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World Waging ‘Orgy of Destruction’ on Biodiversity, UN Chief Warns

Humanity is “waging a war” on nature that has deteriorated into an “orgy of destruction,” United Nations chief António Guterres said before the start of the intergovernmental organization’s biodiversity conference, better known as COP15, in Montreal on Tuesday.

“Deforestation and desertification are creating wastelands of once-thriving ecosystems,” he said. “Our land, water and air are poisoned by chemicals and pesticides, and choked with plastics. Our addiction to fossil fuels has thrown our climate into chaos—from heatwaves and forest fires, to communities parched by heat and drought, or inundated and destroyed by terrifying floods.”

Unsustainable production and consumption, Guterres said, are intensifying emissions, degrading the land, sea and air, and driving millions of species to the brink of survival. Meanwhile, multinational corporations are “filling their bank accounts while emptying our world of its natural gifts.”

“With our bottomless appetite for unchecked and unequal economic growth, humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,” he added. “We are treating nature like a toilet. And ultimately, we are committing suicide by proxy.”

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More than 10,000 delegates, including government officials, scientists and activists have descended on the Canadian city to hammer out what is hoped will be a Paris Agreement for nature, with ambitious targets for halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030.

“We need nothing less from this meeting than a bold post-2020 global biodiversity framework, one that beats back the biodiversity apocalypse by urgently tackling its drivers—land and sea-use change, over-exploitation of species, climate change, pollution and invasive non-native species,” Guterres said. “And one with clear targets, benchmarks and accountability.”

In his opening speech on Wednesday, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau pledged $350 million in financing for global biodiversity efforts, in addition to the $1 billion he has already earmarked for climate solutions in developing countries. Trudeau also urged member nations to agree to conserve 30 percent of nature, including land and water, before the close of COP15 on Dec. 19.

“We have not chosen that 30 percent number at random,” Trudeau said over protestors condemning the invasion of indigenous lands as ecocide. “It is the critical threshold according to the greatest scientists to avoid the risk of extinction and also to ensure our food and economic security—30 percent, that is quite feasible.”

So far more than 100 parties have agreed, but the rest of the world still needs to “get on board.”

Nature remains a “blindspot” for corporations, with less than 1 percent understanding how much their operations depend on nature, according to the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), which published its first Nature Benchmark of nearly 400 influential companies spanning different industries on Monday.

Some fashion companies scored better than others in their efforts to stem biodiversity loss. Kering, which launched a Regenerative Fund for Nature last year, led the pack with more than 55 out of 100 points, followed by Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing (39.4 points), Zara parent Inditex (38.7 points), Gildan (36.9 points), Gap (34.6 points), H&M (32.8 points) and Calvin Klein owner PVH Corp. (32.1 points). The only household name to score zero points was Forever 21. Skechers squeaked by with 4.3 points. So did Chanel with only 6.2.

Overall, companies aren’t “stepping up for nature,” as Guterres has pleaded. Compared with the 50 percent of firms that are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, only a mere 5 percent have commissioned science-based assessments to determine how their supply chains affect nature and biodiversity, the WBA found. Worse, only 3 percent of the companies in the benchmark have committed to a “nature-positive” trajectory by 2030.

In addition, fewer than 13 percent of the firms have a “clear” commitment to upholding the rights of indigenous people, which are crucial to effective ecosystem protection. And only 2 percent have policies to guard against violent outcomes from the persecution of environmental and human-rights defenders.

“We cannot achieve a net-zero future without protecting the natural world and its communities,” said Vicky Sins, WBA’s nature transformation lead, calling for companies to carry out a “deep assessment” on nature as an “urgent first step.”

“Without understanding their relationship to nature and how operations are either harming or helping biodiversity, how can businesses grasp what action to take?” she asked. “Companies must measure and report on how they interact with nature—including how their activities affect deforestation, pollution and nature loss.”

This includes improving their transparency on biodiversity hotspots and endangered species. While more than half of benchmarked companies disclosed their site location, only 14 percent clearly indicated whether those were in or near biodiversity hotspots or areas of high ecological value.

“A crucial aim of COP15 is to achieve a Paris Agreement for nature, but protecting nature isn’t feasible without the vital role of the private sector,” Sins said. “We need all businesses to be clear that their success is closely linked to their relationship with the natural world around them—on which so many of them rely. Businesses are set to face increasing accountability on nature—which will have a major positive impact.”

Liesl Truscott, director of industry accountability and insights at Textile Exchange, said she wasn’t surprised about the lag the WBA found between action for climate and that for biodiversity, though she was pleased to see many of the nonprofit’s members “leading the way.”

“Through our own benchmarking program we also see that more apparel and textile companies are mobilizing around this important theme,” she said. “We look forward to continuing to support brands and suppliers in the journey to improve biodiversity outcomes through their raw materials strategies and towards the disclosures reflected through the WBA benchmark.”

It’s against this backdrop that the Global Reporting Initiative is making available for public comment what it describes as a “major” update to the GRI Biodiversity Standard, which seeks to “unlock” accountability for the impacts organizations have on the natural world.

The timing of this could not be more critical, said Judy Kuszewski, chair of the Global Sustainability Standards Board, which is responsible for setting the GRI standards.

“It is abundantly clear that biodiversity is under siege, with human activity the leading cause,” she said. “The effects of biodiversity loss are directly undermining the sustainable development agenda and, if it continues unabated, will have disastrous consequences—on the environment, the economy and people.”

It’s GRI’s goal that the final standard, which is expected to roll out in the second half of 2023, will deploy internationally accepted best practices for transparency on biodiversity impacts. Among the proposed changes are new disclosures, such as climate change and pollution, that connect with the drivers of biodiversity loss; requirements for biodiversity-related human rights impacts, including those affecting indigenous peoples, local communities and workers; and an emphasis on location-specific data so businesses can be transparent about the sites where their biodiversity impacts occur.

“I encourage all stakeholders and interested parties to participate in this consultation because we need a standard that will be the global focal point for accountability on biodiversity impacts,” Kuszewski said. “Improved reporting—across sectors, regions and supply chains—is crucial for addressing information gaps and informing global solutions.”