Business for Nature: Amplifying a Corporate Movement

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Business for Nature — a global coalition calling for action to reverse nature loss and restore the planet’s vital natural systems — is epitomic of collective advocacy on a critical sustainability challenge. Sabrina Gonçalves-Krebsbach spoke with the coalition’s Executive Director, Eva Zabey, and Advocacy Director, Maelle Pelisson, to find out more about the initiative and how it can inspire action on other social and environmental issues.

Sabrina Gonçalves-Krebsbach: How did Business for Nature come about? Could you tell us more about the context in which it came to fruition?

Eva Zabey: Business for Nature was launched in 2019 because a group of stakeholders felt that there was a need to unify the business voice and give policymakers the courage and comfort to make ambitious agreements on nature whilst demonstrating that protecting nature is an economic imperative. Business voices and action helped shape the Paris Agreement in 2015 by demonstrating that fighting climate change is both good for the planet and an economic imperative. Our role is to mobilize the business community so we can do the same for nature this year.

SGK: Why is 2020 labelled as the “super year” for nature?

Maelle Pelisson: Because there are a series of key international moments where policy makers and governments have an opportunity to make strong commitments on nature. These moments include:

  • The 75th birthday of the UN General Assembly in September and the Biodiversity Summit in New York where world leaders have the opportunity to commit to reversing nature loss;
  • The UN deciding a new framework for biodiversity at COP 15, which will set the scale of the ambition needed to restore and protect nature;
  • The UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December where countries can enhance National Action Plans and recognize the critical link that nature plays in helping to solve climate change.

Undoubtedly, the challenge is huge but if we want to reverse the trend of nature loss by 2030, we need urgent action in 2020.

Political leadership is needed more than ever to spur more action and business needs to call on governments to adopt a new deal for nature and people.

SGK: Why should businesses advocate for nature conservation?

MP: Business can’t solve the challenge in isolation. Some businesses are already making commitments and acting to reverse nature loss. But business needs to urgently scale and speed up efforts, which requires ambitious policies. Political leadership is needed more than ever to spur more action and business needs to call on governments to adopt a new deal for nature and people. It’s through this positive policy-business feedback loop that we’ll kickstart the transformation of our economic and financial systems, create a level playing field, a stable operating environment and unlock new business opportunities.

SGK: How would you describe the role of the business community in nature protection, compared to other key stakeholder groups such as NGOs and government?

MP: NGOs have long been championing issues around nature loss. It’s really only recently that governments and businesses have started to catch up and understand just how important nature is to people, economies and livelihoods. The truth is that some businesses have been part of the problem and the role we’re playing is to help make business part of the solution.

If you look at how the conversation has developed around climate change over the past few years, more businesses now recognize the need to reduce their emissions. This is alongside increasing political certainty that encourages business to invest in low-carbon solutions, expectations on business to disclose their climate risks, and the realization that you can’t solve the climate crisis without first addressing nature loss. We are starting to see the same level of momentum on nature. There are forward-thinking businesses who are taking action because they realize that their future business depends on their ability to protect and restore nature. Indeed, more than 360 companies from the Business for Nature community have already made commitments to help reverse nature loss.

When it comes to governments, some are ahead of the curve whilst others are only now starting to appreciate the cost of inaction. Costa Rica has long been recognized as a leader, using a variety of policy levers to promote the restoration and protection of nature including tax changes, land policies and deforestation. And just last week the UK government announced new measures to reward farmers for taking positive environmental action such as improving soil health.

EZ: So, as you can see there is action, but not enough. The reality is we need action from “nature positive” business to be the norm, not the exception; and for governments to adopt more ambitious nature policies to make this norm a reality. This way we’ll stand a fighting chance of restoring our relationship with nature during the next decade.

This gives me confidence that we’re on the right track and that nature is increasingly seen as a business-critical issue. This is supported further by the fact that for the first time, environmental issues now make up the top five risks globally — and biodiversity loss is one of these.

SGK: What have been the main challenges in convening a united business voice when representing companies of varying sizes, sectors and geographies?

EZ: It’s a good question! Business for Nature is still a fairly new coalition but we’ve been amazed at the support we’ve had in such a short space of time, from the feedback we had on our policy recommendations from businesses all around the world to the quotes of support we’ve had since the launch. This gives me confidence that we’re on the right track and that nature is increasingly seen as a business-critical issue. This is supported further by the fact that for the first time, environmental issues now make up the top five risks globally — and biodiversity loss is one of these.

As Business for Nature grows and we raise awareness of our policy recommendations, we need to be smarter about getting support from the right businesses, in the right sectors and in the right geographies and this is something we’re working with our partners to do at the moment.

SGK: The Convention on Biological Diversity COP 15 in 2020 marks a unique opportunity to push global efforts further and build global momentum around biodiversity conservation. Could you tell us more about the coalition’s advocacy efforts around COP 15 this year?

MP: COP 15 is an important and key moment in the 2020 Super Year, but it’s not the only one. We want to build momentum in the run up to COP 15 by encouraging businesses to attend and speak up at other key international events.

We are providing input in the drafts of the post-2020 framework to raise the ambition level and make sure we there is a successful outcome at the negotiations. At the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, we will call on heads of states and governments to demonstrate political momentum by adopting a planetary emergency, committing to reversing nature loss by 2030, and keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees. And via our network of partners, we’re hosting events in key markets to engage regional businesses and encourage relationship building between companies and governments. This will give the courage and comfort to policy makers to adopt ambitious policies.

In June, the IUCN World Conservation Congress also offers us a critical moment where businesses will have a unique opportunity to provide leadership and ask governments for greater policy ambition on nature. We’re hosting a joint event with CEOs to explore how business can accelerate this agenda.

SGK: Any advice or lessons you would like to share with other groups or coalitions who wish to take concerted action on social and environmental challenges?

EZ: Advice someone once gave me (well before Queen Elsa): let go… of your institutional hat, or your tool or initiative. If someone else is doing the same thing as you are — even if you’ve been doing it for longer or better — work with them, not against them. It’s such a waste to spend time bickering with each other instead of acting as one big team ready to fight the world’s most pressing challenges. Also, you must truly believe in the overall vision and mission you’re on, because you’ll need so much energy to bring others along with you.

About the author

Sabrina Gonçalves-Krebsbach
Sabrina Gonçalves-Krebsbach

Sabrina is a Manager in SustainAbility's London office. She works across a range sectors to help businesses advance sustainability.

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