August 09, 2002
Rio + 10 Series: Business Action Addressing Biodiversity is a Rare Species
by William Baue
The Center for Environmental Leadership in Business’ Energy and Biodiversity Initiative
represents one of very few business actions that support biodiversity conservation.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has identified five issues, water and sanitation,
energy, health, agriculture, and biodiversity, as focal points for the upcoming World Summit on
Sustainable Development. Of the five focal points, biodiversity is perhaps the least understood in
terms of how it relates to the private sector. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), one of
the primary binding agreements resulting from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, contains one of the most
“‘Biological diversity’ means the
variability among living organisms from all sources including . . . diversity within species,
between species and of ecosystems,” the Convention reads. The objectives of the CBD are
“the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair
and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources . . .
Few companies would openly oppose the notion of conserving biodiversity. Fewer
still, however, would choose conserving biodiversity over profit. The concept of sustainable
development holds that the two are not mutually exclusive, that business can conserve biodiversity
while simultaneously creating wealth.
With the Johannesburg Summit less than a month away,
one would expect ample evidence of business initiatives in support of the contention that
biodiversity is economically sustainable. However, there is precious little action apparent.
The title of a May 2001 opinion paper from the International Institute for Environment and
Development sums up the situation well. It is entitled “Biological Diversity: More Debate
than Action?” The World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) helped establish
the relevance of biodiversity to business with its 1997 publication of Business and
Biodiversity: A Guide for the Private Sector. However, the fact that the revised edition of
this text, Business and Biodiversity: The Handbook for Corporate Action, will not appear
before the Rio + 10 Summit seems like a major missed opportunity.
Conservation International’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB) is
leading the most concerted effort of business action to address biodiversity. CELB supports
biodiversity initiatives in four sectors: agriculture and fisheries, forestry, energy and mining,
and travel and leisure. In July, Conservation International helped revise the Sustainable Forestry
Board’s Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard (SFIS), making it more stringent than
federal endangered species legislation. The American Forest and Paper Association, whose members
manufacture 80 percent of the forestry products in the United States, will require strict adherence
to this new standard that protects biodiversity.
The Energy and Biodiversity Initiative
(EBI) represents an even more concerted biodiversity conservation project administered directly by
CELB. Established in January 2001, EBI joins four oil companies with five nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) to identify and promote best conservation practices for an industry with
substantial impact on biodiversity.
On January 23, 2002, EBI held a stakeholder workshop
in Washington, DC. EBI divided its participants into four working groups, each of which presented a
progress report. For example, the Biodiversity Conservation Practices Working Group, co-led by
ChevronTexaco (ticker: CVX) and Smithsonian Institution, identified best practices for implementing
biodiversity conservation. The Metrics Working Group, co-led by BP (BP) and Fauna and Flora
International, devised performance indicators for measuring the impact of oil operations on
biodiversity. Other groups included the Business Case Working Group, co-led by Conservation
International and The Nature Conservancy, and the Site Selection Working Group, co-led by Shell
(RD) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
EBI demonstrated its commitment to
transparency by admitting its faults, such as exclusive representation by companies and NGOs
headquartered in the Northern hemisphere.
“The north/south issue is a
shortcoming,” admitted Dr. Assheton Carter, director of CELB’s Energy & Mining Program.
“We don’t have southern NGOs in the core participation. We hope to overcome that
somewhat with consultation and with the representation of IUCN.”
Although EBI will
deliver a final report, its agreements will be nonbinding, leaving it open to the same criticisms
levied at the Bush Administration for its refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol in favor of voluntary
“The intention is for all members of the Initiative to agree to the
recommendations made,” EBI states on its website. “However, this intention does not
guarantee universal agreement on all aspects of the work.”
It appears that even the
most active private sector initiatives to protect biodiversity may ultimately be ineffectual at
preventing irreversible biodiversity loss.