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Wild Harvest

On UN World Wildlife Day, Dr Rebecca Drury, Manager, Biodiversity and Nature, Chronos Sustainability, explains why investor action is critical to global biodiversity goals on the exploitation of wild species.

‘Direct exploitation’ of wild species is the largest cause of biodiversity loss in marine ecosystems, and the second largest in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. Target 5 of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), agreed on Montreal in December 2022, aims to ensure that the harvest, use and trade of wild species is sustainable, safe, and legal, preventing over-exploitation.

What is direct exploitation of wild species?

For many, this calls to mind poaching of megafauna such as elephants. There is no doubt that elephant, rhino and tiger populations have been decimated by demand for ivory, rhino horn and tiger bones and pelts. Thriving illegal markets for exotic reptiles and luxury hardwood furniture have also taken a heavy toll. Disgracefully, this illegal exploitation is rife.

Wild populations also legally provide a huge range of goods and services that many of us use daily, and on which many millions depend on for their livelihoods. For example, thousands of consumer products contain plant ingredients, an estimated 60-90% of which are collected from the wild[1]. Yet few people are aware that ingredients found in their homes and shopping baskets in the form of food and drinks, herbal medicines and teas, oils, furniture, and cosmetics, such as wild-harvested argan oil, frankincense, shea butter and Brazil nuts, are also exploited wild species. Much of this trade is poorly regulated, and its harvest unmonitored or unsustainable.

Addressing risks brought by rising pressures on wild species

In recent decades, trade in wild species has expanded substantially. For example, demand for wild plant ingredients has grown by over 75% in value over the last 20 years1. Trade networks have become more global, putting increasingly unsustainable pressure on many species. Climate change, growing demand, and expansion of mining operations are likely to exacerbate this even further.

Illegal trade in wild species has also burgeoned and carries risks to health from pathogen spill over. Illegal wildlife trade – including timber and fish – is estimated to represent the third largest class of all illegal trade with annual values of up to US$199 billion1.

Sectors such as cosmetics, luxury goods, forestry, household furnishings, food producers and retail are dependent on wild species. Through their operations and value chains, they will need be able to demonstrate responsible, sustainable, and legal use of any wild-harvested commodities used as ingredients for their products.

Target 16 of the GBF stipulates encouragement and enabling people to make responsible choices and reduce over-consumption, including reducing unsustainable demand for wild-harvested commodities. This also implicates companies manufacturing, marketing, and retailing products with wild-sourced ingredients.

The GBF requires governments to encourage business to assess and disclose their dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, to reduce negative, and increase positive, impacts (Target 15). Therefore, companies will need to prepare to respond to policy and disclosure requests in the future.

Investors can engage on direct exploitation

As part of integrating biodiversity values across all sectors and ensuring activities and financial flows are aligned (Target 14), investors must be able to direct financial flows towards those with effective processes in place, and engage effectively with those that do not.

For exposed sectors, investors should expect companies to:

  • Develop and implement policies and systems demonstrating traceability, avoidance of over-exploitation and ecosystem degradation, and a contribution to maintaining or enhancing biodiversity in source areas; and
  • Report on their biodiversity dependencies and impacts, including direct exploitation (also framed as resource use and replenishment), and how they are responding to these.

Investors should also be engaging with sectors that facilitate illegal and unsustainable trade in wild species, including finance, ecommerce, logistics and leisure. Measures to identify and report financial flows arising from wildlife trafficking and associated corruption (eg as per the Mansion House Declaration) should be sought. For logistics and ecommerce, companies should ensure policies and processes to identify and act on transportation of illegally sourced wildlife products (eg as per the Buckingham Palace Declaration).

The mining sector is critical in providing transition minerals required for ambitious action on climate change but plays an equally critical role in tackling wildlife over-exploitation. At a minimum, investors should expect mining companies to describe how they are reducing indirect and induced impacts of operations, eg related to infrastructure and in-migration (eg the impacts associated with infrastructure and with migration as people travel in anticipation of employment and economic opportunities) that often leads to exacerbated wildlife harvest and trade. However, to address both climate and nature crises, investors should be looking for mining companies to ensure no net loss of nature, including in relation to associated infrastructure.

Key challenges are a lack of data on the use of species and their value chains, and the need for robust, measurable targets and metrics to demonstrate real world progress.

Benefits, rights, and equity – a vital part of the equation

Delivering real world impact on wildlife exploitation goes well beyond the boardroom to the source areas of wildlife commodities.

Indigenous peoples manage wildlife use across more than 38 million km2 in 87 countries. Secure rights of tenure and equitable access have been shown to be key in creating or sustaining conditions needed for sustainable use of wild species[2]. The benefits from legally trading wild species and their derivatives also provide important incentives for those living alongside them to sustainably use and protect them, ensuring ongoing supply and sustainable livelihoods. As such, the GBF’s Target 9 aims to ensure benefits and livelihoods for people through sustainable management of wild species.

Ensuring effective regulation and social integrity of supply chains that protect rights of tenure and access, enabling Indigenous people and local communities to benefit equitably from wild resources (Target 9) is not only a moral, but also a practical, imperative: quite simply, if our responses to achieve nature positive businesses exacerbate social inequalities, they will not succeed in the long term.

Sectors directly using, or enabling the commercial use, of wild species must therefore also be able to demonstrate that they are promoting fair and equitable benefit sharing and respecting the rights of indigenous and local communities.



[1] Wildcheck – Assessing the risks and opportunities of trade in wild plant ingredients (fao.org)

[2] Media Release: IPBES Sustainable Use Assessment – 50,000 Wild Species Meet Needs of Billions Worldwide | IPBES secretariat

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