Rising “C-Level” recognition on the vital importance of Biodiversity

Author: Dr. Tony Simons   |   June 11, 2024

Biodiversity did not even exist as a word when most business chiefs – Chief Executive Officers, Chief Financial Officers, and  Chief Information Officers – of today were born. The term was first coined by Walter Rosen in 1985, and first published by E.O. Wilson in 1988. Since then, biodiversity has itself diversified, and become an adjective that describes a variety of things: from conventions and hotspots to safeguards and frameworks.

Aspiring business chiefs can now even enroll for Masters in Business Administration with a major in Biodiversity. And yet the recognition, appreciation and prioritization of biodiversity have been largely absent from major decisions in Corporate Board Rooms and Investment Committees.

In May 2024, in Berlin, at the GreenTech Festival, biodiversity received a welcome boost from the festival organisers. Biodiversity was elevated to a main panel session of double duration titled, Biodiversity – the next Big Thing in Business. The session played to a packed house at the Deep Dive Arena.

Moderators hugely influence the impact of a session whether, or not, they contribute content and/or provide exemplifying input before and during the session.

The audience and panelists (Christian Decher, Tobias Raffel and myself), at the Biodiversity Session at GreenTech Festival were blessed with a top-notch moderator, Anna Alex from Nala Earth.

Alex laid out well the combined premise of Biodiversity as a treasure of nature, an enterprise enabler, and a new asset class. She cast biodiversity not as a hazard on the radar screen to be navigated around, but rather as a new lens to envision business pathways and as a novel navigation tool to drive performance.

She then adeptly guided the expert panelists, drawn from business, research and global policy, to focus on biodiversity solutions, avoiding the trap of dwelling solely on more nuanced biodiversity problem diagnoses.

The intense interest in the Biodiversity Session and the sophistication of the questions posed during the segment suggest that the organisers had pitched it right to target: an informed and impatient audience. Very little of the WHY, WHAT, WHERE and WHO of Biodiversity were discussed. The greatest desire was to explore the HOW dimension of this next “BIG Thing”.

Biodiversity has for over 3 billion years been a big thing on Earth, and for that matter, in the entire Universe. We know of no other life on any of the 100 billion planets and exo-planets in the cosmos. Rather, we are just beginning to better understand how big biodiversity is for business governance, strategies, policies, plans, value chains and outcomes.

Aside from chiefly ignoring biodiversity and undervaluing it in business matters, perhaps the biggest fault committed to date has been to equate biodiversity and carbon challenges through “copy-paste” credit and/or offset markets approaches.

Certainly, biodiversity markets can learn from carbon markets as they are both relying on new financial instruments. But this is like saying the diamond market can learn from the potato market as they are both commodity instruments.

Yes, carbon and biodiversity are inherently linked since all life on Earth is carbon-based. But they are vastly different, and collectively we should have learned from the previous mistake of purely equating forests as quantities of carbon.

The world has lost more forest in the last 100 years than it did in the previous 10,000 years – sadly. But to distill forest value down to the numbers of carbon atoms they contained is as big of an injustice and an illogicality as it is to unsustainably take an axe or chainsaw to a tree.

Imagine, if airlines after a fatal crash compensated the families of victims based on the amount of carbon (average 14kg) in their corpses. At 20 Euros per tonne of CO2 , on average, this would illogically equate to a little over 1.04 Euros per passenger.

Yes, people, forests and biodiversity are worth so much more than the quantity of carbon they contain. Indeed, the goods and services derived annually from nature twice exceed the global Gross Domestic Product, and several authors believe this is still a conservative estimate.

GreenTech Festival organizers certainly recognize the important value of biodiversity and nature more broadly, and  invited the UNCCD’s G20 Global Land Initiative to participate as a panelist.

Land in its multiple dimensions is that platform that connects all living and non-living things. The interdependence of land-based processes is truly amazing. For instance, on average, all of the terrestrial vegetation on Earth only metabolises less than 5 percent of the water it absorbs. The rest, more than 95 percent, is transpired back to the atmosphere.

Incredibly, more than 60 percent of all land-based evapotranspiration is derived from vegetation. And the healthier and more diverse the vegetation the more stable and more generous its contributions to water cycling and the greater the capture of carbon through photosynthesis.

Biodiversity, water, climate, productivity and land health – it’s all connected. So the business case for biodiversity and for climate, water and the circular economy comes down to the business case for land. The only fundamental caveat is that the business case for land must include and integrate financial, environmental and social sustainability dimensions.

In the immediate future, corporate business and investment chiefs need to take important decisions alongside and in alignment with global and national policy decisions. Typically, such decisions often lack complete evidence or understanding to substantiate them.

This points to the need to test innovations and for adaptive learning. This discovery process, however, is neither purely public interest nor purely private interest.

We cannot rely solely on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for climate to sustain biodiversity or global prosperity. It will have to be a combination of NDCs alongside Corporate Determined Contributions (CDCs) and Individual Determined Contributions (IDCs).

We need to applaud and reward business chiefs who are embracing biodiversity and sustainable land management in their supply chains and investment portfolios and reaching out across the public-private domains. Otherwise, there will not just be rising “C-level” recognition but more mischief and more rising sea levels.