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Yolanda Kakabadse


Yolanda Kakabadse is the President of WWF International (since 2010) and previously served as Minister of the Environment in the Republic of Ecuador from 1998 until 2000. She currently serves as a member of the B Team.

Sustainable cities expert
Yolanda Kakabase

Biodiversity powers nature, and businesses too.

It would be difficult to find a company today that doesn’t keep track of the stock market index. From London and New York to Tokyo and Sao Paulo, the rise and fall of each trend is eyed with scrutiny, hypotheses and actions rapidly developed to prepare against or mitigate threats. And yet, few may have taken note of another important index that was released last week, whose trends could impact their production, practices and profits just as much, if not more.

WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016 publishes data from the Living Planet Index which monitors the state of the world’s biodiversity much like the stock market index indicates the pulse of the global economy. It shows that since 1970, species populations across land, sea and freshwater have declined by 58 per cent and if current trends continue, the world could see a potential two-thirds decline in global wildlife within a span of the half-century ending in 2020. In addition to the obvious deficit in biodiversity this would lead to, the fall-out of such a drop could also spell a loss for businesses.

Biodiversity underpins the many Earth systems we take for granted, providing us with the air we breathe and the food and water we consume. It maintains the ecosystems that society and its various enterprises need to thrive, ensuring access to essential raw materials, commodities and services. And yet instead of using the long-term visionary approach the best business decisions are known for, we seem determined to let our short-sightedness get the better of us, and the planet.

For the first time in Earth’s history, people are overpowering the planet using resources faster than they can be regenerated. Unsustainable agriculture, fisheries, mining and other human activities are leading to unprecedented habitat loss and degradation, overexploitation, pollution and climate change and while their impacts are increasingly evident in the natural world, the consequences on people and businesses are real too. From food and water scarcity to growing evidence of climate-related risks faced by individuals, businesses and countries, the evidence has never been clearer.

Protecting the environment alongside economic and social development is critical not just for our well-being but makes business sense. Producing better and consuming more wisely is key to establishing resilient markets that stay within our planet’s safe operating space, safeguard our natural wealth, and contribute to overall economic and social well-being.

As Paul Polman, CEO at Unilever stresses: “There is no business case for exhausting our natural capital. Taking action to protect land, water, forests and communities not only helps mitigate risks in the supply chain, but also provides enormous opportunities for businesses willing to invest in the future of technologies.”

It is time for businesses to recognize the interdependence between our demands for food, water and energy and our reliance on the Earth’s natural systems. By reforming our current ways of producing, using and consuming food and energy, they can help ensure we stop driving the planet, its biodiversity and ecosystems to the edge while improving financial stability and avoiding the cost implications of resource scarcity and environmental damage such as floods, storms and drought. Secondly, businesses can also avoid the cost burden of future regulation in markets that begin to regulate in reaction to environmental decline or to reputational disasters.

Today, 4  November, marks the day of the entry into force of the Paris Agreement. It is hard to believe that less than a year ago, we were all together in Paris – governments, businesses and civil society – working tirelessly toward a global deal that would help steer the planet away from climate catastrophe. In the corridors of Le Bourget, businesses were applauded for showing the way as they come forward with innovation, investment and ambition to tackle climate change.

As we look toward 2020, the year when the commitments made under the Paris climate deal will kick in, the first environmental actions under the globe’s new sustainable development plan are due and countries are supposed to meet international biodiversity targets, businesses have an opportunity yet again to be the trailblazers and protect our planet’s incredible biodiversity.

We have the tools, the know-how and the technology we need to address the root causes pushing our planet to the brink. What we require now is for businesses to lead the way with visionary leadership to translate momentum into action.

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