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Expertise 04.12.2023

UBP London’s ambitious Nature Calls conference draws a crowd

UBP London’s ambitious Nature Calls conference draws a crowd

We recently held our first biodiversity conference in London, titled ‘Nature Calls!’ featuring a varied batch of panellists who led inspiring keynote speeches and discussions.

UBP’s Biodiversity Committee and Impact team in London are firmly convinced of the necessity of making nature conservation and biodiversity restoration a key target at every level of political, economic, social, and business decision-making.

This is what prompted them to invite representatives of NGOs, biodiversity experts, suppliers, companies, asset managers, individual investors and pension fund beneficiaries to engage on the financial implications of such considerations at a major conference they initiated at the Barbican Centre in the heart of London in late November.

The event, which featured as a key panellist conservationist Tony Juniper CBE, author, campaigner and Chair of the UBP Biodiversity Committee, brought together 115 participants, including 18 journalists from nine countries.

Alongside keynote speeches and panel discussions it also showcased the artwork of conservationist painter Beatrice Forshall and a cheese flavour workshop demonstrating the value of healthy soils.

Taking companies, economies and consumers to the next level when it comes to addressing the restoration of biodiversity means dispelling confusion about regulations, getting people engaged with the topic, and refining data – finding ways to measure nature’s risks, its financial value, and its benefits to humans is the first step in measuring the impact of action taken and tracking our success.

From regulation to implementation

A panel representing the corporate, academic, not-for-profit and investment worlds, moderated by Bastien Sachet, CEO of the Earthworm Foundation, gave some guidance through the alphabet soup of nature regulation, from TNFD to CSRD.

Given that everyone is sitting on unmeasured and unmanaged nature-related financial risk, these regulations aim to bring some clarity on what to report and how to think about mitigating risks and minimising impact.

David Croft from Reckitt gave a clear account of how companies need to think of this as performance management, not a sustainability reporting initiative. “This is no longer about CSR, it’s about business longevity”, he said.

On the investment side, the Head of Impact Management of Tribe Impact Capital, Ray Dhirani, was clear about the importance of ‘nesting’ the finance world within nature and climate boundary conditions. So far, we have “maxed out on efficiency at the expense of resilience”, he concluded, adding that “the companies paying attention to this now will be the places to be, from an investment perspective”.

How to measure success

The value of nature lies in its complexity. However, this makes it challenging to measure. Colin Porteous, CIO of Peace Parks Foundation, led a panel featuring SEED (a collaboration between Nature Finance and ETH Zurich’s Crowther Lab), one of the first initiatives that aims to harness this complexity using its unique measurement tool.

According to Ian Brettell, Biodiversity Policy Officer at Crowther Lab, “relative to other leading metrics, SEED is broader by including more taxa including microbes … [and] deeper in that it factors in all three scales, whereas others only focus on the species level.”

He highlighted the findings from SEED’s pilot with UBP’s Biodiversity Restoration strategy, with a focus on two holdings,  and what can be achieved with precise location data, drawing the link with target 15 from the Global Biodiversity Framework and the TNFD.  

Consumer engagement and food reform

The two closing sessions focussed on raising consumers’ engagement with nature and convincing them of the importance of tackling the food industry to turn it from depletive to regenerative.

Chaired by Elizabeth Clark of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, a panel of farming specialists highlighted the superior taste and nutritional profiles of foods grown in healthier, more biodiverse soil, pointing out that depleted nature is a social not just an environmental issue. 

Putting a farmer and a food retailer in the same conversation led to some interesting debate, with the grower illustrating the clear priority that price has had over other factors: “For the last 20 years retailers have connected food only with price. We need to reconnect it with quality,” stated Edward Velsasco of Rodanto Farms and Distribution.

Also, besides the price focus, they agreed that very short-term contracts have disincentivised farmers from investing in their soil and growing system, and that food retailers need to work with farms to provide more visibility and income stability, allowing more long-term decision-making.

This event achieved its aim of attracting plenty of interest and galvanising the attendants into pushing the issue of biodiversity restoration right up to the top of their agenda.

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