In an interview with Alex Mamy Zaka of the African Network of Environmental Journalists (ANEJ), South African Eva Zabey, Executive Director of Business For Nature, dwells on the needed radical changes in the economic and financial systems in order to preserve biodiversity. Zaka spoke to Zabey on the sidelines of the Second Open-Ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework holding in Rome, Italy
How do you reconcile the “creative destruction” of our mode of production, while preserving the environment?
The value of the environment must be integrated into the economy, taking into account the costs of externality (negative or positive). The objective is to obtain affordable and sustainable products. In addition, the performance of the company must integrate both a return on investment of capital but also the added value induced by nature and social.
Transforming the way our current ecosystem works will allow us to achieve this goal. And this process is underway.
What are the indicators of externality costs or do we need the creation of new production standards?
Currently, it is very disparate. Sectors of activity have created their indices to measure the social impact of companies on the environment and the mode of governance, that is the Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) criteria. The main demand of Business For Nature (BFN) is the integration of the value of biodiversity in decision making. In other words, going beyond the strict sense of GDP and short-term profitability as the only indicator of (macro and micro) economic growth.
What is the profile of the companies, the sectors of activity, the size of the companies which you wish to follow this great movement of biodiversity?
Indeed, it is mainly the large companies that are the pioneers. Thanks to their financial and human resources, they are able to experiment with this new way of producing; make a “risk-opportunity” diagnosis to determine their environmental impact. All the more, that with a fairly stretched production chain, finding innovative solutions more easily gives them the opportunity of economy of scale.
Conversely, given their insufficiency of resources, this innovation, that is to say the creation of tools, seems for the moment quite limited within SMEs. That said, the scarcity of natural resources combined with pressure from countries, consumers and NGOs will inevitably lead to profound change: companies will have to change their behaviour to reduce their footprint on the planet.
Today, awareness is collective about the degradation of biodiversity through the effect of our production system. When will we switch to a “100% clean” economy?
It will be progressive; there will be successive stages. The impact of climate change is fully integrated, although it is still difficult to measure. From my point of view, the first standard indicators will concern water before climate and then biodiversity. But this deep movement will be illustrated in the next 10 years. For an environment-friendly economy, the probable horizon is 2050.
In this regard, there is a group made up of 14 NGOs which formulated the following question: what is the “Biodiversity” indicator which would be the equivalent of 1.5 ° C for climate change? This is the famous “zero net loss for biodiversity” or in good French Net Loss. Concretely, from 2020, if natural resources are destroyed during the industrial production process, they must be replaced. We believe that we will have positive effects until 2030. And we will definitively switch to 2050, that is to say the total restoration of biodiversity.
Is it an objective?
Yes, but it is a proposal supported by several very influential organisations. For my part, it is important for companies to have concrete objectives because nothing is more uncomfortable for a manager to be uncertain over his future investments.
Therefore, we will put in the trash the Return on Financial Investment?
Of course not! But other performance indicators will measure added value. We must not forget that the big vision is that Man is a species that lives on this planet. And that financial super-returns will have no meaning on an extinct planet.
Is the carbon market on the right track or is there a drift? Alternatively, only the market can move us towards equilibrium?
The market regulates because it is competition which is the fuel of capitalism. But the system must be strongly supervised by governments. Let us not forget something fundamental: biodiversity and human rights are not market goods. Consequently, they cannot be the subject of a trade and even less of an establishment of a compensation system.
Do you think that the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) will be concluded next October in Kunming (China), on an Agreement equivalent to that of Paris in 2015 on climate change?
Based on the current version, I am skeptical. But, we have to improve it. Governments must take initiatives, commit themselves. Kunming 2020 can be a success with a window of opportunity and a new general awareness. NGOs, businesses, governments, other actors (young people, women, indigenous peoples, etc) are mobilised.
Why is awareness more significant on climate change issues than on biodiversity?
From my point of view, the 1.5 ° C is a tangible indicator to at least give an idea of the value of my contribution – taken individually – which can lead to an overall objective. For Biodiversity, we don’t have an indicator or maybe we even have a plethora of indicators. So that we have all the difficulties to identify the additional positive impacts.
Our only compass therefore remains the assignment of a global objective. The Paris Agreement was a good illustration of this. Just before the start of the conference, companies discussed with governments the need for an Agreement. And in 2020, for Biodiversity, we are in the same configuration and the same momentum.