The world’s oceans have reached their hottest ever recorded temperatures as they absorb the heat of climate change. Now that regulators have turned their attention to mitigating biodiversity loss, Pippa Howard, Chief Nature Strategist at NatureMetrics, explains how businesses can accurately examine their impact on our precious marine environments.
Marine ecosystems cover two-thirds of our planet and play a crucial role in supporting life on Earth. In the 1990s, scientists and economists came together for the first time to estimate the economic value of “ecosystem services” – goods and systems provided by ecosystems that benefit humans, such as food or raw materials.
Since then, these estimations have been refined and continue to make a lasting impact on society by breaking down the divide between human society and nature. Ecosystems and biodiversity have a place in policy and business, in ways never considered in the 20th century.
Today, ocean-based goods and services have an estimated worth of USD $2.5 trillion annually (3% of global GDP in 2020), while the natural capital potential of marine ecosystems could be up to $24 trillion.
Therefore, the preservation of marine biodiversity extends far beyond a moral obligation to protect the planet’s natural wonders. It is a matter of preserving the environment in which we live, an environment that directly underpins a substantial part of our global economy. But the economic value of our oceans also presents extreme pressures and threats on its resources.
Let us not forget that they are also fundamental in supporting life on Earth – marine ecosystems generate 50% of the oxygen we breathe and provide a primary protein source for billions of people, nourishing communities worldwide.
Finally, marine ecosystems act as vital carbon sinks, absorbing 25% of global carbon dioxide emissions, thus mitigating the impacts of climate change. Without a healthy marine environment, our lives and livelihoods are severely compromised.
Despite the immense value of marine ecosystems, currently only around 7% of the global ocean is protected. This disparity highlights the urgent shift needed to drive businesses and governments to engage with nature conservation to reduce the pressures and threats on its resources that result from its economic value.
The Business Case for Nature
As businesses navigate the complexities of sustainability, they must recognise the immense risks posed by marine biodiversity loss and the urgent need for conservation efforts to avoid irreversible consequences.
Incoming regulations and frameworks such as the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBD), aimed at promoting the achievement of the UN’s sustainable development goals and the more recently adopted EU Nature Protection Law, signal to companies that a more comprehensive approach in biodiversity management is needed.
By understanding the economic, ecological, and social value of marine biodiversity and taking proactive measures to protect it, businesses can contribute to a more sustainable future while safeguarding their own resilience and long-term success. But how is this done?
To identify the implications of marine biodiversity loss on businesses, it is important to understand the concept of nature-related risk. Just as companies assess and manage financial risks, they must now consider the potential impacts on their operations, supply chains, and reputation that stems from the degradation of natural environments. Identifying and measuring biodiversity-related risk is a relatively new concept, however resources are being developed to help facilitate these conversations within industries, such as The Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) — an international framework aimed to aid organisations in measuring their biodiversity/environmental risks.
Evaluating a business’ impact on marine environments can be daunting. However, it has become clear that business interest and awareness on reporting on biodiversity impact is growing with the newly developed regulations and frameworks appearing in this space. These early adopters are benefiting with the time to adjust to incoming regulations and these benefits are only going to increase as consumer and government attitudes shift towards positive action. This is an opportunity for businesses to start early, get ahead of their competitors, and future-proof their business.
Moving beyond Data
Companies must empower themselves to make the right decisions. Drawing the right insights from the right data is a prerequisite.
Marine biodiversity monitoring has been a conservation objective for many years, allowing scientists to monitor and assess the state of a marine ecosystem over time. Efforts in the past included activity such as physically identifying species through marine field surveys, statistical sampling models, and remote sensing, all of which have their own set of gaps.
It was the introduction of environmental DNA monitoring that has brought some much-needed innovation and standardisation to the field, complimenting these already existing methods.
eDNA (environmental DNA) involves the detection of genetic material shed by animals and plants into their environment. This monitoring technique provides a cost effective and scalable complement to traditional forms of biodiversity assessments, as the methods of data collection are standardised and efficient. The huge amount of eDNA data it’s possible to gather can then be paired with an additional layer of insights from nature intelligence providers to turn the complexities of nature into boardroom ready metrics that can empower decision makers to assess, act and monitor their progress to make the best decisions for nature and the business long-term.
By adopting sustainable practices and leveraging innovative tools to monitor nature performance, businesses can significantly reduce their environmental impact while also enhancing their long-term resilience and competitiveness. Embracing these technologies allows companies to stay ahead of the curve, aligning themselves with upcoming regulations and frameworks swiftly approaching the horizon as well as gaining a competitive advantage by exceeding consumer and investor expectations.
We have reached a turning point for marine businesses. The understanding, awareness, and reporting of their impact on the ocean will become more mainstream due to the trajectory of policy and regulatory requirements. It is not just an obligation but also a strategic decision to secure the longevity of their business while contributing to a healthier, more sustainable planet.