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UK’s Church Commissioners is first investor to join efforts on science-based biodiversity targets

Move comes as COP15 is further delayed and Mark Carney stresses the need to value natural capital

The Church Commissioners for England has become the first investor to join an initiative to develop science-based targets for companies on “land, oceans, water and biodiversity”.

Due in 2022, targets are being created under the auspices of the Science Based Targets Network’s (SBTN) Corporate Engagement Programme, and seek to “provide companies with a clear pathway to changing their impacts and dependencies on nature right across their value chains”. 

SBTN is a non-profit established in 2019 to expand on the success of the climate-focused Science-based Targets Initiative. Its Corporate Engagement Programme boasts big names including Chanel, Coca Cola and Unilever, and it told RI it is talking to other investors about joining the programme.

“We encourage other investors to join us in supporting the development of science-based targets for nature to facilitate improved management of our holdings’ impacts and dependencies on natural resources and systems,” said Harry Ashman, Engagement Analyst at the Church Commissioners. 

The £8.7bn investor is currently assessing its own impacts and dependencies on nature, and says it will be pushing investee companies to do the same to enable risk analysis. 

Last week, BlackRock – the biggest asset manager in the world – committed to making natural capital one of its 2021 stewardship priorities, alongside human rights. This week, activists issued a letter criticising the firm for allegedly causing deforestation and claiming it has not laid out any clear accountability mechanisms to assure that its engagement results in tangible improvements. 

While there has been fast growing momentum around nature and biodiversity in finance, progress has stalled on the creation of a new global biodiversity framework by governments, with COP15 being postponed again, this time until 11-24 October 2021. Originally, COP15 – the nature-based equivalent of the global climate summit COP26 – was slated to be held last October in Kunming, China. It was changed to May 2021 due to Covid-19, and the latest pushback has also been caused by the ongoing pandemic, meaning it will happen just weeks before the UK and Italy host COP26.

Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England and current Financial Advisor to the UK Government for COP26, waded into the natural capital discussions at a speech called The Tenacity of Hope last month, saying biodiversity should be considered in the valuation of companies.  

“If a good or activity is not in the market, it is not valued. After all, why do markets rate Amazon as one of the world’s most valuable companies, but the value of the vast region of the Amazon appears on no ledger until it is stripped of its foliage and converted into farmland?”

Carney called for ways to “better align value and values of nature” citing the new Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures and the UN’s formal adoption of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting, which will enable countries to measure their natural capital.

This week, German development bank KfW invested €88m in an ‘eco.business’ fund that aims to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources in agriculture, forestry, fishery and ecotourism in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.  The investment was made on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Finally, NatCap Research has launched what it claims to be the first comprehensive online environmental mapping tool in the UK to identify, measure and report on natural capital assets. Professor Sir Dieter Helm, founder and Chair of Natural Capital Research, explained: “The private sector – from shareholders to ESG investors to carbon markets – as well as NGOs and other stakeholders will increasingly want rock-solid evidence of natural assets and environmental baselines and enhancements.”