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COP15 Reflections: ‘Don’t Leave Nature Behind’

Jenny Merriman, Technical Director, Natural Capital and Biodiversity

Jenny Merriman, Technical Director, Natural Capital and Biodiversity | WSP

3 min read Partner content

There is no time to waste - 2023 is the year we must start converting biodiversity ambition into meaningful action. WSP’s Jenny Merriman attended COP15 in Montreal and reflects on what its agreements mean for our natural environment.

As the dust settles on December’s UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), there are glimpses of hope for nature. The historic deal struck in Montreal by nations to address the dangerous loss of biodiversity and restore natural ecosystems is a positive start, but of course the proof will be in the application. 

The “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” (GBF) includes four goals and 23 targets to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. There were quantitative targets set on the reversal of harmful subsidies for nature (Target 18) and on the additional finance needed to support transitional change and deliver the goals (Target 19).

There were two ‘30x30’ targets, one in relation to degraded ecosystems (Target 2) and the other on effective conservation and management of ecosystems of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Across all targets was a strong emphasis on inclusion and a rights-based approach.

For those involved in COP15, it was heartening to see significant engagement from the private sector, youth leaders and local indigenous groups from around the world. A global yet profoundly local issue like biodiversity loss needs input from a diverse range of stakeholders to address it adequately and fairly. Discussions were rich and the final language in the targets reflects the important role of all stakeholders in meeting the overall vision of living in harmony with nature by 2050. 

It was encouraging to see the level of ambition coming from the private sector, including financial institutions. Many examples of private finance and blended models of funding were showcased in side-events throughout the conference, demonstrating that shifting financial flows towards nature positive outcomes (or ‘greening finance’) is already happening and can be scaled up with the right governance and frameworks behind it. The reflection of this in the GBF was a key achievement of COP15 and will help to mobilise more investment from this sector – providing a necessary means of implementing the overall goals.

Natural capital markets and biodiversity credits were also at the forefront of many discussions. The need for strong governance as these markets develop cannot be overstated as they must be high-integrity markets that facilitate real long-term outcomes for nature and climate, rather than act as a conduit for profiteering alone. Understandably, businesses are cautious about engaging in these markets for fear of accusations of greenwashing, so there needs to be leadership from both governments and regulators to set a level playing field and ensure positive outcomes. 

Significantly, and for the first time, a target specifically for businesses was set. Target 15 refers to the need to assess and disclose businesses’ risks, impacts and dependencies on nature across the value chain. Although this is not currently a legal requirement, the anticipation at COP15 of the launch of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework was substantial.

In the coming years, it’s likely that several nations will mandate nature-related reporting, most likely using the TNFD – just as has been seen with the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). TNFD is currently co-funded by the UK Government and at COP15 Germany committed an additional €29 million of support for its implementation.

With this clear pathway and ambition set, now is the time for all stakeholders – governments, businesses, civil society, financial institutions – to assess their readiness and what they can start doing right now. In doing so, the upward trend of biodiversity loss can be halted and reversed. 2030 is only seven years away and there is still much to be achieved, but even the smallest of steps will make a difference.

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