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The Nature Factor - is your organisation ready to go beyond net-zero?

An ambitious “Paris Agreement for Nature” was inked by governments at COP15 in 2022. But what does this mean for businesses and institutions, and how can they prepare?

Written by:
George Biesmans

When most businesses think about sustainability, “net-zero” is often mistakenly framed as the Holy Grail. This, in many ways, mirrors the political landscape, which for so long has been narrowly focused on emissions targets, rather than considering the whole picture.

But now this seems to be changing. Nature is (slowly) gaining prominence in how governments, businesses and communities are responding to the ever-darkening shadow of the climate emergency.

This was particularly apparent in the wake of COP15 - known informally as the “nature COP” - which took place in the closing weeks of 2022.

For many, COP15 was a landmark moment in putting the protection and regeneration of nature where it belongs - at the heart of the conversation - and not just in the political landscape.

In the run-up to the conference, some of the world’s biggest businesses and financial institutions, worth a combined $1.5 trillion - including IKEA and Nestlé - called on world leaders to make it mandatory for organisations to measure and disclose their impacts on nature. 

This ambition was reflected in the final text of the new Global Biodiversity Framework - hailed as the “Paris Agreement for Nature” - with Target 15 being to:

"Take legal, administrative or policy measures to encourage and enable business [...] to regularly monitor, assess, and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity"

As ever with international agreements, the devil will be in the implementation of its targets, which include a headline goal of protecting 30% of global lands and oceans by 2030. 

There is clearly a long way to go to make these ambitions a reality, especially when you consider that none of the “Aichi targets” - the last major international agreement on nature - were achieved. 

But there is a growing sense that COP15 may well have been a turning point, firing the starting gun on a raft of nature-centric laws and regulations.

A new EU directive on deforestation, which made headlines in 2022, is a harbinger of more far-reaching nature legislation to come, with big implications for businesses globally. 

Even the Carbon Disclosure Project, which for 20 years has been collecting data from thousands of the world’s biggest companies on their emissions, has made a monumental pivot towards nature. Their new reporting guidance couldn’t be clearer:

"Carbon emissions are only one part of the challenge. The climate and nature crises need to be addressed simultaneously, including by conserving, protecting, and restoring ecosystems"

Another historically emissions-focused standard, the Science-Based Targets Initiative, has also begun to weave nature into its reporting criteria. From now on, any company who wants their net-zero target to get the “gold standard” SBTi stamp of approval, will have to make sure Forest, Land and Agriculture (FLAG) are factored in. 

Meanwhile, the recently established Task Force on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures - rallying companies “to report and act on evolving nature-related risks” - is further evidence of this trend. Clearly, there is growing recognition that the destruction and collapse of nature pose a fundamental risk to the viability of any company.

And yet, most businesses, it seems, are disastrously unprepared for this increasingly nature-centric, post-COP15 world.

The Nature Benchmark, which ranks some of the most influential companies on their efforts to protect nature - including Nike, Pfizer and Rio Tinto - recently highlighted this by reporting that:

  • Less than 1% know how much their business operations depend on nature
  • Only 5% understand their impact on nature
  • 97% of have yet to “commit to a nature-positive trajectory” 

In summary, nature is a “blind spot” for businesses. And blind spots are always a risk. 

Especially when you consider The World Economic Forum’s latest ranking of the top 10 major risks facing the world in the next decade. Six of them are “environmental”, with “biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse” coming in at number 4. 

Nature-centric scrutiny and regulation of this kind will only grow, as the decisions taken at COP15 ripple out. Those impaired by net-zero tunnel vision and nature blindness will be left behind. 

So how can your organisation prepare?

It’s clear that focusing exclusively on net-zero will leave organisations exposed to risk, when legislation requires them to go much further than this and factor nature into their decisions, from operations to supply chains. 

Being prepared has to start with education and understanding: teams who grasp the importance of nature in all of this, who are equipped with the key knowledge and skills to steer their organisations through this coming wave of nature-centric change, will lead the way. 

At AimHi Earth, we empower whole teams to be both climate leaders and nature-first thinkers. Through our energising and systems-led training programmes, we provide teams with the whole picture of the climate and nature emergency.

If you and your organisation want to be one step ahead of the curve, head over to our training page for organisations to find out more and reach out to us.

Conversation Starters

Want to talk about what’s in this blog, but don’t know where to start? Try these conversation starters.

For someone more conservatively minded:

Leading the way in business means knowing what’s just around the corner and adapting to fast-moving political and economic currents. For years, net-zero has been the “gold standard” of sustainability in business. That’s changing fast. The recent “Paris Agreement for Nature” means businesses are going to have to factor nature into their decisions more and more. Doing what’s good for the planet will soon mean doing what’s good for business. 

For someone more liberally minded:

For a long time, many people, including those working in the climate space, tended to see “net-zero” as the ultimate mark of sustainability and the most impactful way to combat the climate emergency. But this is changing, with the “Nature COP” in 2022 bringing the protection and restoration of centre front and centre of the conversation. This means that governments and businesses are going to have to factor nature much more into their decisions than they have done in the past. How can we hold them accountable to this? 

For a climate denier or sceptic:

Businesses are being forced into transforming the way they work to meet ever-more burdensome sustainability requirements. First it was “net-zero” and now it’s another shiny buzzword: “nature-positive”. This is just another word made up by the environmental movement, but increasingly, the legislative and regulatory substance is there to back it up. A major international agreement signed in 2022 is going to make businesses accountable for the impact of their activities on nature. Those who don’t understand this will be increasingly exposed to risks, see their profits slashed and ultimately be left behind. Soon, it will just make good business sense to factor nature into your decisions. 

For someone with climate anxiety:

Reading about (and even witnessing) the destruction of nature can make you feel sad and helpless. But there is hope. A major international agreement was signed at the “Nature COP” in 2022, putting the protection and restoration of nature much higher up the political and economic agenda. There’s still work to do, but this is a reminder that there are millions of people around the world  getting up every day to secure a healthy, stable and nature-centric future for all of us.