By Jo Alexander, Scientific Advisor, ShareAction
We are in the midst of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event and the picture is bleak. Since 1970 we have lost 40% of terrestrial species, 84% of freshwater species and 35% of marine species.
And yet, while investors’ focus on climate change as a threat to human existence has never been greater, in our whirlwind of climate concern, not enough attention is being given to this other existential threat; the loss of our biodiversity.
The growing problem of biodiversity loss
According to the IPBES the threat of extinction is also accelerating; of the estimated eight million animal and plant species, around one million are threatened with extinction. Habitat loss and deterioration, largely caused by human actions, have left 9% of the world’s six million terrestrial species without a habitat in which they can survive.
Despite being a huge fan of David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries all my life, my sadness about the declining diversity of species on the planet has typically been overshadowed by my concerns about climate change. This might be because it’s easier to see climate change as a direct threat to our species’ physical environment whereas the impact of biodiversity loss can feel more abstract to a city dweller like me.
More recently I’ve come to appreciate that species extinction can lead to the collapse of the ecosystems that we depend on, which is now as concerning to me as the climate crisis. The most obvious threat is to our food systems. In particular, the decline of pollinating insects and birds threatens agriculture and the loss of coral threatens our ocean’s fish stocks.
Getting biodiversity on the investor agenda
Investors would be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by the need to manage the risks associated with biodiversity loss, on top of the mounting concern about the impact of climate change. Given the enormous scope of biodiversity (i.e. all life on earth!), it can also be tough to know where to start.
However, the good news is that tackling one will help us tackle the other. These two issues are fundamentally linked.
Ecosystems that are valuable carbon stores, such as forests and wetlands, are also some of the most biodiverse environments on the planet, giving us double the reason to protect and restore them. We can kill two birds with one stone (although not literally of course!).
Biodiversity and infrastructure
At ShareAction we decided to focus our initial research on the impact of infrastructure development on African and Asian apes, drawing on the deep knowledge and expertise of the Arcus Foundation’s State of the Apes publications.
By bringing together the specialist knowledge of conservation scientists with investors who have the resources to make a positive impact, we hope to accelerate progress.
Climate change and biodiversity are fundamentally linked so investors can tackle both at the same time.
Our report directs investors’ attention to infrastructure because of the huge growth in construction that is expected to meet unmet demand over the coming decades, representing a significant opportunity for investors to contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, while also generating a return.
Twenty-five million km of new roads are expected worldwide by 2050. That’s enough to circle the Earth 600 times. 90% of these will be in developing nations.
The scale of this activity means it is critical to avoid negative impacts on ecosystems, but this is achievable if these projects are managed correctly, particularly during the planning stages. All infrastructure projects that impact endangered species require an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, which must follow best practice to be effective.
2020: putting biodiversity in the spotlight
We expect biodiversity conservation to come into increasing prominence with investors in 2020. A more ambitious global biodiversity framework is expected to be adopted at the UN’s 15th COP on the Convention on Biological Diversity in Beijing in October 2020.
The UK government has recently announced the Dasgupta Review into The Economics of Biodiversity, a landmark study into the impact of biodiversity loss on the economy, fronted by Sir David Attenborough.
Investors have a critical role to play in both of these conversations and we encourage investors to take this incredible opportunity to engage with such an important topic.