Historically, mass extinctions (when a large number of species is wiped out within a short period of time due to conditions on earth changing at a rate faster than species can evolve) have occurred as a result of catastrophic events. The most famous mass extinction- the one that wiped out the dinosaurs- was caused by massive volcanic eruptions and a meteorite hitting the earth 65 million years ago. But many scientists now agree that the next mass extinction will not be caused by massive volcanic eruptions or asteroid impacts, it will be caused by us. According to a report from the United Nations, almost a million species are currently threatened with extinction and the reasons are all man-made; the impacts of climate change and converging with the exploitation of natural resources, causing extensive habitat destruction.
An article from SustainAbility explains, “From ongoing deforestation in agricultural supply chains to the effects on coral reefs from rising ocean temperatures, to fires destroying environments in Australia and the Amazon, global biodiversity, and the myriad ecosystem services that it provides, are under threat.” And while the environmental field has known about and addressed the impacts of biodiversity loss for decades, other fields are still catching up on understanding the impacts this will have upon the world, including the business field.
Among other issues that will arise with a mass extinction, biodiversity loss will have severe impacts upon the global economy, meaning that the business sector will need to play an active role in protecting biodiversity to prevent further species loss and a severe impact on their bottom line. The main way in which biodiversity loss will affect the business world is through the loss of ecosystem services. As explained in the above quote from SustainAbility, the connections that exist between all living organisms create a plethora of ecosystem services that humans use- for free.
Ecosystem services are positive benefits that the environment gives to humans; for example, plants clean the air and filter water, bees pollinate flowers, and we extract many services from the environment- what are known as provisioning services- including drinking water, timber, natural gas, oil, and plants that are used for clothing or medicinal production. Ecosystem services are often taken for granted, and their scope underappreciated; in 1997, Professor Robert Costanza estimated that ecosystem services were worth $33 trillion annually, $44 trillion in today’s dollars.
In order to protect both ecosystem services and the global economy, the next decade will be critical for the business community to work together to create meaningful and lasting change. While private sector change has largely been insufficient in the past, there is indication that the business world is catching up on their need to step in. This year, China will be hosting the 15th Conference of Parties (COP) for the Convention on Biological Diversity, with some calling this event the “Paris of Biodiversity,” hoping it will be a tipping point for environmental action. More than in the past, the private sector is expected to have a larger presence at this convention. As well, last year, 230 investors with over $16.2 trillion in assets issued an urgent call for corporate action to prevent further deforestation in areas like the Amazon.
Further, asset managers like BNP Paribas have been engaging corporations in discussions about deforestation through both dialogue and proxy voting. Hopefully, many more large corporations will heed the warnings and follow suit on preventing further environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. Another group of businesses that are working together to improve biodiversity, although indirectly, is the businesses who have joined the Ellen Macarthur Foundation and have committed to helping further develop a global circular economy.
For more information on how the business community is getting involved, check out this article from SustainAbility: https://trends.sustainability.com/2020/protecting-biodiversity/