Nature and Biodiversity

Why Chinese companies should accelerate action for biodiversity conservation

biodiversity conservation in China

Chinese companies can better engage in biodiversity conservation. A nature-positive transition could add $1.9 trillion in annual business value to the Chinese economy. Image: Unsplash/昊蓝 毛

Wei Dong Zhou
Chief China Advisor, Business for Nature (BfN), China Director & Ambassador for CBD COP15, WBCSD
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Nature and Biodiversity

  • Global attention on biodiversity has increased significantly ahead of the UN Biodiversity COP15 in Montreal, Canada, later this year.
  • As chair of the summit, China can yield tremendous benefits from transitioning to a nature-positive economy.
  • The Guidebook on Corporate Biodiversity Conservation will provide a framework for businesses to take effective action.

The UN Biodiversity COP15 has significantly raised global attention on biodiversity conservation. As the president of COP15, the world’s second largest economy and a megadiverse country, China has a critical role in ensuring a transformative global agreement for nature, which will be adopted in Montreal, Canada, in December.

A nature-positive economy could yield tremendous benefits to China. According to the World Economic Forum, more than 65% of China’s total GDP is at risk from nature loss, but a nature-positive transition could add $1.9 trillion in annual business value and create 88 million sustainable jobs by 2030.

As an important part of society, Chinese businesses are expected to play a greater role in shaping a resilient economy. Yet corporate action in biodiversity conservation is still at an early stage in China. An effective system of practice has yet to emerge to guide companies on their nature-positive journey.

To fill this gap, Business for Nature (BfN), WWF, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the One Planet Foundation Shenzhen (OPF) have jointly developed The Guidebook on Corporate Biodiversity Conservation.

Grounded in real business examples in China, it aims to showcase the Chinese business community's support for an ambitious global biodiversity framework and provide Chinese companies with practical tools to act for nature.

Before the official launch, BfN’s Chief China Advisor Weidong Zhou sat down with Xinsheng Zhang, former President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), to discuss how Chinese companies can better engage in biodiversity conservation.

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President Zhang, as a veteran of international organizations such as UNESCO and IUCN, why do you think biodiversity conservation urgently needs the participation of businesses?

Biodiversity supports human development and the sustainability of the planet. Our survival depends on the Earth's ecosystem. If the ecosystem were to retain its integrity, originality and stability, the presence of biodiversity is crucial.

But the Red List released by the IUCN at the 7th World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France in 2021 shows that there are more than 138,000 endangered species worldwide, with more than 38,500 of them threatened with extinction. What used to be three species disappearing a day is now one species an hour. The IUCN study warns if we don't reset the relationship between human and nature, development and conservation, disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic will hit humans more frequently and violently.

To adjust these relationships, joint efforts are needed from all stakeholders, especially government, industry, academia, media and civil society. At a time of unlimited human industrial expansion, the involvement of industry is particularly important to this issue. How much attention companies pay to biodiversity directly affects the its richness.

You have explained the severe reality we are facing now. But what value does biodiversity provide for corporations?

Biodiversity is of life-and-death importance to the sustainability of all our businesses. According to the figures released in Marseille, 51% of the value created by the entire human economy moderately or highly depends on biodiversity and the planet's ecosystems. I won't go into details, but I'm sure my industry colleagues can understand the implications of this figure.

Some companies may think that biodiversity is only important for some industries, such as beverage, forestry, fisheries, and pharmaceuticals. But this is a very shallow view. In fact, biodiversity is closely related to all our manufacturing, infrastructure and tertiary industries, which is why our reliance on it is so high.

Biodiversity conservation is indeed crucial for companies. What level of corporate involvement do you think has been reached?

Both domestically and internationally, the first stage of business involvement is around environmental pollution. This started when we humans developed awareness of modern environmental protection in the 1960s. As we deepened our understanding of the natural world, and especially climate change, the business community has attached great importance to climate actions.

However, our understanding of biodiversity is yet to be deepened. It importance has not been fully understood by enterprises, governments and citizens. When building infrastructures like seaports, railroads, highways, factories and industrial parks, our assessment of biodiversity is still superficial, and companies will encounter many obstacles in this regard.

What are the prospects for the Chinese business community, which started to participate in biodiversity conservation relatively later on?

Chinese companies can and should take the lead in biodiversity conservation, even when it’s later than in many other countries. Our concept of ecological civilization is on the same track as the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The understanding of “clear water and green mountains are mountains of gold and silver” has deepened in enterprises.

Companies have started to move from corporate social responsibility (CSR) to corporate ESG (environment, society and governance). On climate change, while China is not the earliest country to start acting, now an increasing number of companies – whether they are private, foreign, state-owned or small and medium-sized enterprises – are beginning to pay attention to it and talk about the 2030/2060 carbon targets.

Chinese consumers will inevitably demand for better ecological, spiritual, cultural and material products. The demand will drive the supply and push Chinese companies to take the lead in biodiversity.

What are the key points for corporate involvement in biodiversity conservation?

It is time to inform and empower not only senior executives, but every employee to take biodiversity conservation seriously and to act as a catalyst for change. Biodiversity is relevant not only to environmental professionals and business leaders but also to every member of the company. It is in the corners of our production plants, in the gardens of our communities, and on the sides of our roads.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum doing about nature?

In the past, we have paid great attention to conserving flagship species of wildlife. But during my study tour in Germany and France, I found the public is not only concerned about conserving elephants, gorillas and tigers, but also about how many insects and birds have disappeared around us. Biodiversity conservation should also take more commons species into consideration.

Finally, what is your outlook on our upcoming Guidebook for Corporate Biodiversity Conservation?

I am very pleased that a guidance for companies on biodiversity conservation will be released in China through our joint efforts. It is a meaningful endeavor, and I hope that Business for Nature, WWF, WBCSD, One Planet Foundation and other partners will continue to collectively make this manual work.

I hope it could show the wisdom, determination and ability of the Chinese business community and contribute to biodiversity conservation in China. By doing so, we will also help protect our shared planet where we human beings call home.

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Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityClimate ActionGeographies in Depth
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