top of page

PLANETARY BOUNDARY #2 BIODIVERSITY LOSS: How can we put a value on nature - beyond a provider of res

New research from Article 13

The link between nature and human mental wellbeing has been well-documented with doctors now prescribing nature experiences as alternatives to medicines. But with mental disorders affecting 1 in 4 people globally [1], consideration needs to be given to the status of Planetary Boundary #2 - biodiversity loss.

The current and projected rates of biodiversity loss, as measured by the Biodiversity Intactness Index and Extinction Rate, constitute the sixth major extinction event in the history of life on Earth and the first as a direct consequence of human activities. The UN reports that 1 million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction. The extinction rate of seed plants — including most trees, flowers and fruit-bearing plants — is about 500 times faster than what would be expected naturally [2]. Our natural environment is under threat.

With more than 40% of the world’s economies being derived from biological resources [3] we looked at how the world’s largest companies are reporting their impact on biodiversity. Our research showed that 30% of companies are measuring their impact on biodiversity but only 8% have set targets to help mitigate biodiversity loss. More worryingly these figures have not changed in the past 12 months.

Central to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the principles of ending poverty, while safeguarding Earth's life support systems.

However, the way we address this dual ambition is imbalanced. In our current model of resource management, nature is a ‘provider’ of ecological capital, through which we increase our financial and social capital, for instance:

  • * Resource provision. Nature provides the raw materials that become food, fuels, metals, timber, etc. and through which we are able to build financial and social capital. For instance, a country's oil resources can be reinvested in other forms of capital such as physical, financial and intellectual capital

  • * Service provision. Nature absorbs, into the air, water and land, the waste we generate from the production and consumption of goods.

The problem with this model, is it values ecological capital against the financial and social capitals. But the natural world is not simply a stock of resources to be exploited - and ecological, social and financial capitals are not always interchangeable. Instead the natural world must be seen for what it is, a complex living system consisting of evolving elements, which collectively provide

  • * Life-support functions. Providing the basic conditions through which life and production is possible. How can you value these basic life-support functions, such as those supporting climate and ecosystem stability, and the shielding of UV radiation by the ozone layer?

  • * Amenity services. The result of millions of years of complex evolution. How do you assign aesthetic value to green rolling hills or a lake? What is the 'exchange rate' between new roads supporting social development and the preservation of ancient woodland?

  • * Existence value. The value that people place on the continued existence of species or ecosystems, regardless of whether they will themselves ever encounter the species or experience the ecosystem.

​By only viewing nature from the perspective of the resources and services it provides, we continue the mentality of optimising our continued exploitation of these services. Instead, and in order to achieve the ambition of the SDGs, we must adopt a more holistic perspective. This approach should value nature, not for the capital it can generate, but for the irreplaceable value it provides us.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is the intergovernmental body which assesses the state of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services it provides to society, in response to requests from decision makers. The new IPBES work programme (2019-2030) will prioritise 3 topics

  • * Reaching simultaneously SDG’s related to food, health, water, climate and biodiversity (nexus)

  • * Understanding the underlying causes of biodiversity loss and determinants of transformative change

  • * Measuring business impact and dependence on biodiversity and on nature’s contributions to people

The contribution of nature to our mental wellbeing is another good reason for businesses to take action on biodiversity loss.

For all the corporate sector to play its part in the achievement of global - and local -biodiversity targets, it must address its real impact on the planet’s resources (and not forget its impact and potential support for the social thresholds of health).


1. World Health Organisation

2. Humphreys et al. 2015

3. Convention on Biological Diversity 2014

Ekins, Paul; Simon, Sandrine; Deutsch, Lisa; Folke, Carl and De Groot, Rudolf (2003). A Framework for the practical application of the concepts of critical natural capital and strong sustainability. Ecological Economics, 44(2-3) pp. 165–185.

Research footnotes:

1. How were companies selected: Companies were selected according to four factors to ensure a representative sample size. Ability to impact planetary limits (e.g. largest companies globally by revenue); Public commitment to sustainability (e.g. constituents of sustainability leadership rankings such as Corporate Knights); Representatives of largest companies by regional stock exchange and by super-sector listing. Representatives by geography (largest companies for different regions: Europe, Middle East and Africa, North America, South America, Asia and Australia)

2. Planetary boundaries and social thresholds: Planetary boundaries: In 2009, Johan Rockström and 28 scientists identified the nine processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth system. They proposed quantitative planetary boundaries. Crossing these boundaries increases the risk of generating large-scale abrupt or irreversible environmental changes. Social thresholds: In 2016, Kate Raworth (Oxfam) combined the nine planetary boundaries with twelve social thresholds, which set out quantifiable basic needs for all people. The planetary boundaries and social thresholds were key scientific inputs to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Twitter - White Circle
  • LinkedIn - White Circle
bottom of page