Nature – On The Frontlines At Davos 2024?We Mean Business Coalition
This article first appeared in Forbes.
“Nature does everything.” – the words of UNEP Executive Director Inger Anderson at Davos 2024 during a session exploring if the financial risks of climate change are under-priced. “From cities to products, we’ve built the world on Earth’s finite resources”, said Andersen.
This year’s Davos theme was centred around ‘rebuilding trust amid uncertainty’. ‘A long-term strategy for Climate, Nature and Energy’ was pinned as one of the event’s top themes – critical, given that over half of the world’s GDP, $44 trillion, is highly or moderately dependent on nature.
Yet, in reality, issues presenting immediate threats related to geopolitical tensions, and the governance and implementation of AI took centre stage. How did the high-profile World Economic Forum event prioritise nature?
According to WEF’s 2024 Global Risks report, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse rank as one of the top three risks over the next decade. For the next two years, it is cast far lower, ranking 18th. Think tank Planet Tracker refers to this assessment as ‘biocrastination’, a term that is warranted if business leaders are unable to recognise the near term threat and interdependencies of many biodiversity related risks, which do rank higher.
As political leaders, chiefs of global organisations, academics and public figures descended upon Davos, what were the glimmers of hope and momentum that helped to facilitate dialogue and accelerate progress to prioritise the nature agenda?
Pivoting away from business as usual towards actionable nature positive strategies became a focus of numerous conversations. María Mendiluce, CEO of the We Mean Business Coalition shared that “While long-term climate strategies were formally on the agenda, the real question was how to mobilise private sector action with the urgency needed to address the challenges ahead of us.”
Pursuit of nature positive actions, aided by pressure from governments, consumers and investors, has been driven by the goals set at COP15, through the landmark agreement to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030 on a 2020 baseline and to achieve full recovery by 2050.
Such actions make good, economic sense. The WEF estimates that nature positive transitions are estimated to generate up to $10.1 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs by 2030. In spite of this, world investments in nature-based solutions totalled approximately $200 billion annually, a mere shadow of the $7 trillion of subsidies given to fossil fuel projects last year according to the IMF. Sobering statistics beg the question – how can the pursuit of nature-based solutions and nature positive strategies compete with these forces?
A recalibration of priorities is clearly needed within the public and private sector. “If every company invested in high quality nature-based solutions to address 10% of their unabated emissions, the private sector would mobilise billions in additional climate finance that would help halt biodiversity loss and infuse much needed capital into nature conservation efforts.”, commented Mendiluce after reflecting on her time at Davos.
What were the key announcements that wove the nature agenda into discussions?
A highlight included the Task Force on Nature-related Disclosure’s (TNFD) announcement that 320 ‘early adopters’ from over 46 countries are beginning to use the TNFD recommendations and frameworks for nature reporting. This group, representing over US$4 trillion in market capitalisation, includes some of the world’s largest asset owners and managers, banks and insurers. Launched in September, the recommendations and framework were a result of over two years of collaborative work across public and private sectors and involved consultation with Indigenous Peoples, local communities and civil society organisations.
Tony Goldner, Executive Director for TNFD noted that “At Davos this year, there was a growing appreciation that nature is a core strategic risk management issue and no longer just a CSR issue. The reality is that nature risk is sitting on balance sheets and cash flows today.”
Imminent reporting requirements, including the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). will mean businesses have to disclose their nature related impacts. TNFD stands to provide support for organisations and has recently released TNFD in a box as a capacity building tool. “Through the work of TNFD, SBTN and others, the tools that help to see and manage these issues are now available. There was a lot of interest at Davos about getting started, which was very encouraging.”, recounted Goldner.
Elsewhere, the Science Based Target Network (SBTN) released an update on their pilot project which aims to support 17 global organisations, including Nestle and AB InBev to develop science-based targets for nature, both directly for their operations and upstream in supply chains. As a result, over 20,000 data points were collected since May 2023. This information is set to inform learnings for businesses operating in similar sectors and to identify which areas require strengthened climate focused initiatives, especially on regenerative agriculture.
Encouragingly, according to the network, 160 companies are preparing to set science-based targets for nature in some form. This, alongside the cumulative impact of other initiatives and frameworks including the newly updated GRI Biodiversity Standard, Nature Action 100, the Financial Sector Deforestation Action (FSDA) initiative and the Finance for Biodiversity Pledge could increase pressure on business to assess and disclose nature-related impacts.
The forum saw the launch of the CEO Action Group for Nature by the WEF, aimed to increase private sector ambition, equip CEOs with tools and knowledge to achieve nature based targets, and foster collective action across sectors through dialogue. The Group will draw on research and consultations with industry leaders to inform nature-positive transition pathways.
Data is an integral factor in mapping these transition pathways. To capture such data, the Nature Tech Alliance was announced during Davos as a partnership between NatureMetrics, a platform supporting nature monitoring and impact reporting, with Salesforce, ERM and satellite imaging specialist Planet Labs. The Alliance’s mission is to collect data that can drive conservation and restoration of natural ecosystems at scale, as well as ‘collaborate to provide full spectrum biodiversity measurement, management and disclosure for global corporations’ – wrote Kat Bruce, founder of NatureMetrics on LinkedIn.
Smaller nods to nature appeared in the hallways of Davos, through immersive AI art installations by Refik Anadol with the intention to bring people closer together with nature, to see, hear and smell vibrant ‘generative nature simulations’ of the rainforest, such as soaring waterfalls, colourful birds and flowers.
But amidst the wave of announcements, conversations on stage and on the periphery helped to facilitate critical dialogue and underpin how fundamental nature is to thriving economies.
‘On the frontlines for nature’ returned to the theme of building trust and capacity amongst Indigenous Communities and emphasised the work of the UNDP’s Nature Pledge and Brazil’s Amazon Security Plan. “Indigenous people represent 6% of the population, are guardians of 80% of world’s biodiversity and yet a mere 1% of financial resources for climate mitigation and adaptation reach the territories”, stated Atossa Soltani, founder of Amazon Watch. The WEF has since highlighted the lessons that we can learn from indigenous leaders, emphasising that global prosperity requires a human approach to nature.
The SDG Tent paid specific attention to what a given sector’s priority actions should be to embark on a nature positive strategy. This is essential given that whilst 83% of Fortune Global 500 companies have climate change targets, just 5% have targets related to biodiversity and have assessed their impacts on nature. Notably, less than 1% understand their nature dependencies so facilitating a cross sector dialogue will create learnings for others.
Undoubtedly, Davos 2024 helped to further permeate the value of nature and to stimulate the conversation about how financial and investor communities, as well as governments and policy makers, can reward nature positive behaviours and outcomes.
The progress made by initiatives and standards to demystify the roadmap for how organisations can integrate nature into their strategies should be lauded. This includes the UNEP FI’s latest report comparing assessment and disclosure approaches of different frameworks on nature-related issues.
As Goldner from TNFD believes, “It is no longer about making the case for nature. Companies and financial institutions are now very focused on the ‘how’. How do we assess the issues potentially material to us. How to we take action to minimise and mitigate impacts and make our organisations more resilient? How do we participate in the potential of new nature markets emerging?”
Much is to be said for the responsibility of the public and private sector to work cohesively to amplify and implement insights from conversations at Davos as well as to align policy goals set by governments with business action and enabling financial instruments. The release of key materials including the European Central Bank’s Climate and nature plan can prevent delay on action and implementation ahead of COP16, to be held in Colombia in October.