Dr. Tony Juniper CBE speaks at autumn biodiversity fair hosted by Osborne Clarke in Bristol

Businesses need to put the recovery of nature on an equal footing with climate change in terms of boardroom priorities, according to a leading environmentalist.

Dr. Tony Juniper CBE was speaking at a panel debate at an autumn biodiversity fair, held at the Bristol office of leading international legal practice Osborne Clarke.

He said that while net zero targets were becoming an accepted part of the business landscape, similar targets on biodiversity were a rarity.

The debate was hosted by Lara Burch, head of Osborne Clarke’s Bristol office and also featured Ian Barrett, CEO of Avon Wildlife Trust; Guy Thompson, managing director of EnTrade, a not-for-profit Wessex Water business that creates and operates environmental markets; and Sophie Spencer, senior environment manager in charge of nature recovery at the West of England Combined Authority.

“Campaigners have been very successful in making the narrative about climate change"

Tony Juniper

“Campaigners have been very successful in making the narrative about climate change,” said Tony Juniper.

“What is less obvious, but just as urgent, is the parallel crisis in terms of the decline of nature. For example, only 4 per cent of this planet’s air breathing vertebrate biomass is now made up of wild animals, with 96 per cent comprised of humans and their domesticated animals."

“There are around 8.5 million species on Earth and we are haemorrhaging them at a terrifying rate.”

Tony Juniper told the audience at Osborne Clarke that many businesses remained stuck in a “business as usual” mindset in regard to nature and the environment.

“The environment is often seen as a blocker or a cost rather than an investment. The idea that environmental laws are slowing down the economy is deeply embedded and is a miscalculation and misunderstanding of monumental proportions.

“According to the World Economic Forum an estimated 50 per cent of our GDP is predicated on natural systems – the services that nature provides - although I think that figure may be higher. If a bank deliberately liquidated its capital assets in the way we have been doing with our natural assets, its directors would go to prison accused of running a Ponzi scheme.

“That said, the world is changing in terms of what people expect from businesses in regard to climate change and net zero targets, and they are being held accountable.

“We are only halfway there, however, and over the next five years we need to see the same sense of urgency about the scale of the nature emergency and what we are going to do about it in terms of biodiversity targets.”

Lara Burch said that one example of “natural capital” is insect pollination, which is worth an estimated £400 million a year to the UK economy by improving the yield, quality and resilience of crops.

"If we think of the Earth’s natural resources as being like money we hold in a bank, we can’t keep withdrawing cash and expect to survive - we need to live on the interest"

Lara Burch

“If we think of the Earth’s natural resources as being like money we hold in a bank, we can’t keep withdrawing cash and expect to survive - we need to live on the interest,” she said.

“The ecological emergency that we are now facing means that at a practical level, we can’t keep running down this natural capital. The most nimble businesses are addressing this and at Osborne Clarke we are seeing new markets and services in this area developing all the time.”

Guy Thompson agreed that nature had played the “Cinderella” role to climate change until now in the political discourse.

"There is a rich history of innovation in the West of England and we need to collaborate, think local, pilot and demonstrate."

Guy Thompson

“There is a whole new market for  progressive businesses to invest in landscapes on their doorstep, enhance the places where their customers and employees live and support local employment and skills.  Private sector investment is going to be absolutely critical in this area. There is a rich history of innovation in the West of England and we need to collaborate, think local, pilot and demonstrate. If we rise to this, we can be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state.”

“We are one of the most nature deprived countries in the world but in the West of England we have a Metro Mayor who is passionate about nature recovery and as an organisation we are committed to a target of nature being in recovery by 2030,” said Sophie Spencer.

Ian Barrett said that Avon Wildlife Trust had set three targets to combat the nature emergency: reaching a situation whereby 30 per cent of land is managed for the benefit of wildlife and where one in four people are taking action for the benefit of nature; and creating 1,000 hectares of new nature habitat across the region.

The event was also an opportunity to showcase the work of Osborne Clarke's environment team which advises clients on various aspects of natural capital, including biodiversity net gain.

Caroline Bush, associate director in the environment team at Osborne Clarke, added: “Another of the key topics discussed was the new mandatory biodiversity net gain regime, expected to come into force in England in November this year. Whilst some have concerns that it is not a perfect tool, it will play its part in raising the profile of this important agenda among the business community.”

Natural capital is also a key focus of the firm's decarbonisation transformation stream, providing clients with solutions to better navigate the changing regulatory landscape surrounding net zero emissions and decarbonisation targets.

Such targets and subsequent reporting responsibilities mean that the 'environmental' arm of ESG has become a hot topic and ever-evolving challenge for businesses. Osborne Clarke's international, multi-disciplinary and cross-sector ESG team of experts advises clients holistically on the development and implementation of their ESG strategy, helping them to meet required reporting and disclosure obligations. The team possesses significant expertise across the wide range of ESG-related areas, helping clients anticipate regulatory changes and implement a strategic approach to the increasing legislation around ESG.

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