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1,000,000 species: The 3 Most Important Numbers from new UN Report on Biodiversity and a New Work Plan for Business Schools

May 8, 2019

 

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report hit the headlines this week. I know, it's becoming almost cliche to have a group of scientists tell us about the state of the world. Don't think of it like that. Think of this like your financial advisor sitting down with you and telling you about how your investments are doing (hint: not well). After all, we are all heavily invested in the health and vitality of our planet, on which all life and business depends. (Exec Summary of the report...I will be using it in class)

1. Our connection to and reliance on nature...

"4 billion people rely primarily on natural medicines for their health care and some 70 per cent of drugs used for cancer are natural or are synthetic products inspired by nature"

 

"more than 75 per cent of global food crop types, including fruits and vegetables and some of the most important cash crops such as coffee, cocoa and almonds, rely on animal pollination"

 

2. Our collective impact...3/4 of land and 2/3 of oceans

"Seventy-five per cent of the land surface is significantly altered, 66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts, and over 85 per cent of wetlands (area) has been lost."

"Goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors."

3. Burning through natural capital...1,000,000 species

"Around 1 million species already face extinction (~25% of species in assessed animal and plant groups), suggesting that many within decades will be gone unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss."

 

The role of business...

"Economic incentives generally have favored expanding economic activity, and often environmental harm, over conservation or restoration. Incorporating the consideration of the multiple values of ecosystem functions and of nature’s contribution to people into economic incentives has, in the economy, been shown to permit better ecological, economic and social outcomes..."

Our work plan for business and the economy...

This is what the report lists under a "possible actions and pathways to achieve transformative change" for "improving the sustainability of economic and financial systems". I would call this the Work Plan for Business Schools:

  • "Developing and promoting incentive structures to protect biodiversity (e.g. removing harmful incentives)
     

  • Promoting sustainable production and consumption, such as through: sustainable sourcing, resource efficiency and reduced production impacts, circular and other economic models, corporate social responsibility, life-cycle assessments that include biodiversity, trade agreements and public procurement policies  
     

  • Exploring alternative economic accounting such as natural capital accounting, Material and Energy Flow Accounting, among others 
     

  • Encouraging policies that combine poverty reduction with measures to increase the provision of nature’s contributions and the conservation and sustainable use of nature 
     

  • Improving market-based instruments, such as payment for ecosystem services, voluntary certification and biodiversity offsetting, to address challenges such as equity and effectiveness 
     

  • Reducing consumption (e.g. encouraging consumer information to reduce overconsumption and waste; using public policies and regulations ; internalizing environmental impacts) 
     

  • Creating and improving supply-chain models that reduce the impact on nature"

 

Want a hopeful ending? You are the hopeful ending. Let's get to work. Smeal is launching a new Center for the Business of Sustainability focused on transforming business practice and education. Art Williams said: “All you can do is all you can do. But all you can do is enough.”

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