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Business leaders launch effort to protect and restore biodiversity

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
September 27, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 38


Much of the news in the last month has been dominated by the United Nations Climate Action Summit. My editorials this and last week are related to it, but I will not be covering the topic again for a while. I suspect that after this week, the general media will turn their attention to other matters, and we’ll go back to seeing less climate-oriented coverage in the mainstream news or even in the science, technology, and environment sections.

But should we? I think we are at, or fast approaching, a tipping point in the way society thinks about the climate and the kinds of actions we are willing to take to fix it. I also believe that this change in consciousness is likely to reach beyond climate and into the broader context of the UN sustainable development goals.

I say this simply because we have passed the stage where it is possible to ignore or deny the problem. The pressure of time is growing, and the UN’s goals provide a tangible measure of that. Next year it’ll be 5 years since the goals were set and just 1 decade out from when the world is supposed to achieve them. The year 2030 is when we should be able to say that we have eradicated hunger and ensured that “all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants” have access to “safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.” We should be able to say we have reduced “the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births.” And it goes on.

We have just 10 years. Meeting that deadline will require that countries and businesses around the world urgently look for ways to do things in ways that are sustainable and respectful of the planet’s health. For example, we recently reported how bankers are giving preferential loan rates to chemical companies that achieve agreed-upon environmental performance targets. The primary incentive is financial—the company gets a discount and the bank a lower risk profile for the investment—but the benefits to our planet are also significant.

Many other corporate organizations are taking action. For example, a new coalition called One Planet Business for Biodiversity (OP2B) was launched at the UN General Assembly. OP2B represents a group of agriculture-centric companies, including DSM, L’Oréal, Firmenich, Unilever, Nestlé, and Danone, that have agreed to join forces “to protect and restore biodiversity within their supply chains and product portfolios,” according to a press release.

Emmanuel Faber, chairman and CEO of the food and beverage company Danone, was at the UN General Assembly and spoke on behalf of OP2B. He had some powerful language and data to share. Here’s an excerpt:

“We thought we could engineer the life that we needed and kill the rest in the fields. . . . We depend for two-thirds of our food on this planet on only nine plants today. And 40% of our lands are already degraded. In a nutshell, we have broken the cycle of life. And the missing link is the biodiversity in our fields.”

In terms of specific action, he then went on to promise to “shift our practices towards regionality of agriculture, to restore soil health, to create a future for our farmers.”

It’s early days for OP2B, and it is impossible to judge how, if at all, effective this coalition and similar efforts on the UN’s sustainable development goals will be. But we will definitely see more of these kinds of initiatives as activity ramps up in 2020.

It seems appropriate to finish with the words of Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general from 2007 to 2016, who in 2016 said: “We don’t have plan B because there is no planet B.” No, we don’t.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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