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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

Nature COP

11 October 2021 - Catherine Weller, from CISL’s Business & Nature team, explores expectations as the first part of the Kunming Nature COP gets underway and explains why business should be active in demanding clear and ambitious targets.

In the preface to his recent landmark review of “The Economics of Biodiversity” Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta notes that “… in recent decades humanity has been degrading our most precious asset, Nature, at rates far greater than ever before.” That huge and rigorous report adds to a growing body of insight, recognising that current wasteful production and consumption patterns, which both drive land use changes and increase pollution, are undermining nature’s resilience, with negative consequences for business, trade and economies. 

Protecting and restoring nature is fundamental not only to global economic prosperity, but to the health and wellbeing of society. We urgently need to ensure our economy stops the current pattern of overexploitation and damage and sets us on a path to restoration and regeneration. This means halting and reversing nature loss in the next decade. Through our Corporate Leaders Groups, CISL has been increasingly engaging with UK and EU policies on agriculture, land use and trade to flag the importance of these issues.

Crucially, the international community has a critical opportunity to calibrate new global nature targets and set society on a path to achieving them, using the architecture of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). These new targets would sit in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which is currently being negotiated, with the first phase of a two-part summit taking place in Kunming, China this week – referred to as COP15. While negotiating a complex agreement between over 180 different parties was never going to be easy, trying to do it during a pandemic has exacerbated difficulties. The meeting of governments taking place in Kunming was originally set for May 2020, and a second meeting in Spring 2022 will be necessary to get the post-2020 agreement resolved.

The negotiations have been taking place against the background of a growing momentum in favour of putting us on a path to become nature-positive1, for the benefit of people and planet. See, for example, the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature launched in 2020.

What’s on offer as part of a post-2020 agreement is important for business, alongside other parts of society, not least because nature underpins a healthy economy. Degradation of the natural world is a present and future risk for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Such risks have been creeping up the business agenda for a number of years, leading some companies to already commit to ‘nature-positive’ targets - going beyond just reducing the damage they cause and taking steps to actively enhance nature in the landscapes they rely on. Even so, the situation requires more businesses to do more, and to do it all more quickly. We will only see the necessary transformation if businesses align all their practices to a nature-positive economy. This is unlikely to happen swiftly enough without a regulatory nudge and a level playing field. 

A global framework with new international targets, focussed on the drivers and enablers of nature loss, could provide clear direction and ambition for business action to reverse nature loss, giving businesses the long-term certainty that they need to invest in changing business models. This framework could help create a stable operating environment, ensuring businesses are a key part of the solution to the nature crisis. Will the ambition levels of policymakers respond to the scale of the challenge? 

To give policymakers more comfort in pushing for an ambitious agreement, the business voice can be persuasive. It is important that businesses speak up and demand a framework that is meaningful, understandable and actionable by everyone, including business. As this CEO briefing notes, preserving, restoring and sustainably managing nature is an economic imperative, not just a moral one.

CISL is a partner in the Business for Nature coalition. This is a global coalition that brings together business and conservation organisations and forward-thinking companies. Over the last year, the coalition has rallied over 1000 companies to call on governments to adopt policies now to reverse nature loss by 2030. Running until mid-November, business have an opportunity to showcase they care about the post-2020 framework by contributing to a Business for Nature consultation on specific policy elements and ensure their policy work is ambitious, credible, robust, and grounded in real business activity.

Through Business for Nature, CISL has been engaging on the detail of the drafts of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. There are still some improvements needed, for example, a clear and ambitious mission to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 must be an essential element of the framework. Likewise, we still need a stronger acknowledgment of the need to value and embed nature in all decision-making, in the private as well as the public sector.

Particular attention will be on the business-specific quantitative targets that are emerging. In the draft of the Framework released this summer the wording would require governments to ensure that business progressively reduces its negative impacts by at least half in the decade to 2030. In the next draft, this target will need to be refined to clarify that it is not just direct operational impacts which are in scope. Further, while it is important to avoid and reduce damage, this will not be enough to achieve the dramatic change we need. Therefore, the wording in the draft text about requiring business to also increase their positive impacts – putting nature back - is also essential.

COP15 and the post-2020 biodiversity framework are important opportunities for businesses to contribute to and shape the nature agenda for a resilient and sustainable future. At the heart of the UN CBD is a vision that “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people”. Perhaps not many could quote this vision, but who wouldn’t like to live in that world where nature and people are both thriving? What couldn’t be clearer is that business, policy and finance all have a stake in the transition to nature-positive.

Find out more about CISL’s work on supporting the transition to a ‘nature positive economy’ and how we’re working with business, government and financial institutions here.

  1. Nature-positive means halting and reversing the loss of nature by 2030 so that species and ecosystems begin to recover. It is a new operating model based on regeneration, resilience and circularity not extraction, destruction and pollution.

About the author


Catherine joined CISL as a Programme Manager in the Business and Nature team. She leads the Natural Capital Impact Group to assist businesses in sustaining and restoring the natural world and its resources through its strategies and operating practices.

After a few years working at a law firm and specialising in environmental law, in 2011 Catherine moved to the environmental NGO ClientEarth. At ClientEarth, she led a number of litigation and advocacy workstreams ranging from revising the EU’s sustainable public procurement rules to enforcing nature protection law in Polish forests, and for the last 3 years was Head of Programme for its work on ocean health and regulation of harmful chemicals.


Staff articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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