Embedding the value of nature at individual, government, business, and investor level is vital. We know that we cannot solve the climate emergency without nature as our ally: climate change, nature loss and social inequalities need to be tackled together to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Indeed, new research from UNEP reveals the major benefits of an integrated approach to climate and nature: if we conserve 30% of land in strategic locations, we could keep around half of the world’s vulnerable terrestrial carbon stocks in the ground, and reduce the extinction risk of nearly nine out of ten threatened terrestrial species. At the same time, we cannot forget about people, and tackling inequality. Biodiversity underpins our planet’s health. Human rights underpin our societies’ health. We need to tackle the interrelated challenges of climate, nature loss and inequality together.  

So what role are businesses and corporate leaders playing in driving forward Nature-based Solutions (NbS), preserving biodiversity, and protecting both natural resources and global communities?

Companies increasingly understand the value of nature. We are seeing greater recognition that healthy societies, resilient economies and thriving businesses rely on nature. However businesses cannot address this crisis on their own and need governments to adopt ambitious policies to give the clarity and confidence they need to change and adapt their business models.

Nature-based Solutions are at the heart of this shift – they can be defined as actions to protect, manage, and restore natural habitats or modified ecosystems in a way that addresses promotes human wellbeing, protects biodiversity, sequesters carbon, and helps communities adapt to climate change. We know that NbS can provide around a third of the solution to climate change by 2030.

Nearly all private sector companies can and should integrate Nature-based Solutions into their science-based net zero and nature-positive strategies. It makes sense as they understand their risks or explore opportunities. Here are just three examples of Nature-based Solutions in action:

  • Wetlands and water filtration: Anglian Water uses ‘natural infrastructure’ (as opposed to manmade infrastructure) in the form of a natural wetland to filter and clean water before it’s returned to the environment in the River Ingol in Norfolk in England. 
  • Forests and agriculture: Nestlé plant trees using agroforestry throughout its supply chain, which contributes to biodiversity, stores carbon and provides water and nutrients to the crops around them. This enables farmers to use less water, achieve greater crop yields and become more resilient to extreme weather events.  
  • Mangroves and flood prevention: Mangrove forests, which provide critical coastal protection and flood prevention during tropical storms, have lost 35% of their original littoral cover, leaving seaside operations vulnerable to damage. If today’s mangroves were lost, 18 million more people would be flooded every year (a 39% increase) and annual damages to property would increase by 16% ($82 billion).  

If Nature-based Solutions are ignored, grave risks will continue to undermine business growth and sustainable development. Nature loss and climate change are the greatest systemic risks to our global economy, and natural disasters caused by human ecosystem disruption and climate change already cost more than $300 billion per year. Physical risks exist in the form of damage to facilities, disruption of supply chains, and availability of commodities. For example, 60% of coffee varieties face extinction due to disease and deforestation, threatening the future of coffee production.

Investors are starting to acknowledge these risks with ratings agencies like Moody’s and Fitch including nature-related disclosures in their assessments. BNP Paribas Asset Management also assess natural capital risks in their portfolio and include a 30% increase or decrease to the company’s ESG score.  There are opportunities too – shifting to more sustainable agriculture, coupled with forest protection, for instance, could unlock more than $2 trillion per year in business value, while the World Economic Forum estimates that investing in “nature-positive” solutions could create 395 million jobs by 2030.

Faced by these risks and opportunities, there are a wealth of resources for corporate leaders to draw upon. A key reference everyone can now use is the IUCN Global Standard on Nature-based Solutions to guide implementation. But we need to consolidate and simplify further as more and more work on Nature-based Solutions is developed and implemented.

Strategic and collaborative advocacy is key to unlocking progress. For example, more than 600 companies have signed up to Business for Nature’s Call to Action ‘Nature is Everyone’s Business’ with a combined revenue of US$ 4.1 trillion including Walmart, Citigroup, Google, Microsoft, JD.com, Hitachi, IKEA, Unilever, AXA, Mahindra Group, Tesco and H&M Group urging governments to adopt policies now to reverse nature loss in this decade. There is still time to show your support and sign up.

We now need greater political leadership and next year presents two major opportunities for both nature and climate. The first is the fifteenth UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) in Kunming, China. This is when the international community will hopefully agree to a new Paris style agreement but for nature, called the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The second is the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP26 that will take place in Glasgow, UK, in November to discuss how to make global progress on climate change. Nature and the role of nature-based solutions is one of five key areas identified as requiring particular attention.

A positive outcome at both COP15 and COP26 has the potential to scale and speed up the action and investment needed in order to generate clean jobs and potentially unlock trillions in new business opportunities. The delay caused by the pandemic to these meetings, meanwhile, provides a unique opportunity to inform and strengthen the links between climate and nature and how businesses and governments can respond accordingly.

Many businesses are embracing the challenge, but it is not enough.  At least 530 businesses have already made commitments to help reverse loss across a variety of international, regional and sector platforms. And at least 1,200 companies are acting for nature by reducing their negative impacts on nature; investing in protecting and restoring nature or innovating and scaling up products and technologies with a lower impact. 

Now we need governments to step up. We know that Nature-based Solutions are one of the most powerful ways for countries to enhance their national climate commitments in the lead up to COP26. Nature-based Solutions must be integrated into every single Nationally Determined Contribution – and can also play a critical role in net-zero nature-positive recovery packages.

We can – we must – unlock business opportunities and innovation, accelerate the uptake of Nature-based Solutions, and restore our planet’s forests, oceans, soil, air and biodiversity.

Eva Zabey is the Executive Director of Business for Nature. Business for Nature is a global coalition that brings together business and conservation organizations and forward-thinking companies. Together, we demonstrate credible business leadership on nature and amplify a powerful business voice calling for governments to adopt policies to reverse nature loss in this decade. Previously, Eva led multiple projects at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) for 15 years. She led the development of the Natural Capital Protocol on behalf of the Natural Capital Coalition, as well as the establishment of the new Social & Human Capital Coalition.