What corporate accountability means for the Global Biodiversity Framework

First learnings from the Nature Benchmark

In December 2022, 196 governments agreed to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). Heralded internationally as the ‘Paris moment’ for nature, the landmark framework is hoped to lead the world towards a more harmonious relationship between nature, people and the economy.

Learning from the shortcomings of its predecessor, the Aichi Targets, the GBF invites all stakeholders to participate and recognises the crucial role of business in its implementation. Many of the 23 agreed targets are relevant for business and will require their contribution to ensure successful implementation. Target 15 sits at the core of this corporate recognition as it sets the expectations for “large and transnational companies and financial institutions”. As a result, there is a clear responsibility for the private sector to contribute to the achievement of the GBF objectives.

Momentum is building both at government and business level. However, the integration of the private sector into the next phase, namely the National Biodiversity Strategies and Actions Plans (NBSAPs), is still in its early stages.

Nevertheless, businesses looking to contribute to the GBF goals and targets can and should already act. WBA’s 2022 Nature Benchmark shows that companies are taking actions that contribute to the GBF, but not enough and not in a coherent manner. To align with the mission of the GBF, businesses are expected to transform their business models and contribute to halting and reversing negative impacts on nature – moving beyond simple commitments. The ACT-D framework is a useful starting point on this journey as it provides high-level business actions on nature in the form of three repeating steps ‘Assess, Commit, Transform’ with public disclosure of nature information ‘Disclose’ taking place at each step.

Building on this virtuous loop (especially the Transform step) and our research assessing the world’s most influential companies, we recommend companies to look at three key considerations to improve their alignment with the GBF: embedding the mitigation hierarchy, ensuring the respect of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) rights, and showing alignment between their lobbying and action.

1. Focus on avoiding negative impacts

GBF’s flagship Target 3, which calls for the conservation of at least 30% of terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas by 2030, has grabbed much of the headlines and attention. However, it should not divert attention away from the underlying drivers of biodiversity loss that are also addressed in the GBF such as ecosystem conversion (Target 1), pollution (Target 7), unsustainable land-use (Target 10) and overconsumption (Target 16).

With the alarming rate at which biodiversity is declining globally, the private sector can and must urgently take impactful actions. The 2022 Nature Benchmark shows that less than 5% of companies assessed have committed to avoid ecosystem conversion, for example by reducing deforestation or protecting wetlands. Similarly, on pollution, only a third of companies showed relevant efforts to curb air and water pollutants, and reduce plastic use and waste.

So, what does impactful action look like? First, although Target 15 has been labelled the “business and finance target”, nearly all 23 targets are relevant for companies and should all be considered to define business actions. Second, not all actions businesses can take are equal. The mitigation hierarchy is a powerful tool for impactful measures. The approach relies on a set of prioritised steps that specifically focuses on the avoidance of negative impacts, then considers minimisation and restoration and, lastly, encourages offsetting actions. To align with the GBF, businesses must embed this approach in the core of their own strategies.

2. Respect human rights, in particular the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs)

Closely linked to the previous point, the importance of human rights, including those of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs), is a red thread throughout the GBF. Companies seeking to contribute to the GBF should ensure that human rights are upheld throughout their supply chains, especially the rights of IPLCs. The GBF strongly recognises their rights, making a direct reference in more than a third of the targets (including the flagship target 30×30). Target 22 is the cornerstone of these efforts “to ensure full, effective and equitable participation in decision-making for Indigenous Peoples and local communities and access to justice and protection for environmental defenders”.

IPLCs often live in critical ecosystems and coexist with threatened species. They manage about 40% of all terrestrial protected areas and their ecological knowledge enables a sustainable existence of ecosystems worldwide. Yet, according to the 2022 Nature Benchmark, less than 13% of companies assessed express a clear commitment to respect Indigenous Peoples’ rights. To carry out projects with the potential to affect IPLCs, companies must commit to obtaining Free, Prior and Informed Consent from them to ensure their agency in the future of their territories. Additionally, despite the regular persecution of environmental- and rights-defenders, only a handful of companies have a policy in place to prevent such violent outcomes.

There is no credible pathway towards nature-positive without respecting the rights of IPLCs. Explicit recognition by companies of Indigenous and traditional territories in their own right is critical to accomplishing the highest ambitions of the post-2020 framework.

3. Cultivate responsible lobbying on nature

Companies can actively engage in developing and contributing to national and regional policy measures to achieve the GBF, notably through their advocacy efforts. By advocating for nature-positive policies, companies can contribute to Target 18 on eliminating harmful subsidies for nature. However, to maintain credibility, it is important for the private sector to align advocacy and engagement efforts with their business actions. Companies should disclose their membership to industry groups, assess them regularly against their positions and leave those that seek to undermine action on nature-positive policies.

Yet, according to our Nature Benchmark research, companies undermine their advocacy efforts by not holding their own industry associations accountable. Only about a third disclose a partial list of their industry associations and way fewer disclose a comprehensive list of their memberships. Worst still, barely 2% of companies ensure their lobby groups are aligned with their climate pledges, let alone biodiversity.

Companies need to align their positions and actions with their lobbying efforts so that they can fully contribute to the GBF ambitions. This is particularly relevant for sectors like Food and Agriculture (the focus of Target 10) which rely heavily on subsidies that are potentially harmful for nature.

The necessity of monitoring corporate accountability for the GBF

The success of the GBF will depend on its robust implementation and the use of monitoring mechanisms for all stakeholders, including companies. Beyond simply incentivising action by business and finance, the Nature and Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans must enable the collection and monitoring of commitments and progress. The private sector must be held accountable for its impacts on nature and can already start acting in line with the GBF.

To close the corporate accountability gap on nature, we must ensure that monitoring and accountability mechanisms are created from the get-go so that we can review actual progress at COP16 and act accordingly. Strengthening accountability is a collective effort that many organizations are already collaborating on through the Accountability Accelerator. Having a common roadmap of expectations from companies is critical. While no single organisation can hold companies accountable, the WBA benchmarks, in particular the Nature Benchmark, provide such roadmap for nature. The benchmarks can be used as effective tools for a strong implementation of the GBF by the private sector- enabling the corporate accountability movement for nature.

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