Companies Must Show Accountability for Biodiversity Impacts
As 22 May marked the International Day of Biological Diversity, we are less than eight years away from the 2030 deadline to reverse biodiversity loss, which was internationally reaffirmed at November’s COP26 climate conference. This timeline follows the fifth and final report of the UN’s Global Biodiversity Outlook, which set out in very stark terms that the global community is failing in its obligations to the planet. Of 20 internationally-set biodiversity targets, only six were partially met by the 2020 deadline.
There is also a 2030 deadline for the completion of the Sustainable Development Goals. As these Global Goals recognize – most explicitly in SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 15 (life on land) – the decline in biodiversity threatens disastrous consequences for the natural environment, as well as for people and communities around the world. Meanwhile, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity is set to adopt the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework this year, which defines commitments and targets for all relevant stakeholders.
Recent research from Swiss Re indicates that 55% of global GDP depends on high functioning biodiversity, emphasizing why companies and government need to collaborate. This 2020 report underlines the global nature of the task in hand. In total, 39 countries were identified as having fragile ecosystems covering at least one third of their land mass, while the major economies in Europe, Southeast Asia and the US as particularly exposed by the risk of biodiversity declines.
The case for transparency and change
Given the gravity of the situation, the private sector cannot afford to stand back. To have a chance of meeting the 2030 deadline requires that action from all organizations, including improved management and disclosure of their biodiversity impacts, so all companies and stakeholders can make informed assessments in support of sustainable development.
Holding organizations accountable for their impacts is crucial to break the chain of events on both biodiversity loss and climate change – for which transparency is the underpinning enabler. Not only will high quality disclosures lead to better assessment by companies, it will also inform improved decision making by stakeholders, including governments, civil society, and investors.
However, current disclosure is not consistent, or sufficient. As the KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting found, less than a quarter of large companies at risk from biodiversity loss disclose on the topic. A revised reporting standard, therefore, can enable many more businesses to address their role in biodiversity, and meet stakeholder expectations for transparency.
A revised standard for biodiversity impacts
GRI’s Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) initiated the review of GRI 304: Biodiversity 2016 in order to provide an updated standard that reflects the global best practice for biodiversity reporting, supporting more organizations to show accountability for their impacts.
The GRI Biodiversity Standard is already used annually by at least 2,000 organizations, out of the more than 10,000 companies reporting with the GRI Standards – the world’s most widely used sustainability reporting standards. The revision of the Standard is supported by a 18-member Technical Committee, ensuring multi-stakeholder expertise.
The proposed revisions will help organizations to better report their impacts throughout the value chain, including how they contribute to key drivers of biodiversity loss (climate change, invasive species, land and sea use change, overexploitation and pollution). Building on existing disclosures, the draft standard reiterates the importance of location-specific reporting. It is also expected to enable organizations to report actions using the mitigation hierarchy, a best practice approach to managing negative impacts to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.
Collaboration is key
Central to our approach on biodiversity is to ensure the renewed Biodiversity Standard is well aligned with existing frameworks and tools that promote transparency on biodiversity, through more effective, comprehensive and comparable reporting. These include the Taskforce for Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA), the Align project (Aligning accounting approaches for nature), the Science-Based Targets Network – among others.
GRI’s joint working with the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG) includes collaboration on the technical work for our respective new biodiversity standards. EFRAG is in the process of delivering a new set of EU sustainability reporting standards, set to become mandatory for around 50,000 companies.
We have also participated in the review committee for the WBA’s work on nature and their recently released final methodology for the WBA Nature Benchmark builds on various GRI Standards. This benchmark will support closing the corporate accountability gap on nature, together with partners and allies.
CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) are participating in our update process for the Biodiversity Standard and – once it has published – will use it to inform the CDP disclosure system. In addition, TNFD has confirmed that the revised GRI Standard will input to their work to develop a risk management and disclosure framework for organizations to report and act on evolving nature-related risks.
Later this year, a public comment period will take place to gather global feedback and views on the draft GRI Biodiversity Standard. This will be a crucial step in the development process with the opportunity for all interested parties to contribute. The release date for the revised GRI 304 is anticipated to be in mid-2023.
The challenges we face to address and reverse societal impacts on biodiversity are formidable. Yet I firmly believe that improved transparency by organizations will drive the actions that contribute to the changes that we urgently need to see. The future viability of the environment, as well as the sustainability of economies and communities around the world, depends on it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Harold Pauwels joined GRI as Director of Standards in 2021, where he leads the team tasked with the development of new and existing GRI Topic Standards. He previously had a long career with NEN (the Netherlands Standardization Institute), latterly managing the business unit for standards, services and products. A previous member of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) certification board, Harold is an alumni of the Eindhoven University of Technology.
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the independent, international organization that helps businesses and other organizations take responsibility for their impacts, by providing the global common language to report those impacts. The GRI Standards are developed through a multi-stakeholder process and provided as a free public good.