IEMA member Damien Plant FIEMA recently attended events at COP 15 in Montreal, Canada and shares their experiences.


Last year I had the privilege to attend COP26 as an IEMA observer. I found my first COP a unique learning opportunity and have tried to pay forward the benefits ever since. I have just returned from COP15 (organised by the Convention for Biological Diversity, CBD), where I had a similar experience. I wanted to share some of what I learned with fellow IEMA members.

This time I travelled with the Capitals Coalition team (www.capitalscoalition.org). They brought 170 delegates from across the business community and were part of a larger, coherent grouping including Business for Nature (www.businessfornature.org), the World Economic Forum, and many others. Observers may have read in the media about the sudden upsurge of interest in Biodiversity from business and I sense there is a genuine inflection point taking place; companies have become much more aware of both impacts and dependencies on nature and are seeking solutions in which businesses can compete on a level playing field. Over 350 financial organisations are attending and on Tuesday the conference had its first-ever dedicated finance day, with speakers including Mark Carney and Inger Anderson.

The primary aspiration from COP15 will be a GBF, or Global Biodiversity Framework and I had the opportunity to witness some of the negotiations - which are robust and fairly tortuous. From a business perspective Target 15 (mandatory reporting and disclosure) is the big item being lobbied for and it really helped that Business for Nature had a seat at the negotiating table and was able to emphasise that the business is backing the GBF and target 15 specifically. At this point in the conference, it is not clear if a GBF will be achieved, but indications are broadly positive and the business 'bloc' is working coherently together, starting with a co-ord conference each morning and identifying myriad opportunities to inform and influence.

What other observations might be made? Well, like many IEMA members I have been primarily involved in the areas of sustainability and the climate crisis to date. Nature was always there but very much looked at through the climate change lens. Being around CBD and the nature community (UNEP, IUCN, WWF etc) introduces a different perspective, which can be at odds with the climate agenda. For example, offsetting can be considered much more negatively, especially when solutions that may be good for carbon are seen as not good for nature, afforestation of grasslands being a good example.

There is a tension here, which is likely to grow. One of my personal questions was to understand the overlap between the two tracks. The bad news is that there can be a hardening of opinions and battle lines drawn as one side promotes the best solution for humans and another the planet; we cannot assume they are one and the same. More positively is the opportunity to bring those sides - and their parallel resources together and act more holistically. This is an area in which business could be most helpful - spending twice is not good short or long-term thinking. Carney talked of "the twin crises of climate and biodiversity".

In terms of maturity, these are early days for CBD. The climate issue is by comparison very advanced, with Danielle Mulder, the sustainability director of the BBC saying "climate COPs are in solution mode". Concepts taken for granted in climate (net zero by 2050, keeping 1.5 alive, loss and damage) are not yet even formulated for nature. Sadly one thing both campaigns have in common are the same challenges - with fierce disagreement between the global north and south as an example. This is why the GBF is so important and subsequent COPs are already slated to conduct further review and improvement (and 'ratcheting') at each conference. It really is important that talks in Montreal become the equivalent of COP21 in Paris.

Acting as early as possible is a theme that echoes the (failed) attempts by the UNFCCC to do the same. Not acting also makes the glide path ever steeper, with a very challenging aspiration to be 'nature positive by 2030'. A key cry is how much cheaper it will be to protect than to restore, along with the accompanying lost decades whilst this takes place. A next-level insight from the nature community is the importance of biodiversity below the surface, with a UNCBD scientist saying "unless we understand biodiversity below ground, we will not understand biodiversity above ground" and estimating we know only 1% of what is going on. All of this overlaps significantly with food security, social justice, just transition, so there is plenty of potential for synergy. Along with many others, the lead for the Bezos Earth Fund spoke of the advantages of nature-based solutions, saying that, unlike technological solutions they could deliver for climate, biodiversity and livelihoods.

Another recurrent theme was 'inappropriate/perverse' subsidies, along with the belief that shifting that money to positive areas would allow the aspirations for a nature-positive world to be 'cost neutral'. There is much else besides and the work of organisations like the Science Based Targets Network is deserving of better understanding.

There was of course much else that space precludes mentioning, but as an overall takeaway the executive director of the SBTN Erin Billman puts it nicely: "nature should be on top, with climate nested within". Whilst many readers may disagree with that it remains the fact that we need to be successful in both fights to be successful in either. Emmanuel Faber of the ISSB said, "we started with climate because we were told it was urgent". The needs of nature are no less urgent (1 million species lost to date). I would encourage readers to incorporate nature-positive thinking into their work if they do not do so already, and to look out for the outcomes of COP15 after the 19th of December; like the outcome of an earlier meeting in Montreal, it could be historic.

Note: COP16 is due to take place in Turkey in 2024.

If you’d like to follow up, Damien can be found as follows: [email protected] and www.susdev.life.

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the contributing individual, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.

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Damien Plant

Damien is a recently retired diplomat, who works from a base in Vienna as a sustainability consultant on a variety of projects in Europe and beyond. He can be contacted through: www.susdev.life