While the COP27 conference in Egypt (Nov. 2022) has a focus on climate change, COP 15 is all about protecting the natural world, with a focus on biodiversity.
To understand what to expect from COP 15, it helps to get a clear idea of what biodiversity is and why it matters.
Biodiversity is the web of life. It's the combination of all life forms – plants, animals, microorganisms, ecosystems, and humans – that interact with one another and the air, water, and soil around them. Our planet has been shaped by ice ages, fire, and interaction among species. Now it is increasingly being re-shaped by humans. Biodiversity supports ecological resilience – the more diversity, the more resilient the ecosystem can be. By measuring and tracking biodiversity indicators, we can understand how well an ecosystem is working, to be sure it’s healthy and can provide us with the benefits that we get from nature, so that we can be healthy as well.
Five key factors to watch for in COP 15
Over three decades of COP sessions have led us to this year’s COP 15, a conference last held in 2018. This is a particularly critical event though given how momentum has shifted post-covid around understanding the role the natural world plays in our society Key discussions, and outcomes, are expected to likely draw the most attention during the proceedings:
1. A Global Biodiversity Framework to set targets
A new Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) is being proposed to set new goals and targets for this decade. This was expected to be in 2020, but got caught in a two-year delay due to COVID. The previous goals set in 2010 in Nagoya, Japan (called the Aichi Targets), have all failed to be met. There is a widespread call that more effort is needed across all sectors of society to set ambitious targets and meet them.
Think of this as the “Paris moment” for nature – a time when the world pulls together to commit to a better future. Just as Paris was seminal in establishing a 1.5-2.0-degree target for climate change, the Global Biodiversity Framework to be agreed at this COP is anticipated to be the equivalent. One difference is that for COP 15, the goal for nature will be more nuanced, due to the complexity of nature and the absence of a single measure we can all come behind. There are 22 targets to be discussed and agreed upon.
2. “Nature Positive” becomes the flagship mission
The idea of “nature positive” – halting and reversing current trends in biodiversity loss for the benefit of human and planetary well-being – is expected to become the new standard.
It can be thought of as nature’s version of ‘net zero carbon’ in terms of where we need to get to – and is the flagship mission of this COP 15 under the overarching “global goal for nature”.
COP 15 has identified the need to deliver a net gain -- i.e., not just mitigate and compensate for negative impacts, but actually reverse the decline of biodiversity and set it on a trajectory back to a historical state. The details are yet to be ironed out, but essentially the goal is to have no net loss by 2030, and for a return to a fully functioning natural world by 2050.
3. Business implications of Target 15
For business, Target 15 of those 22 targets is of critical importance. The draft text refers to how all large businesses and financial institutions must assess their impacts and dependencies on nature. They must aim for a reduction in negative impacts and an increase in positive impacts -- right across their operations, value chains and portfolios. There is also text to make it a mandatory requirement to disclose these impacts and dependencies.
Collaborations of businesses such as Business for Nature and the Capitals Coalition are calling for Target 15 to be a strong force for levelling the playing field and providing clear and consistent guidance for businesses that operate around the world.
4. Finance to play a key role
Finance will be in the spotlight when it comes to restoring nature, just as climate finance has in recent UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COPs. The reason is simple: financial support from wealthier countries is needed to help develop biodiversity solutions in the countries without the means to do so.
Having financial resources in the right place matters, because it’s become clear that ‘business as usual’ will lead to our decline.
Reversing biodiversity loss and averting ecosystem failure won’t happen unless the forces that might cause it harm lose financial muscle, and those adopting nature-positive approaches have access to the resources they need.
There are specific targets on removing environmentally harmful subsidies (Target 18) and scaling up the finance that flows into nature positive outcomes. There are already some significant developments internationally around emerging private markets for nature-based solutions and innovative blended financing mechanisms, which can all help to operationalise this at scale.
5. Frameworks for disclosing nature-related impacts
One of the key elements of success in managing climate change is the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), that requires companies to disclose their climate impacts and manage their risks.
A similar role will be played by the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD).
There will also be a lot of discussion at COP 15 about the role of the TNFD and Science-Based Targets (SBTs) for nature. These two initiatives are now underway and are due to produce guidance and frameworks in 2023 to enable businesses and others to set targets that are based on solid science. These will support nature recovery and help assess, report on and disclose impacts in a standardized way.
Early indications are that TNFD will follow the path of the TCFD and may be the mechanism by which government mandate reporting on nature in the future, although there is still extensive consultation around the direction of development for these initiatives.
COP 15 must accelerate the call to businesses and government to build their awareness of the biodiversity issues and step up their games in making decisions with nature in mind. It should also push them to set new targets and actively look for alternative approaches like nature-based solutions to remediate environmental and social challenges.
It is imperative we all recognize our role and how we can influence turning this ship – our footprint on the world – around. The timelines required for change are short, and everyone, including the general public, is needed to support the goal of restoring nature globally. What will be crucial is rapid and credible action by businesses, to rebuild ecosystems and their functions to sustain human society into the future. WSP is able to work with organizations to develop effective plans, backed by sound science that provides credibility to the measures taken.
Author: Jenny Merriman, Natural Capital & Biodiversity Associate Director