Ireland and Europe seek to bring biodiversity back to the top of the agenda.
A Paris-Style Agreement for Nature
After two years of delay due to the pandemic, the UN biodiversity convention finally met last week in Geneva, aiming to achieve a Paris-style agreement for nature. Although biodiversity is rising up the global agenda, the issue is still not as mainstream as the climate crisis, and suffers from the lack of an agreed-upon ‘finish line’ or common goal that would unify nations to address the biodiversity crisis.
While progress in Geneva was slow, some organisations are campaigning for a global goal of becoming “nature positive” by 2030, meaning zero net loss of nature, a net positive improvement in nature by 2030 and full recovery of nature by 2050. The groups say that this would mean viewing all economic activity through a nature-positive lens; ceasing activities that degrade or convert natural ecosystems; restoring ecosystems wherever possible; increasing funding and protecting at least 30% of land, water and ocean.
What would it mean to view all economic activity through a nature-positive lens, and how well do Irish business and financial institutions understand biodiversity?
Reckoning with the Biodiversity Crisis
When we talk about biodiversity, we mean the diversity between and within species, habitats and ecosystems. We want to see a variety of ecosystems (temperate rainforests, semi-natural grasslands), operating in good condition, so that they can support a range of species (plants, insects, animals) and functions (clean air, clean water etc.).
But we know that our economic activities and way of life are severely impacting on biodiversity. Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history – and this crisis affects all life on Earth, not just the more charismatic species like birds, bees, whales and dolphins. All businesses and financial institutions are directly or indirectly exposed to the risks caused by this loss of and damage to nature.
Some of the main drivers of this rapid decline are habitat loss and pollution.
The loss of and degradation of habitats means that the housing crisis applies to more than just humans. When our activities break up or divide an ecosystem, we lose ecosystem integrity and connectivity. This might happen if, say, a new development such as a building or road cuts through a natural area. Around 9 per cent of the world’s land-based species – more than 500,000 species – have insufficient habitat for long-term survival, and will likely face extinction unless their habitats are restored.
Furthermore, pollution of our air, soil and water bodies can cause the deterioration of ecosystem condition or quality. Pollution encompasses many issues, from greenhouse gas emissions to untreated waste, and pollutants from industrial, mining and agricultural activities.
Our Dependence on Nature
However, our relationship with nature is not one-directional. It’s true that our economic activities impact on nature and biodiversity, but we must also improve our understanding of how our economy and society fundamentally depends on nature for survival.
More than 50% of global gross domestic product (USD 44 trillion) is moderately or highly dependent on nature and the goods and services it provides and over 2.1 billion jobs rely on the effective management and sustainability of ecosystems.
We need healthy, high-functioning ecosystems to ensure that the services that nature provides us for free – clean air for health, natural areas for recreation and inspiration, healthy soil for agriculture, and pollination for food – can be sustained.
The business and financial worlds are now beginning to wake up to this reality. A series of initiatives and campaigns such as Business for Nature, the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures and Finance for Biodiversity are leading the charge to redefine how the private sector engages with the natural world and guide organisations to assess, manage and disclose their nature-related risks and opportunities.
KPMG’s Work on Biodiversity
Since late 2021, KPMG has been leading a team of experts in providing expert support to the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the development of the 4th National Biodiversity Action Plan. The draft Plan will be published for public consultation in May and the Minister of State Malcolm Noonan has also announced a National Biodiversity Conference at Dublin Castle on June 8th and 9th. The event will bring together government, businesses and local communities together to discuss the next National Biodiversity Action Plan and ‘Act Now for Nature’ to urgently halt and reverse the loss of our natural heritage.