Monday, 23 August 2021

SA Companies gather to discuss the business case for Biodiversity at WWF Living Planet Conference 2021

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SA Companies gather to discuss the business case for Biodiversity at WWF Living Planet Conference 2021
  • The 2020 WWF Living Planet Index showed an average 68% decline in global vertebrate species populations - mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish - in less than half a century.
  • Species population trends are of vital importance because they are a measure of overall ecosystem health. Serious declines are an indicator that our planet is flashing warning signs of systems failure, impacting not only on wildlife populations, but also on human health and all aspects of our lives.
  • The main cause of the dramatic decline in species populations is habitat loss and degradation, including deforestation, driven by how we as humanity produce food. 
  • Biodiversity creates significant economic value in the form of such ecosystem services as food provisioning, carbon storage, water and air filtration. 
  • Businesses are looking for sustainable finance solutions as consumers increasingly demand they operate with greater environmental awareness.
  • Urgent calls are needed by business and government leaders to take action to preserve biodiversity for the benefit of human wellbeing and life as we know it.

Globally, businesses and governments are starting to embrace the need to preserve biodiversity as the foundation of human life, health, jobs and economies, a pivotal environmental issue that comes into sharp focus at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Living Planet Conference 2021 (LPC 2021).

Business leaders from across all sectors are preparing to attend the conference themed “#NatureCounts – Is biodiversity loss the next wave?” which will provide insight and knowledge regarding the devastating impact of a loss of biodiversity on national economies and businesses.

The LPC 2021 virtual conference, which runs from 24 to 26 August 2021, will also have a session that highlights the rapidly expanding array of financial incentives and mechanisms now available to businesses to grow brands and turnover, while enhancing biodiversity through conscientious environmentally sensitive business practices, a hallmark consumers are increasingly demanding.

Justin Smith, Head of Business Development with WWF South Africa, said: “South Africa has incredible biodiversity assets but is emerging from a period of unsustainable and inequitable development which has had significant economic and social impacts. This means that organisations now face a major challenge, and calls are being made for leaders to act urgently. The World Economic Forum’s most recent Risk Report named the top three most likely long-term risks, and they were all environmental: extreme weather, human environmental damage and biodiversity loss.”

“Biodiversity is the very fabric of nature – it’s what keeps our natural systems functioning and healthy. These systems are the foundation of human life: for health, jobs and economies. Yet, unsustainable human activities are destroying habitats and polluting land, freshwater and marine ecosystems. We are wiping out the diversity of nature on which we depend and the resources we assume will always be around. We are annihilating the insects that pollinate our food crops, destroying the wetlands that provide us with fresh water, clearing natural areas for food production and wasting that food at the same time,” Smith said.

Devastating impact of shrinking biodiversity

We now know that biodiversity loss can drive devastating health crises like Covid-19. Amidst this pandemic-induced awareness of our negative impact on nature, we are counting the ‘waves’ of the coronavirus infection. The climate crisis is already upon us. Will accelerating biodiversity loss be the grand finale? Biodiversity loss is very real, and it is a bigger problem than most people probably realise.

According to the United Nations, in the last 100 years, more than 90% of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields. Half of the breeds of many domestic animals have been lost and all of the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits.  Locally varied food production systems are under threat, including related indigenous, traditional and local knowledge. With this decline, agrobiodiversity is disappearing, and with it the essential knowledge of traditional medicine and local foods.

A call for urgent business and policy action

Businesses and governments are now in a race to preserve the earth’s precious biodiversity. “The heads of state of more than 82 countries have signed the Leader’s Pledge for Biodiversity. Political support to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and ocean by 2030 was also mobilised by more than 50 countries who supported the High Ambition Coalition which was later launched at the One Planet Summit in January 2021,” said Smith.

He added that the report had noted that the World Economic Forum supported “nature-positive goals”, while leading global businesses had also formed coalitions to enable this. “World business leaders have now agreed that preserving biodiversity and achieving a ‘nature-positive global goal for nature’ is vital for the survival, not only of thriving businesses across all sectors and economies, but to preserve human life on the planet.”

Research had shown that the adoption of non-financial Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) considerations had a direct impact on investment and business bottom lines as consumers sought to transact with firms with a social and environmental conscience.

What to expect at this year’s conference

WWF has curated an array of local and international experts who will speak at LPC 2021, backed by the latest science on why nature counts for our climate, our economy and our culture, to equip businesses to develop sustainably and access green finances.

“We will look at the impacts of nature loss from different angles. A collaborative discussion will also be held with some of the top leaders in South Africa’s conservation sector on how we can increase action and work together to restore and regenerate nature,” concluded Smith.

Some of the speakers who are joining LPC 2021 include:

  • Maelle Pelisson, Advocacy Director at Business for Nature leading the coalition policy engagement around the UN negotiations on nature, including the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. 
  • Candice Stevens, Head of Innovative Finance at Wilderness Foundation Africa and Chairperson of the Sustainable Landscape Finance Coalition, where she works with multiple stakeholders and industry leaders across sectors to advance sustainable finance. Stevens introduced the first effective biodiversity tax incentive into the South African protected areas network for which she received the UN Pathfinder Award Special Commendation. 
  • Joanne Lee, a sustainable finance specialist at WWF International, who provides technical guidance on topics including net zero portfolio alignment, green financial solutions, sustainable infrastructure finance and natural capital. 
  • Sandy O Okoth, a sustainable finance expert who has supported projects for organisations in Sub-Saharan Africa and the United Kingdom to develop, implement and deliver cross-sectoral sustainable finance initiatives geared towards accelerating climate action and  adoption of ESG considerations by key investment stakeholders.

Follow the LPC 2021 proceedings by tuning into the daily live streams from 24 – 26 August 2021.

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Notes to Editor:

Some of South Africa's biodiversity facts (*SANBI National Biodiversity Assessment 2018):

  • The country is one of the world’s 17 megadiverse nations (countries which exhibit great biodiversity, have at least 5 000 species of endemic plants and border marine ecosystems).
  • It is one of the top 10 nations globally for plant species richness.
  • We have the second highest plant endemism in the world.
  • Three of the 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world are found in South Africa.
  • Around 5% of mammals, 7% of birds, 4% of reptiles, 2% of amphibians, 1% of freshwater fish and 16% of shark, skate and ray species in the world are found in South Africa.
  • We have the third highest marine species endemism. About 40% of an estimated 10 000 species found in our waters are endemic.
  • South Africa has 10% of the world’s coral species and a quarter of octopus, squid and cuttlefish species.
  • The Succulent Karoo is the world’s only arid hotspot. It has the world’s richest flora of succulent plants, mostly leaf succulents, and contains about one-third of the world’s approximately 10 000 succulents.
  • The Cape Floristic Region is the only biodiversity hotspot found within the borders of one country and contains 20% of Africa’s flora. It has over 9 000 species of plants of which about 6 200 are endemic.
  • Table Mountain alone supports 2 200 plant species, more than the entire United Kingdom.
Published in Energy and Environment