By Allison Lampert
Industry executives have joined activists and negotiators from nearly 200 countries at this month’s UN nature summit in Montreal, where negotiations on a global pact to protect nature could lead to tougher disclosure requirements for businesses.
Sectors such as mining, agriculture, oil and fashion are under scrutiny at the COP15 talks, due to their heavy impact on nature with activities that can contaminate soil, foul waterways or pollute the air.
As negotiators work to agree on conservation targets by the summit’s scheduled end on Dec. 19, momentum is building for a measure to require businesses to disclose their harm to the environment.
The measure, as currently drafted, would also ask companies to halve those negative impacts by 2030, which could mean additional costs for businesses, said Franck Gbaguidi, senior analyst for energy, climate and resources at the Eurasia Group risk advisory.
But a weak deal without global agreement on how businesses should behave could also raise company costs – by opening the door to a global patchwork of different biodiversity regulations and requirements that makes compliance more difficult, Eurasia Group said in a policy statement.
Here is a look at how key sectors could be affected by the COP15 talks:
Fashion and retail are facing pressure from consumers and governments to reduce waste and emissions throughout their operations.
For them, a strong deal that forces all companies to report any harm would work toward assuaging some consumer concerns.
In a letter to world governments in October, more than 330 companies including Swedish fashion giant H&M Group, furniture maker IKEA, British pharmaceutical and biotech company GSK, Switzerland’s Nestle came out in support of a COP15 deal that includes mandatory disclosure of companies’ environmental impacts by 2030.
Smaller companies with limited resources for monitoring and accounting could find a disclosure requirement more challenging.
For companies mining metals and coal, an environmental disclosure requirement could force companies to reveal the impacts not just from the blasting and drilling they do on site, but also from the logging and deforestation carried out in creating access roads.
Mining companies are also concerned about the central goal of the COP15 talks – to set aside 30 per cent of Earth’s land and ocean areas for conservation by 2030. That could cut into areas rich with resources for extraction.
“There are going to be some places which are just going to be ‘no go areas’, and that can be hard for the mining sector,” said Aimee Boulanger, executive director of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance.
The International Council on Mining and Metals, which represents 26 of the world’s largest mining companies, would back a deal that sets “a level playing field” with uniform rules in all regions, said the group’s chief executive, Rohitesh Dhawan.
With new disclosure rules, the farming sector would face an increased burden of reporting on activities like land clearing and pesticide use.
Hefty reporting obligations could burden smaller farms and ranches, some industry groups warned.
“A lot of our producers are family businesses,” said Larry Thomas, manager environment and sustainability with the Canadian Cattle Association.
The agriculture sector will likely escape a separate proposed goal to slash pesticide in half, said the Eurasia Group analyst Gbaguidi, following opposition from developing countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay due to food shortages and higher prices.
“Because of the food crisis, a lot of emerging markets are just not as open as they would have been on setting bold targets related to the agricultural sector,” Gbaguidi said.
Following COP15, oil companies are expected to ramp up their internal resources for reporting on and disclosing how oil drilling and exploration activities impact nature as well, Gbaguidi said.
The American Petroleum Institute did not respond to a request for comment on the COP15 talks.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said the country’s oil and natural gas industry wants to minimize marine and land disturbances, while also quickly restoring lands degraded by their operations to natural landscapes, CAPP spokesperson Jay Averill said.