On the eve of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) 14th Conference of Parties (COP14) – the most important environmental policy event of the year – the state of the world’s biodiversity is under intense scrutiny, with the UN warning we face our own extinction if we do not halt biodiversity loss.

COP14 will take stock of progress towards the CBD’s Aichi Targets, and set out a process to renegotiate ambitious global biodiversity conservation goals ahead of a landmark COP in 2020. Alongside reviewing progress to date, there is an urgent need to develop a plan of action to enable the business community to contribute towards these revised targets. The Global Business and Biodiversity Forum at COP14, taking place 14-15 November, offers a valuable opportunity to do this, as it will focus on mainstreaming biodiversity into the energy, mining, infrastructure and manufacturing sectors.

Importantly, businesses need practical tools and approaches, as well as credible partners, to develop and implement their biodiversity strategies, with many now exploring Net Gain commitments. In response, the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) – a cross-sector grouping of organisations whose Advisory Group includes the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) – has launched a new roadmap for companies: Business Planning for Biodiversity Net Gain. This practical framework can guide businesses in setting and meeting their biodiversity commitments, using steps business would normally follow as part of a quality management system such as ISO 9001.

Biodiversity Net Gain

Biodiversity Net Gain and No Net Loss approaches aim to deliver greater or equivalent biodiversity to that destroyed by a development project. A mainstay of the mining sector since Rio Tinto’s public commitment to a Net Positive Impact in 2004, they have been gaining increasing traction with other sectors – notably in infrastructure developments such as HS2 – and are now finding their way into national and international policy frameworks.

The UK’s 25-year Environment Plan highlights the approach from the outset: the first heading under Chapter 1 is “Embedding an ‘environmental net gain’ principle for development, including housing and infrastructure”. The EU’s Biodiversity Strategy similarly aims to “halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020”. Such policy wording first emerged in the 1950s, but it has increased rapidly since 2006.

As much of corporate policy necessarily mirrors national requirements, this has led to a positive feedback loop between corporate and government policy. The finance sector, from a lender due-diligence perspective, has been driving best practice in Biodiversity Net Gain – particularly with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Performance Standard 6 (PS6), first released in 2012, and often referred to as the ‘gold standard’ for requiring biodiversity conservation in project finance. A new development is the finance sector using Net Gain approaches to manage the impacts of their own investments, with ASN Bank in the Netherlands trialling Life Cycle Analysis and aiming to have a Net Positive impact on the ecological footprint related to their investments by 2030.

BBOP, biodiversity offsets and the Mitigation Hierarchy

Biodiversity offsets are “measurable conservation outcomes of actions designed to compensate for significant residual adverse biodiversity impacts arising from project development after appropriate prevention and mitigation measures have been taken”. As the final stage of the mitigation hierarchy, biodiversity offsets are a key approach to securing Net Gain outcomes, but they are often challenging to implement and can be a contentious tool without careful planning and stakeholder consultation.  

The key words in the definition above are “measurable” and “residual”. Measurable refers to the fact that project impacts (habitat and/or species gains and losses) are represented through numerical scores, and an offset must be quantifiable using such scores. Residual refers to those impacts that remain after a project has avoided and minimised potential impacts to the extent practicable, and accounting for gains that can reasonably be achieved by restoration of habitat – a series of steps known as the ‘mitigation hierarchy’.

At a project level, where activities will “significantly degrade or convert habitat”, a developer should always be able to a) demonstrate that there are no viable alternatives, b) conduct stakeholder consultation to establish community views on this degradation, and c) design a mitigation hierarchy approach that that will achieve No Net Loss at a minimum. This means that the mitigation measures must replace, quantitatively and qualitatively, at least as much habitat in good condition as the development degraded or converted, and preferably do this in advance. In critical habitat areas containing highly sensitive, irreplaceable habitat and/or species, lenders such as the World Bank require that the mitigation actions must achieve “net gains of those biodiversity values for which critical habitat was designated”. Often, the financial and technical management burden of achieving No Net Loss or Net Gain targets is not significantly different and businesses should strive for measurable net gain. These mitigation strategies must be defined in a “biodiversity action plan (BAP),” which is also a key risk management tool for IFC borrowers.

Biodiversity Net Gain policies are not just about risk management; they can also provide significant opportunities to access new funding streams, strengthen brand, and help developers gain social license to operate and therefore access to land for projects. In an increasingly competitive funding atmosphere for infrastructure and development projects, positive and measurable contributions to biodiversity with stakeholder buy-in – the very definition of a good Net Gain outcome – have the potential to add significant value to the business. 

What can business do, and how? BBOP’s Business Roadmap

With No Net Loss and Net Gain policies becoming increasingly embedded in national frameworks in the UK, EU and global contexts, and a growing business case for committing to such policies, there is an urgent need for tools to guide their development. Businesses need practical recommendations on how to develop internal processes to design, track and correct their progress towards Net Gain.  BBOP’s Business Roadmap aims to respond to this need and provide a practical framework for businesses wishing to deliver Net Gain or No Net Loss outcomes.

Building on the Plan-Do-Check-Act steps of the ISO 9001 Quality Management System, the Roadmap enables a company to decide “whether it wishes to make the transition to activities that deliver a Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) – or at least No Net Loss – and how to get there”. The document also provides summaries of how BNG Planning relates to corporate sustainability and global initiatives such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Natural Capital Protocol. As a guidance document, it recognises the diversity of internal business process, products, and structures and avoids giving detailed directions, instead serving as an outline with links to further resources.

The Roadmap comprises four parts, with Part 1 explaining the “what and the why” of planning for Biodiversity Net Gain, including the opportunities and risks of doing so.

The scope of planning for Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) can vary, and it can be approached in several ways characterised in the Roadmap:

  1. Commit to BNG in individual operations and partnerships at the site or project level;
  2. Aspire to apply BNG across their business; and/or
  3. Encourage BNG through their value chain.
  4. Support BNG as financial institutions through their investment strategy and engagement.

Part 2 then provides a range of possible actions towards BNG that businesses can take for their preferred scope (identified in Part 1), with one possible output being a company plan for BNG. This is set out in a series of practical steps.

Next, Part 3 covers how these practical steps can be applied to a chosen company scope, for example committing to BNG across an entire business.

Finally, Part 4 offers additional resources in the form of tools and links to further context-specific information. 

BBOP Final Conference

Following 15 years of development and a mature community of practice, the BBOP Secretariat and Executive Committee have decided to bring BBOP, in its current form, to a successful close at the end of 2018. A final conference is planned in Paris in November 2018 to celebrate the arc of developments over the last 15 years and cement BBOP’s legacy. The event will provide high visibility for industry, financial institutions and governments and offer tremendous learning opportunities for delegates to examine the future direction of managing biodiversity related risk and opportunity around the world.

Full details about the conference and registration can be found here.