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The Role of Data in Securing a Biodiversity-Positive Recovery

sea turtle - blog

 

How can improved reporting ensure that organizations contribute to addressing one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time — protecting nature and reversing biodiversity loss?

 

As a recent side event as part of the UN High Level Political Form (HLPF), GRI and CDP led a discussion on how innovations in data collection, including better integration of corporate environmental data, can unlock progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Specific focus was given to SDG14 (life below water) and SDG15 (life on land), both of which are being reviewed as part of HLPF 2022.

 

Peter Paul van de Wijs, GRI Chief External Affairs Officer, and Pietro Bertazzi, Global Director Policy Engagement and External Affairs at CDP, reflect on insights from the session, in this blog:

 

Bridging the SDG Data Gap for Biodiversity and Nature

By Pietro Bertazzi, CDP, and Peter Paul van de Wijs, GRI

"If we are to truly be able to “build back better” from the pandemic, environmental progress from recovery spending must be tracked and monitored against the SDGs. We need to be able to assess progress to better target interventions and investment; to ensure that the right actions are taken; and to verify that these actions are producing results without unintended consequences. But to achieve this, we need sufficient data."

Peter Paul van de Wijs (GRI) and Pietro Bertazzi (CDP)

With the 2022 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development exploring the theme of “building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” we are reminded of the interconnectedness of the ongoing crises. This recognition was at the heart of the discussions at the official side event, hosted by CDP and GRI, at the HLPF last week.

 

Alongside the public health and climate crises, we are in the midst of a nature crisis, losing biodiversity at an alarming rate. The most recent global assessment from IPBES shows that the average abundance of native species in most major terrestrial biomes has fallen by at least 20 percent, while 32 million hectares of primary or recovering forest were lost between 2010 and 2015. Around 1 million species face extinction — unless urgent action is taken by all stakeholders, including the private sector, to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss.

 

Biodiversity loss, caused by deforestation, intensive agriculture, and mismanaged urban growth and hastened by climate change, was one of the contributing factors that created the conditions for the COVID-19 pandemic and triggered dire warnings of more to come. So it’s extremely welcome that this year’s HLPF is considering SDG14, life below water, and SDG15, life on land, and how ambitious policies can support their delivery with action to prevent further biodiversity loss. Worryingly, the world is currently only on track to meet 22% of the environment-related SDGs — and given Goals 14 and 15 are among the least reported on, it’s clear there is work to do to ensure they are given higher priority.

 

The CDP theory of change rests on the knowledge that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, a premise that GRI firmly agrees with. Improvements and innovations in data collection can provide impactful contributions to one of the biggest challenges of our time: transitioning to a net-zero, nature-positive economy and driving progress on climate change, biodiversity and nature. However, for 58% of the environment-related SDGs, there is insufficient data at the global level to assess progress.

 

These data gaps can lead to challenges for regulators and policymakers who need to assess systemic risk and define policies for a timely achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, making it difficult to identify areas where further action is needed. If we are to truly be able to “build back better” from the pandemic, environmental progress from recovery spending must be tracked and monitored against the SDGs. We need to be able to assess progress to better target interventions and investment, to ensure that the right actions are take, and to verify that these actions are producing results without unintended consequences. But to achieve this, we need sufficient data. At the event, Charlotte Gardes-Landolfini of IMF/NGFS stressed that the lack of reliable information, as a starting point for mitigating biodiversity, is a major challenge for the financial system.

 

A more integrated approach to data collection will be critical. New sources, including corporate environmental data, has the potential to plug existing gaps and enable more agile, efficient and evidence-based decision-making, while allowing for better tracking of progress on the SDGs. When it comes to the environment, companies are directly contributing to the achievement of SDGs in a number of ways, including by taking accountability for their impacts in areas such as biodiversity, waste management and climate change, setting science-based targets, and tackling deforestation and addressing water efficiency.

 

To gain greater insights on the tangible actions businesses are taking, CDP recently mapped its climate change, forests and water security questionnaires against six environmental SDGs (6,7,12,13 and 15). GRI, meanwhile, published revised guidance on linking the SDGs and the GRI Standards in May, to help companies apply GRI disclosures to each of the 17 Global Goals.

 

This support can help investors and other stakeholders to assess business contribution and progress towards the SDGs, as well as supporting governments and international organizations to fill gaps and inform policy action. Measuring and disclosing the private sector’s impact on the SDGs will complement official data and enhance sustainable decision-making processes and strengthen their accountability.

 

Speaking at last week’s event, Jing Guan, representing the Chinese government, indicated that some governments are pushing for companies to report on their impacts and dependencies on biodiversity through new regulatory requirements. Sharon Brooks, from UNEP-WCMC, highlighted that this isn’t necessarily a simple process, as there is complexity that goes with standardizing biodiversity and nature metrics. However, as Gerard Bos of IUCN stated, we can use the lessons from developments in corporate climate disclosure over the last 20 years to strengthen nature disclosure.

 

CDP is taking steps to improve their own metrics. As part of a new strategy, CDP will improve to cover an expanded range of environmental issues including ocean, land use, food production and waste. In 2023, CDP will have new questions on biodiversity. CDP will begin scoring all companies against scientific benchmarks reflecting their historic, current and projected impacts, product portfolios, and investment and transition plans. This will provide a clear assessment of a company’s ambition and how they are doing against targets.

 

Biodiversity is a topic that is also being prioritized by GRI. A project is underway to review GRI 304: Biodiversity, which was initiated in response to widespread and growing concerns over biodiversity loss. CDP are among the organizations participating in the update process and – when the new GRI Biodiversity Standard publishes in mid-2023 – it will aim to set the global best practice for reporting on biodiversity impacts.

 

Businesses and the finance sector must be engaged for a biodiversity-positive recovery, mainstreaming biodiversity in their planning and investments. Positively, Oliver Hillel, of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, indicated that the Secretariat anticipates strong business engagement at COP15 in December. Policymakers must also seize the opportunity to create structures and incentives for companies and other organizations to participate. Only then will it be proven that we have learned the lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic and truly be able to build back better.

 

Peter Paul van de Wijs is chief external affairs officer at GRI. Pietro Bertazzi is global director policy engagement and external affairs at CDP.