Blog 5 min read 14 August 2023

Biodiversity: Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride?

Biodiversity has long been staking its claim as the next big topic in conversations taking place across corporate boardrooms and financial markets, as our dependency on the world’s stock of living resources and the ecosystem services they provide humankind are growing, both in their visibility and their severity.

But, starting from the UN’s declaration of 2011-2020 as the “Decade of Biodiversity” to the buzz of sustainability thought leadership with the publication of the Dasgupta Review in 2021, the trajectory of the world’s attention towards biodiversity has become a study in false starts.

There are plenty of reasons as to why this has been the case. The silence and invisibility of nature, combined with geopolitical complexity, the dominance of political and economic crises, and multiple postponements of the CBD15 are among the challenges that have inhibited both awareness of biodiversity as a priority, and its resonance among those in the know.

A communications conundrum  

However, these reasons only begin to scratch at the surface of why biodiversity has failed to capture and penetrate the global conversation. There are others – and crucially for us, all five are rooted in a communications problem:

Problem #1: Breadth and complexity

Biodiversity is so all-encompassing – impacting and touching on everything in nature, from deforestation and soil erosion to water scarcity and antimicrobial resistance – it is itself almost too diverse a topic to distil into a single, powerful message. Compounding this complexity is the inherent scientific nature of the conversation – something that is notoriously hard to translate to the public. And compared with the relatively simple-to-understand carbon emissions problem, communicating about another environmental issue means trying to cut through an increasing sense of fatigue.

Problem #2: Measurement

Because of this complexity, the biodiversity measurement landscape suffers from the absence of standardized measurements, with disparate frameworks in early stages of maturity littering the terrain. And given that the market-leading authority on nature accounting, the Taskforce for Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), identified 3,000 metrics when it started its work on a biodiversity disclosure framework, the prospect of a single metric for communicating performance seems unlikely – even unhelpful. This means, therefore, getting accustomed to talking about biodiversity without the luxury of shorthands or an established language.

Problem #3: Valuation

Our ability to talk credibly about the importance of various types of capital that corporates take into consideration – be it human, financial or manufactured – is only possible because we are able to assign them quantifiable values. That crucial element is missing when it comes to putting a value on nature itself. The absence of a system to appropriately value nature – and the services it provides – means corporates struggle to fully articulate how their business affects and is affected by biodiversity, especially to key stakeholders such as investors. We also have no meaningful way of articulating the value of what we don’t know – that is, the full scope of unknown impacts that types of biodiversity loss will ultimately have on ecosystem goods and services, globally. 

Problem #4: Geopolitics

The shift in global power structures that valuing biodiversity would trigger means there is no incentive for the Global North – with its comparably shallow pools of natural assets – to support this movement.

Problem #5: Rethinking growth:

There is an inherent discomfort with talking about reductive activities. Businesses are used to talking about unlimited growth – they simply are not accustomed to framing their growth stories within the boundaries and limits that biodiversity action implies. This requires a shift in mindset, and, as we see with the climate transition and wider sustainability conversation, remains a sticking point that many corporates are still grappling with.

Opportunity for corporates

Despite these challenges – and the distant possibility their causes will be resolved fully anytime soon – there are some crucial reasons as to why we think biodiversity will be moving into the spotlight within the next 24 months:

For one, the severity and prominence of biodiversity loss is becoming more and more apparent – increased sensitivity to wildfires, zoonotic diseases following on the heels of COVID-19, and supply chain issues to name a few examples. Further, we are seeing biodiversity being folded into the more dominant emissions conversation in the mainstream corporate sphere, which is giving it more airtime (such as discussions on nature-based solutions).

Though we are far from a solution, there is concrete progress is being made on valuing biodiversity which will help ease pain points when communicating on biodiversity issues, such as the final draft of the TNFD’s framework and final recommendations expected September 2023.

And perhaps the most compelling reason is that Brazil will host COP30 in the Amazon rainforest in 2025. This represents a clear opportunity to accelerate biodiversity to the top of the sustainability agenda, and will doubtless be greatly fuelled by Brazilian President Lula da Silva’s firm backing and passionate discourse on the topic.

For businesses, this means an urgent need to achieve fluency in biodiversity issues to meet and anticipate stakeholder expectations. What’s more, the opportunity is ripe for an informed corporate voice to cut through and showcase its expertise on an angle of biodiversity that is most relevant to its business and stakeholders.