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- Published: 03 May 2020 03 May 2020
As the coronavirus crisis continues to take a terrible toll on lives and livelihoods worldwide, the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has warned the EU's forthcoming Biodiversity Strategy will be an early test of whether Europe is taking nature, including biodiversity, seriously in its economic thinking.
In a new overview briefing, CISL acknowledges the EU's Biodiversity Strategy will be launched in the midst of a global pandemic which has, in part, been caused by the breakdown of our relationship with nature, 'hammering home' the increased relevance of the interconnectivity of human health and nature.
It suggests the Strategy's content will be critical to building a more resilient future that protects and supports nature's contribution to the European economy, yet notes pressures resulting from the coronavirus crisis threaten to pull the EU away from the course set last year by the Green Deal.
Gemma Cranston, Director, Business and Nature, CISL said: “A Biodiversity Strategy that commits the EU to action and implements lessons from past failures on nature policy would send the right message that nature is at the heart of the EU’s economic strategy.
“The EU needs a strong position to take into international negotiations on the post-2020 approach to reversing nature loss. To lead from the front and be credible it needs to ramp up its ambition and delivery on tackling nature loss at home.”
CISL emphasises the importance of biodiversity for human - as well as economic - health and wellbeing, and suggests European businesses are looking for clear policy direction.
CISL Overview Briefing Paper on EU Biodiversity Strategy
It is expected that the European Commission will publish the EU’s new Biodiversity Strategy next month, providing detail on one of the key elements of the flagship ‘European Green Deal’ (EGD) package of economic and environmental policies.
This publication will come at an unprecedented disruptive moment, as we face not only a public health crisis, but also an economic crisis and a political crisis. Its content, however, is critical. Pressures resulting from the current coronavirus crisis could pull the EU away from the direction set in December 2019 in the headlines of the EGD: on the one hand, there is the challenge of rebooting the economy at the same time as pursuing an ambitious environmental agenda while, on the other, the increased relevance of the interconnection between nature and human health has been hammered home by the emergence of Covid-19.
Further, the EU must establish its position in the context of attempts to agree a new international framework on tackling biodiversity loss and back that up with a credible plan to tackle Europe’s own biodiversity decline. While the critical international biodiversity summit in Kunming planned for October 2020 has now been delayed, the opportunity for EU leadership on the issue remains open.
The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy will be an early test of how seriously the Commission is committed to work to protect and restore nature and support new economic activity that supports and enhances nature's contribution to the European economy.
Why the Biodiversity Strategy matters to business
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Economic prosperity, as well as the wellbeing of society, is dependent upon nature, including biodiversity. . The loss of nature can have direct implications for company bottom lines, as supply chains are disrupted, and economic losses are incurred from the increased frequency of flooding and droughts. $44 trillion of economic value generation – over half the world’s total GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services. The EU is among the regions with the highest amount of GDP in nature dependent industries.
To secure the health of our economies, people and planet, there is a need to protect and restore nature. Nature provides carbon sinks and sequestration of 5.6 gigatonnes of carbon per year, which can help in the fight against climate change; nature cleans the air we breathe and the water we drink; and nature provides healthy soils, pollination and water purification which are needed for food security. Recognition is growing of the urgency and scale of the challenge in the face of serious decline. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020 highlighted degradation of nature as a key threat recognised by business. Therefore, policy ambition in this space matters.
The need for a clear policy approach
CISL’s experience is that many leading businesses share deep concerns around the decline of nature and are looking to respond. However, market failures mean that many of the actions they would like to take are uneconomic, and even readily available options are not universally adopted by all businesses. The Biodiversity Strategy, and other policies introduced as part of the EGD, must work to fix these market failures and deliver a level playing field.
Businesses require long-term certainty in order to shift their strategies and invest in innovative business models that will restore nature. To safeguard the environmental, social and economic value of Europe’s natural assets the EU has an opportunity with the Biodiversity Strategy and the wider EGD to introduce that certainty and clarity.
A key test of whether the Commission has demonstrated seriousness and resolve in this Strategy is whether it has translated rhetoric on restoring damaged ecosystems into concrete and effective policy proposals, so businesses receive a clear signal on how they will be required to adapt their behaviour and investment plans and can begin to prepare accordingly.
Supporting business action
The EU has a chance to unlock new business opportunities and spur ever more business action, including at scale, to turnaround the decline of nature. For example, the Biodiversity Strategy is expected to deliver more clarity on the type and scope of measures to better tackle deforestation – and associated nature and climate impacts - caused by the EU’s consumption of food, fuel and fibre, so that businesses are empowered to work with their supply chains and deliver change. This would be just one part of the transformation enabled by the EGD.
Practical, evidence-based targets in particular are needed to support business in making this transformation. Policy action is also required to support business in integrating their impact and dependencies on nature into key decision-making processes, supply chain management and risk mitigation strategies.
A range of tools is already available to help companies in these areas, but these are not yet taken up across the board and a shift in the policy landscape could be the trigger that unleashes action.
How to assess if the Biodiversity Strategy measures up?
CISL is part of the Business for Nature coalition, which brings together organisations that work with business to support business action on nature and call for governments to reverse nature loss. Together we have identified a set of key policy asks for all governments to adopt:
Adopt targets to reverse nature loss: provide direction and ambition
Align, integrate and enforce policies for nature, people and climate: ensure coherence
Value and embed nature in decision making and disclosure: go beyond short-term profit and GDP
Reform subsidies and incentive mechanisms: finance a just transformation
Join forces for nature and empower everyone to act: engage, enable and collaborate
The EU Biodiversity Strategy can be examined against these asks to see how clearly it is responding to the challenge of nature decline:
Is it clearly setting out targets that adequately focus efforts on critical areas of nature loss? Are those targets ambitious enough?
Does the Strategy sufficiently align policies across all areas of relevant impact?
Is the value of nature sufficiently incorporated into EU decision making?
Are there adequate fiscal incentives and support for restoring nature identified?
Does the Strategy support public-private collaboration and work between businesses?
While some of these measures sit with member states, a clear pan-European strategy should help shape a collective response to the collective challenge of biodiversity loss.
The full briefing can be found here.