Yesterday's UN talks on biodiversity saw global businesses table a series of practical regulatory recommendations to protect biodiversity and ecosystems.
A report entitled 'Effective biodiversity and ecosystem policy and regulation', published on 26 October, was compiled by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a global coalition of some 200-odd companies advocating progress on sustainable development.
The corporations stress that a key prerequisite for nature protection is to have clearly defined goals, supported by 'SMART' - specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound - targets and regulations. Targets ought to be agreed by governments, which need "to establish and enforce accountability for their delivery and to provide adequate resources for their implementation," they note.
The coalition welcomes the idea of establishing a UN panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), as "it will set the reference for credible and relevant scientific knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystem services". It would also support decision-making on business environmental strategies and policies, the measurement of ecosystem impacts as well as accounting and reporting of these, they said.
"Additionally, information flowing from IPBES could set the foundations for market-based mechanisms, like biodiversity offset frameworks," the report notes.
As regards payments for ecosystem services (PES), the business coalition stressed that it is a strong advocate of regimes which encourage such payments and noted that "businesses are both willing buyers and sellers of ecosystem services".
Companies support environmental taxes
The WBCSD believes that green taxes can deliver environmental improvements, "in some circumstances". But the companies also note that tax exemptions can function like payments for ecosystem services to reward positive conservation efforts. "The difference is that the PES is a direct payment for a service, whereas the exemption is effectively a non-payment (of monies that would otherwise be due as tax)".
The coalition also "concurs with the OECD" that taxes can provide incentives for innovation and make it commercially attractive for companies to invest in new technologies and products with a lighter environmental footprint.
While the report is intended as a contribution from the business world to the current debate on environmental policy and regulatory reform, WBCSD Managing Director James Griffiths said the paper was also aiming to be seen as the first follow-up to 'The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity' (TEEB) report, released last week.
The TEEB report concluded that "better accounting of business impacts and dependence on biodiversity and ecosystem services - direct and indirect, positive and negative - is essential to spur needed change in business investment and operations".
Accordingly, it recommended that businesses' annual reports and accounts should disclose all major externalities, including environmental liabilities and changes in natural assets not currently included in the statutory accounts.
Business and ecosystem services are 'inextricably linked'
Earlier this month the WBCSD published another report showcasing how corporations not only impact on ecosystems, but also depend on nature and its services.
"In fact, it is hard to think of any economic activity that does not benefit from ecosystem services or, in some way, alter the ecosystems around it," stress the companies.
For instance, freshwater is a critical element for every conceivable major industrial process, while the pharmaceutical industry benefits from genetic resources and agribusiness depend on ecosystem services like pollination.
Forest industries and the downstream construction, communications and packaging sectors rely on continued supplies of timber and wood fibre, while all extractive industries cause some level of ecosystem disturbance, the report continues.