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Circular economy in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

  • Market Insight 11 February 2022 11 February 2022
  • Global

  • Climate Change

In January 2022, a new expert input to the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework was published by the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice, calling for transformative action on all drivers of biodiversity loss. Addressing all these drivers will result in major shifts in global markets requiring significant changes in business models and legal architecture that underlies them.

Protection of 30%, just one step in halting biodiversity loss

The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework was outlined in the Kunming Declaration in September 2021, which countries are expected to adopt at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity in April/ May 2022. The Framework sets a target of protecting 30% of the world’s land and oceans respectively by 2030, and a goal of “living in harmony with nature” by 2050. As a result of this focus on land and ocean protection, expansion of protected areas has attracted a lot of attention.

However, expanding national parks and marine protected areas on its own falls short of what is necessary to halt biodiversity loss. In their report, the experts, coordinated by two renowned international science bodies bioDISCOVERY, a program of the Future Earth organisation, and the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), point out that other measures addressing the direct drivers of biodiversity decline are inevitable, such as reducing harmful agricultural and fishing subsidies, shifting diets away from meat overconsumption, limiting global temperature increase to 1.5C and reducing waste of all kinds. Importantly, most examples of positive outcomes for biodiversity will require multiple interlinked actions.

The impact of biodiversity-positive actions on business

The consequences of the global economic transformation envisaged will be far-reaching. For example, waste reduction will require businesses to shift their production models away from linear cradle-to-grave thinking to a more circular cradle-to-cradle model. Although it may sound simple, a shift to the circular economy will force companies to take responsibility for products they make beyond the shop floor, necessitating shortening of their supply chains and swapping production materials for sustainable and reusable ones.

Circularity may also lead to a shift in the concept of ownership in a product-driven economy. While a linear economy accepts that upon purchase a customer becomes the lawful owner of the product purchased and may dispose with it as she pleases, in a circular economy, customers may have to pay for the service the product delivers rather than the product itself, leaving the ultimate ownership and responsibility for the repair and final disposal with the original producer. This poses all sorts of hard questions:

  • Who will be liable for harm that a defective product may cause?
  • How will this very different business model impact the producer’s balance sheet?
  • Who will take over ownership and responsibility if the producer becomes insolvent? 

While successfully addressing biodiversity loss will require a profound economic and legal transformation, a failure to do so may lead to nothing short of economic collapse. Given that more than half of the world’s economic output amounting to US$44tn is dependent in some way on biodiversity, such collapse is unlikely to be centralised – indeed global supply chains that link geographically distant economies are the most exposed to biodiversity risk and likely to be first impacted by unabated biodiversity decline.

Clyde & Co in collaboration with the Global Resilience Partnership will launch its Biodiversity litigation and value chain risk paper in Spring 2022, which will, among other things, touch on some of the issues raised in this article. If you would like to receive a copy once it is released, register your interest below.

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