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Global biodiversity is under threat. Technology will enable Europe’s businesses protect it

More than 50% of global GDP depends on biodiversity, yet little progress has been made on UN biodiversity-linked Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This alarming disparity is why the issue is rising to the top of Europe’s corporate agenda.

Solving this challenge was a key theme of CSR Europe’s European SDG Summit 2021, where speakers from business, politics and civil society sought to raise awareness and discuss a roadmap to strengthen biodiversity.

The ability of technology and partnerships to amplify the impacts of one-off projects was highlighted, as were the opportunities that exist for better data collection for ESG reporting. Above all, panellists emphasised the urgent need to accelerate solutions.

“Humanity has reached a tipping point,” said Gerard Bos, Director of Business and Biodiversity at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “The window of opportunity to respond to these interlinked climate and biodiversity emergencies is really narrowing.”

Taking action

According to the World Bank, by 2030, the economic value of lost ecosystem services, including wild pollination, marine fisheries and native forest timber could reach $2.7 trillion annually. Businesses of all shapes and sizes can be affected when biodiversity is lost, from rising commodity prices to the impacts of displaced communities.

Delegates at the session heard the many ways in which action is being taken. At a governmental level, for example, the EU has committed to ‘biodiversity mainstreaming,’ allocating 10% of the EU budget to support biodiversity from 2026.

Companies are stepping up to support these vulnerable ecosystems.

French multinational utility Engie is focusing on the restoration and protection of ecological corridors. Using annual assessments and action plans it assesses biodiversity in protected areas up to 15km from its sites. Greece’s Titan Cement encourages its business units to identify the biodiversity value of local areas. Units then work with local stakeholders to develop site-specific management plans.

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has a longstanding record of enabling organisations to create impactful change for the planet. Since 2010, it has supported the safe release into the sea of more than 8,000 Olive Ridley sea turtles in India’s Maharashtra state. Here, technical support, financial assistance, and volunteer support has benefitted both a threatened habit and the local tourism economy. In North Wales, UK, a bird reserve created in collaboration with the Tata Group has become the largest Common Tern colony in Wales.

However, halting biodiversity loss will be a global effort requiring collaboration and co-innovation to create solutions across ecosystems.

Connecting efforts

CSR Europe is taking steps to inform its members, giving them greater visibility of their biodiversity impacts. Engie is also pursuing a partnership approach, having built its own biodiversity network of more than 200 people which, in turn, connects with wider teams at CSR and IUCN.

“What we have done is to benchmark companies in terms of where they are on governance strategy, risk assessment, interaction and stakeholders, or basically metrics,” said Michel Hublet, Senior Director of CSR Europe. However, the data required for ESG metrics can prove elusive - not tracked, in silos, or held by third parties.

Technologies such as the internet of things (IoT) and advanced analytics can connect disparate data points, while machine learning and geographic information systems (GIS) can give companies real-time visibility of their supply chains. In the future, agriculture looks set to be a major user of blockchain, a technology that can help businesses monitor food and biodiversity impacts from farm to fork.

Together such tools can help contextualise the true value of biodiversity, benefiting both reporting, and C-Suite decision-making. “A lot can be done in integrating biodiversity in our overall supply chains, such as the agricultural sector,” said Gerard Bos.

Moment for action

Alain Vidal, Technical Director of the Science Based Targets Network emphasised the urgency of action to protect the health of the planet.

“When you have passed the tipping point in nature, and when you have faced irreversible losses, there's no net, because you can't compensate for any irreversible loss,” he said.

Collaborations between the private sector and academia can also help accelerate innovation. Inspiring the next generation - a key objective of TCS’ education programme, goIT - was also highlighted as critical for improving biodiversity in the coming years.

“We want nature and biodiversity to be spread through the whole population, and especially the new generations because they will be the leaders of tomorrow,” said Gerard Bos.