IEMA Fellow Damien Plant provides some personal insights on the 2023 European Business and Nature Summit


An earlier version of this article was first published by the Society for the Environment, so apologies if any IEMA readers have seem this already. However, with the recent launch of the IEMA Europe Regional Network, of which I am one of two chairs – the other being Germany-based Dr Thomas Burgdorff – it seemed genuinely recyclable in itself (cheap pun intended), an opportunity to draw the membership’s attention to the latest international network and the chance to bang the drum about what is happening across the English Channel. Hopefully this piece will be followed by many others from European based members (I’m in Vienna) to the benefit of all.

Pathway to sustainability leadership

I have been engaged with the issues of global warming, climate change and all things sustainability since 1992. Back then I was a young army officer, detached for the summer to be the mountain leader with a group of young glaciologists to measure something called ‘glacial retreat’ in Iceland. This was as far from my ‘normal’ life as I could get, notwithstanding a love for the outdoors and exploring the world in all its majesty.

That trip became a personal turning point, and I became one of the first ‘green’ military officers – an extremely rare species, who never met or indeed knew how to recognise each other! Since then, my engagement continued to grow, but after a military and diplomat career, I now work as a sustainability advisor based in Austria. And yes, we have lots of glacial retreat going on here.

In recent years I have been fortunate to be involved with a whole variety of climate and nature opportunities, including attendance at COP26 as an IEMA delegate, COP15 and the European Business and Nature Summit (EBNS). COP15 feeds directly into the EBNS. It was not a UNFCCC ‘climate’ conference as such, coming under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

COP15 was a truly historic event, perhaps akin to COP21 in Paris, in that it provided a framework: the Global Biodiversity Framework, on which to build and shape the beginnings of targets. Which leads me to…

The EBNS: European Business and Nature Summit (11-12 October 2023)

Key focus

Having attended COP15, it was a privilege to see this translated in a European scenario. For context, the key aspect of the GBF for the business delegation with whom I travelled (from organizations such as the WEF, The B Team, WWF and Business for Nature was Target 15. This target required businesses to assess and disclose biodiversity dependencies, impacts and risks, and reduce negative impacts. This has given signatory governments the level playing field from which to legislate and produce policy. It then allows businesses clarity in the pre-competitive space to move in the right direction, invest appropriately and report and disclose in the competitive arena.

A collaborative approach

Space precludes a lengthy discussion of what happened, but those interested can follow the link at the end to explore further. What was really heartening was to see the clear linkages between Montréal and this event in Milan, a focus on action and a building of a pan-European community to take this forward. Multiple stakeholders were present, including government (The European Commission sponsored), NGOs such as Capitals Coalition who work with businesses to promote a multi-capital approach, finance, academia and not-for-profits. Silos are being broken down and collaboration is increasing.

“The direction of travel is genuinely positive, with a target of 'nature positive by 2030' a simple yet all-encompassing idea to grasp... Silos are being broken down and collaboration is increasing.”

The challenges

The challenges are myriad. It was those looking forward that were present, standards are still under development and how does one even measure all the impacts and dependencies? Indeed, some readers will say we should not devalue nature by doing so. In Montréal, Tony Juniper CEnv (a former SocEnv President) commented that those working on climate haven’t begun to appreciate the complexities of nature and biodiversity. The climate agenda is also now well advanced when compared with the nature fight, which remains in its infancy. There is also a misunderstanding that they are the same thing.

Implementing change

Nevertheless, the direction of travel is genuinely positive, with a target of ‘nature positive by 2030’ a simple yet all-encompassing idea to grasp. The GBF and all the national and multi-lateral regulations that flow from it (e.g., via TNFD, CSRD, elements of the EU Green Deal) mean that the implementation phase is starting.

The EBNS rightly focussed on the continent of Europe, and particularly on the EU area. The level of ambition is high, with the organisation “striving to be the first climate-neutral continent”. That includes a specific commitment to the environment and oceans and an ambitious EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, that includes areas as diverse as soil, pollinators and the 30 by 30 initiative.

Other actors are also making huge contributions. For example Business for Nature have developed actions for twelve sectors from built environment to water and central bankers sharing best practice through the Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS).

Looking forward

So what? For those in Europe we can expect progress in the right direction. For those outside Europe, lessons are being learned, actions and experimentation undertaken, and this could be an invaluable contribution to the recovery of nature and biodiversity worldwide.

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

Afternote 1: Some of you may not have heard of the Society for the Environment, an umbrella organisation, of which IEMA is a valued member. There are several levels of membership and a whole additional and complementary benefits to your IEMA membership. Highly recommended to have a look if it might be of interest.

Afternote 2: IEMA has about 400 members in mainland Europe and now has representation at ‘regional’ level. If you are based on the continent, or have strong connections, please consider getting involved. An easy place to start is to join the LinkedIn group (IEMA Europe Regional Network) or via the networks page on the IEMA website.

Photo of Damien
Damien Plant

EU licensed business consultant working in both mainland Europe and the UK, with a focus on sustainability, strategy and people - and ideally linking all three.


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