Why ignoring biodiversity loss is an increasingly risky business

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This article was originally published by Australian Community Media. Read the original article here

Last September, fires had already begun burning in Queensland and New South Wales. The human, ecological, and economic impacts of Australia’s Black Summer were unprecedented, and will continue to unfold in years to come.

Scientists have long warned that climate change compounds the frequency and severity of hazards like fire, flood and drought, as well as the spread of infectious diseases. The erosion of natural supporting systems, like healthy forests and soils, further exacerbates these risks.

Last week, the UN reported that for the second consecutive decade, parties to the international Convention on Biological Diversity – including Australia – had failed to meet any targets set to prevent further species extinctions, protect and restore ecosystems, promote sustainable agriculture and forestry, or reduce air and water pollution.

Although inextricably linked with climate change, the twin crisis of biodiversity loss has received comparatively less attention from the business and finance sectors. Yet a growing recognition of the significant financial risks stemming from the erosion of biodiversity is driving an explosion of interest in products and investments that directly benefit nature.

In July, an international partnership of financial institutions and environmental NGOs established the Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosure (TNFD) to develop a new corporate reporting framework for biodiversity loss. The initiative is modelled on the voluntary climate framework (TCFD), that New Zealand last week announced would form the basis for its world-first mandatory climate risk reporting for banks, asset managers and insurers. Australian banks published the first national guidelines for climate risk disclosures last week. Its therefore reasonable to anticipate that mandatory natural capital risk reporting is on the horizon.

The federal government’s plan to direct $18 billion over ten years to “priority low emission technologies” has already been criticised by climate experts this week. But it also misses a huge opportunity to facilitate investment in new and emerging natural technologies with biodiversity co-benefits, like plankton-based feed to reduce methane emissions from cattle, or reintroduction of tidal flows in marginal cane lands to enable restoration of carbon-rich mangrove forests.

Government leadership, including supportive policies and investment, is crucial to unlock the opportunities associated with halting biodiversity loss. Modelling conducted by Ernst & Young this year suggests a conservation and land management stimulus could create jobs and facilitate economic recovery, particularly in regional areas hardest hit by the effects of COVID-19, bushfires and drought.

We truly live in unprecedented times when finance, agricultural and environmental groups join forces to help solve the biodiversity and climate crises. Governments must active working with, not against, this remarkable transformation.

Megan Evans is a lecturer and research fellow at the University of New South Wales, Canberra.

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