How China can build a nature-positive and net-zero economy

Beijing, China.

Beijing, China. Image: Unsplash.

Lili Sun Lili
Chairperson, Society of Entrepreneurs & Ecology (SEE)
Wei Dong Zhou
Chief China Advisor, Business for Nature (BfN), China Director & Ambassador for CBD COP15, WBCSD
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  • China contains four of the world's 36 biodiversity hotspots.
  • China will host the COP15 Biodiversity Conference.
  • Chinese businesses must step up their actions on nature and can help achieve carbon neutrality

All eyes are focused on efforts to agree a transformative agreement on nature for the coming decade as China will host the delayed COP15 Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP15).

As the world’s second largest economy, with GDP growth averaging around 6% each year, and with four of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots, China is considered one of the planet’s most “biologically wealthy” countries. To protect and maintain this rich tapestry of biodiversity and ensure it helps the Chinese economy continue to prosper, Chinese businesses need to play their part by taking decisive action on nature.

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The broader political momentum on nature continues to grow – recently G7 leaders announced a Nature Compact – a welcome and necessary signal of the political will that exists to embed nature-positive thinking into recovery plans. Not only did the Compact commit the G7 to halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030, it also highlighted why we need to integrate and link discussions between the CBD COP15 and the UNFCCC COP26.

A global goal for nature embraced at the highest levels will drive ambition in governments, business and society.
A global goal for nature embraced at the highest levels will drive ambition in governments, business and society.

Helping shift the Chinese economy, and the businesses that sustain it, to be nature-positive and net-zero is crucial if China is going to achieve its objective of achieving peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and becoming carbon-neutral before 2060. So far 37 companies in the Greater China region have set climate targets and there are not yet any companies who have signed up to develop and implement science-based targets for nature. These numbers need to grow if we’re to deliver the transformation that’s needed for an equitable, nature-positive and net-zero future.

Companies can help deliver an ambitious agreement on nature

At CBD COP15, it’s hoped nations will agree to adopt a new Post-2020 Global Framework for Biodiversity. This framework is intended to include goals, targets and policy directions for our global society over the next three decades. As was the case for the Paris Agreement on climate change, we need an ambitious, clear and implementable international agreement at COP15. Not only will this inspire businesses to invest, innovate and adapt their business practices, it helps create a level playing field for all.

While there are encouraging signs of progress, there has not been the same level of momentum and ambition from Chinese businesses on nature and biodiversity loss as there has been on climate. Chinese state-owned energy company State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC), top steel producer Baowu Steel Group and internet powerhouse Tencent have all made carbon neutrality announcements and the China Business Climate Action (CBCA) network has successfully engaged more than 1 million Chinese companies to help reduce their carbon emissions.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about nature?

As well as stepping up their actions and commitments on nature, businesses need to contribute to the conversation on the need for greater policy ambition from governments. Business participation at the nature and climate negotiations later this year is essential to drive the agenda in a direction that is aligned with business expectations, experiences and realities, and is sufficiently ambitious to achieve the level of action the biodiversity crisis demands.

Signs the tide is turning

Two recent events in China demonstrate the growing momentum from Chinese business on nature:

The 8th Chinese Enterprise Green Compact Forum organized by the Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology (SEE) with the Department of Climate Change of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), UNEP and IUCN. The event, aimed at more than 900 of SEE’s entrepreneur members, emphasized the need for balance between ecological protection and economic and social development. During the session, Business for Nature nnounced that more than 120 SEE member enterprises and companies are urging governments to adopt policies now to reverse nature loss in this decade as part of the “Nature Is Everyone’s Business” Call to Action.

hinese businesses participate in a discussion on nature and biodiversity organized by the Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology (SEE).
hinese businesses participate in a discussion on nature and biodiversity organized by the Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology (SEE).

The Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment in collaboration with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and partners, such as the World Economic Forum, organized a two day event on World Environment Day in June focusing on the business and finance sectors. This was a milestone event to strengthen engagement with the private sector and to call for ambitious commitments and concrete action ahead of COP15.

Loss of biodiversity and climate change is becoming increasingly severe, hence, all countries and all parties around the world should … promote biodiversity protection.

Zhou Guomei, Secretary of the Party committee of the Chinese Foreign Economic Cooperation Office (FECO), Chinese Ministry of Ecology and the Environment (MEE).

Additionally, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is in the process of setting up a Climate Action Network in China that brings together major companies and leading experts to explore practical solutions to achieve business carbon neutrality and exchange information and best practice.

Chinese businesses are part of the solution

Businesses have a critical role to play in reversing nature loss, protecting biodiversity and preserving species and the momentum and interest from business continues to grow.

Engineering firm Changsha Broad Homes Industrial Group Corporation, was one of the first companies in China to develop precast and prefabricated buildings.

The environmental benefits of this approach are significant, with reduced deforestation, construction waste, dust and carbon emissions compared to traditional buildings.

Meanwhile Beijing GeoEnviron Engineering and Technology Company (BGE), make construction material out of recovered valuable metals and calcium carbonate slurry and as part of their ongoing commitments to sustainability have completed 1,000 environmental projects in provinces and cities across China.

While these efforts are admirable, it is not enough. We need more companies taking action and making commitments to protect and restore nature. As well as contributing to China’s own climate ambitions, their future success depends on it.

How can businesses in China demonstrate their support?

First, they need to identify and assess their impacts on nature including energy, water, waste and how they can reduce, reuse and recycle. This could include preparing to set science-based targets for nature in line with the guidance from the Science Based Targets Network next year.

The SEE Foundation works with Chinese businesses by sharing IUCN’s guidelines for planning and monitoring biodiversity performance. With their support, Business for Nature and WBCSD China will support Chinese businesses on how to engage with nature and biodiversity as part of their strategy and operations.

Companies can then make meaningful informed and public commitments through credible platforms such as the New York Forest Declaration or the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment and set measurable targets across priority locations for how much the company will contribute to restoring ecosystems.

Finally, companies need to act – by preventing an impact in the first place or eliminating an impact entirely. This could involve working in partnership with others to restore ecosystems such as with the SEE Foundation, an established environmental NGO that works in China to protect and preserve natural resources. Ultimately this must be about businesses working towards becoming “nature-positive” within and across their value chains.

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