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The biodiversity blind spot: why Sustainability professionals need to see beyond the carbon curtain

Biodiversity crisis wave which can't be seen
The biodivertisty blind spot

The Earth's biosphere, teeming with life in all its wondrous forms, is still largely a mystery. Even for the scientific community, vast swathes remain uncharted territory. We're only just beginning to grasp the intricate tapestry of species, their interactions, and how they shape the very fabric of life on our planet.

While it’s important to acknowledge the scientific unknowns, the purpose of this article is to shine a light on the biodiversity knowledge gap among the general public and sustainability professionals.

Tackling the multi-faceted environmental crisis demands a holistic view, where every thread, every interdependence, is acknowledged and understood.

Scientists still have a lot to research on biodiversity 

In the last decade, our understanding of biodiversity and its invaluable ecosystem services has significantly increased. Yet, compared to climate change, it remains the wallflower at the sustainability science ball. We only know a fraction of the estimated 8.7 million species that call Earth home – a mere 12%. Imagine navigating a foreign land with just 12% of the map!

This knowledge gap extends beyond species identification. The tipping points of biodiversity, those critical thresholds beyond which ecosystems can collapse, remain largely shrouded in mystery. Many vulnerabilities could lurk within untouched ecosystems, waiting to be discovered.

Part of the reason for this scientific blind spot lies in resource allocation. Biodiversity research, despite its vital role in sustaining life itself, often takes a backseat to other environmental concerns.

Perhaps, we've simply taken nature for granted, and not worth our scientific attention, blinded by a false sense of security by her apparent resilience.

But to truly know her, to protect her, we must delve deeper.

Breaking free from the carbon tunnel vision

Through my work as a Climate Fresk facilitator I have educated hundreds of people from the streets of Glasgow COP26, to classrooms and boardrooms. This important education work has to be done – and I will continue doing it – but it’s only one facet of the problem. Most news headlines, sustainability strategies, learning and development programs are focused on climate change, particularly carbon. It's the undisputed champion of environmental discourse, hogging the limelight at conferences like UN Climate change Conferences (latest was COP28 in Dubai in 2023) while its biodiversity counterpart, UN Biodiversity Conference (latest was COP15 in Montreal in 2022), struggles to even get a mention on the evening news.

Even most sustainability consultancies have a knowledge gap regarding nature and biodiversity. This carbon tunnel vision, while understandable given the urgency of the climate crisis, comes at a cost. It paints an incomplete picture, one where the interconnectedness of environmental issues is ignored.

Why biodiversity deserves more time and attention among sustainability professionals

Knowledge, as they say, is power. And when it comes to biodiversity, awareness is the prerequisite to action. Here's why sustainability professionals need to increase nature and biodiversity awareness:

  • Ecosystem Services are the lifeline of human well-being and our economies. Nature provides food, water, clean air, raw materials, energy, climate regulation, health remedies, cultural activities and much more...

  • Biodiversity loss poses even greater threats to humanity than climate change. The breakdown of ecosystems disrupts natural cycles, leading to food and energy insecurity, water scarcity, and the emergence of infectious diseases...among other issues. We depend on biodiversity for our very survival, and ignoring its plight puts us all at risk.

  • Biodiversity and climate change are two sides of the same coin. Protecting ecosystems not only safeguards species but also boosts our planet's natural carbon capture abilities. Think of lush forests and verdant fields – they're not just biodiversity havens, they're powerful carbon sinks.

  • Embracing biodiversity unlocks a virtuous cycle. By tackling both climate change and biodiversity loss simultaneously, we create a ripple effect of positive outcomes for climate mitigation and adaptation. More diverse ecosystems become more resilient, better able to withstand environmental shocks, and sequester more carbon. It's a win-win scenario for nature and humanity.

  • Biodiversity transition risk. Public pressure for biodiversity protection is mounting. Regulation is increasing (EU Nature restoration law, EU Deforestation free products law, US endangered species act) and emerging international agreements and frameworks will soon translate into national law (Taskforce on Nature Financial Disclosure, Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework). Sustainability professionals who stay ahead of the curve will be best positioned to navigate this changing landscape.

The solutions to the environmental poly-crisis lie in a tapestry of knowledge and action. Let's weave a future where both climate and biodiversity are in equilibrium.

So, dear sustainability professionals, I urge you to step out of the carbon tunnel and explore the vibrant, intricate world of biodiversity. Attend a Biodiversity Collage course, read the IPBES summary for policy makers, listen to podcasts, and bring awareness to the rest of your business. Let's paint a picture of a sustainable future, one vibrant brushstroke of biodiversity at a time.

As Vandana Shiva, the renowned environmentalist, beautifully reminds us,

"In the forest, we are not visitors, but kin." Vandana Shiva, environmentalist

Let's treat our kin with the respect and understanding they deserve and give it a seat at the sustainability table.

group attending an in person workshop on biodiversity
Biodiversity collage workshop

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