Business aiming higher to live within the capacity of the planet and bend the curve of biodiversity loss

16 November 2018

The recent Living Planet Report shows that it is now time to act to reverse the trend in biodiversity loss. But achieving a true bend in the curve requires action from businesses too: they should radically rethink their business operations to bring them within ecological boundaries – a factor that is not yet part of our current economic model.

WWF has just launched its 2018 edition of the Living Planet Report, reporting an average 60% decrease in wildlife populations between 1970 and 2014. This figure comes from the Living Planet Index, which includes threat data from 3,789 populations, but other indexes (also included in the report) such as the Species Habitat Index, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the Biodiversity Intactness Index all show general declining trends.

The report quotes Sir Robert Watson, Chair of IPBES: “The best available evidence, gathered by the world’s  leading experts, points us now to a single conclusion: we must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature – or risk no only the future we want, but even the lives we currently lead.”

The Living Planet Report explains the fundamental role biodiversity and ecosystems play sustaining human societies. Nature provides us with ecosystem services including provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural services. Unfortunately, economic activity, especially since the Great Acceleration period in the 1950s, is also putting these systems at risk. 

Economic model fails to take ecological boundaries into account

The report identifies overconsumption as the main driver behind biodiversity loss. The Living Planet Report stresses that the current ecological footprint of people, primarily responsible by those living in the ‘West’, has far exceeded the biocapacity that Earth can offer. This biocapacity is the total biologically productive areas on Earth, formed by the ability of all ecosystems to renew themselves. 

But underlying individual consumption, our economic system as a whole is of course also responsible for environmental losses (as the Report indicates in Page 29). The current economic model runs on the resources provided by the planet, and is driven to extract and exploit these resources at unsustainably high rates. This model fails to take our biocapacity into account nor does it stimulate businesses to do so, which is a crucial flaw. This has led to a lack of incentives to develop tools which make you understand the relationship between your business operations and your ecological capacity. 

One Planet Thinking

In our One Planet Thinking Program we aim to fill this void. In partnership with WWF NL, we call on companies to define sustainability targets in terms of the capacity of the planet. This is a transformative business program that encourages rethinking many business operations, defining high ambitions beyond market-practices, and leading sector and landscape dialogues to encourage positive change beyond the company walls. 

Companies participating in the program gain insight into the relationship between their business and the planet. In technical terms, it shows the relationship between the resources you need for your business operations and the ecological capacity where you source it from in the labels: Land-use change, Water use, Biodiversity impact, Carbon dioxide emission and Nitrogen use. After identifying these relationships, and understanding the capacity of the planet, companies in the program can accordingly set sustainability targets to ensure you operate within the ecological limits and formulate actions plans that correspond with the planetary needs – or biocapacity.

Companies like Eneco and Alpro have are fully immersed in One Planet Thinking, participating in pilots where they help advance methodologies to operate within the planetary boundaries. This approach, linking distinct impacts with planetary capacity, can help bridge the gap between company action and preventing biodiversity loss.

State and non-state commitments are needed

Through the Living Planet Report, WWF and other conservation organizations call for a new global deal for nature where we can move beyond business as usual in our efforts to halt biodiversity loss. Two global policy processes, the post-2020 targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Sustainable Development Goals, have opened a window to make this new deal – at a scale of the Paris Agreements for Climate Change. In the meantime, the One Planet Thinking program participates in international dialogues to set up viable, scientifically-backed avenues towards non-state commitments to bending the curve of biodiversity loss.

 

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