Tony Juniper says economic growth cannot come at the expense of nature.
It’s essential that the ecological system is aligned with the economic system to tackle rapid nature loss, according to Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, the government advisor for the natural environment in England.
Speaking at the ‘Nature Calls!’ event hosted by asset manager UBP, Juniper warned that the global economic system continues to degrade nature and count it as growth.
“There is a perception that the economy and nature are separate and that we choose one or the other,” he told onlookers. “This is completely false, because the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of nature, not the other way around.
“The more we degrade the natural system, the more in the end, we will degrade the human economic system, because of that fundamental dependency.”
The UK is at particular risk of nature depletion with a recent study finding one in six species in the country are threatened with extinction.
Juniper said it should be “priority number one” to align the ecological system and the economic system by finding ways of deploying capital that lead to the recovery of nature rather than its decline.
There is growing interest on putting a monetary value on ecological systems, with the EU, UK and US working on national natural capital accounting systems.
According to PwC, approximately US$58 trillion of economic value generation is moderately or highly dependent on nature.
Juniper is the Chair of UBP’s Biodiversity Committee which provides the investment team with strategic guidance and helps it set out clear biodiversity objectives and performance indicators.
In 2021, UBP launched a biodiversity restoration fund.
Juniper said work is underway by UBP to use the fund to drive the implementation of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which was announced last year.
In December 2022, at the Kunming-Montreal COP15, 193 countries pledged to adopt the GBF. The framework includes 23 targets in total, with Target 15 requiring governments to encourage companies and financial institutions to disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity along their operations, supply and value chains, and portfolios by 2030 at the latest.
No appetite for nature
Connecting nature and economics was a recurring theme throughout the event. Ray Dhirani, Impact Manager at asset manager Tribe Capital, spoke about the importance of “nesting” the finance and investment world within planetary boundaries after the world had “maxed out on efficiency at the trade-off of resilience”.
According to Dhirani, the pandemic drove home the importance of having strong, resilient systems. He added that during the firm’s engagement with holdings it stressed the importance of tackling nature and climate in tandem.
“We’ve been engaging a renewable energy developer who is fixated on avoided emissions and carbon reductions,” he said, noting that it has to stress that climate action can’t be done at the “detriment to nature” or “later”.
“You need to think about it at the stage where this stuff is being built and deployed,” he explained.
Another barrier to companies thinking the right way about nature is due to a lack of consumer interest, Victoria Leggett, Head of Impact Investing at UBP, told onlookers at the event.
She said while corporates understood that potential future regulation on nature and measurement of nature impacts and risks were important, the bigger pushback was consumer appetite.
“The pushback we’ve had is that if the consumer doesn’t care there’s a limit to what we can do.”
Juniper said a key challenge would be finding language around biodiversity and nature that emotionally connected with people.
“There was a survey years ago that found much of the public associate biodiversity with washing powder,” he noted. “We need a new language that has an immediate emotional connection with people.”