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Businesses are using the SDGs to combat the climate crisis

Sustainability Advisor Adrian Cheng explores how focusing on SDG 14 and 15 can help Asian businesses’ efforts to combat the global ecological crisis.

 

We are now facing unprecedented destruction of natural ecosystems and threats of biodiversity loss caused by human activities.

Among the estimated 8.7 million  living species on Earth, around 1 million animal and plant species are currently threatened with extinction. Climate change, among others such as destruction of habitats, is, in fact, one of the major factors driving species extinction. The world’s ecosystem is an interconnected web, which is vital for the life-supporting system such as food and oxygen supply for humankind. Extinction of species impacts food chains and such devastating effects would cascade the entire ecosystem and eventually threaten human survival. The following figures from the landmark report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services around the current destruction of the natural environment are quite frankly, alarming.

  • Humans have significantly altered three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment
  • In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished
  • 100 million hectares of tropical forest were lost from 1980 to 2000, resulting mainly from cattle ranching in Latin America (about 42 million hectares) and plantations in South-East Asia (about 7.5 million hectares).

The above examples of ecosystem destruction may seem distant to us compared to the super typhoons in Hong Kong. Notwithstanding, Hong Kong cannot stay away from the problem. As a coastal city with high population density and lack of natural resources such as fossil fuel and timber, we have stretched our ecological footprint far around the world in obtaining food and resources from both the ocean and land. And thus, Hong Kong’s ecological impact on the natural world is disproportionally high.

For instance, Hong Kong had the second-largest per capita consumption (60kg) of seafood in Asia, which was three times the world’s average. Such consumption is based on a chain of unsustainable trade of endangered species such as groupers. On the other hand, the recent Amazon wildfires reveal that Hong Kong is the top destination for Brazilian beef exports. In recent news, it’s been revealed that one of the major causes of the fires is due to loggers and ranchers clearing land for cattle, making Hong Kong a major contributor of this man-made ecological disaster that destroys the “planet’s lungs”.

 

       

 

How can SDGs 14 and 15 help tackle the situation?          

Of the 17  UN Sustainable Development Goals (aka SDGs, or Global Goals), SDGs 14 and 15 put particular emphasis on how we can conserve and manage the natural ecosystem in a sustainable manner.

SDG 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

SDG 14 guides the protection of the world’s oceans, which are vital for providing food, oxygen and livelihood for fishermen, regulating drinking water and global temperatures and absorbing carbon emissions. A wide range of targets is set to achieve this goal. Some of the major aspects include:

  • Reducing marine pollution
  • Sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems
  • Regulate harvesting
  • End overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices
  • Implement science-based management plans

 

SDG 15 – Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

On the other hand, SDG 15 focuses on protecting and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity on land. The major targets include aspects such as:

  • Sustainable management of forests
  • Combating desertification
  • Conservation of mountain ecosystems
  • Combating poaching and trafficking of protected species

 

The role of businesses

Among the targets of SDGs 14 and 15, different parties in the society can contribute accordingly. For instance, the government would be in a better position to enforce relevant laws and regulations in managing fisheries and deforestation or establishing marine protected areas and nature reserves.

Notwithstanding, government’s effort alone is far from sufficient. Business action is also a strong driving force in making global changes. Companies can play a significant role by formulating strategies or initiatives in addressing ecological impact within their operational scope. Some companies have explicitly committed to SDGs 14 and 15, while some others have initiatives which are relevant to the other SDGs. The following examples illustrate how they do it:

Manila Water, a leading company in water supply and sewage treatment in the Philippines has committed to SDGs 14 and 15, and have publicly disclosed their achieved results. Regarding SDG 14 for instance, the company reported that 9,102 tons of organic pollution (such as Biochemical Oxygen Demand) was removed from key waterways in their Integrated Report 2018. In response to SDG 15, they have protected 9,259 ha of watershed across the Philippines by planting 41,500 native trees seedlings.

Cathay Pacific, the flagship airline in Hong Kong, has also committed to SDGs 14 and 15. For SDG 14, they have banned carrying shark fin on their cargos since 2016, and published the Sustainable Development Cargo Carriage Policy to foster stakeholders’ awareness in this regard. They also established an internal Sustainable Food Policy in 2011, and opted out of purchasing specific unsustainable food items. For SDG 15, they have banned the transport of ivory and other endangered species, and oppose reducing biomass use that may impose further stress to terrestrial ecosystems when considering biofuel.

Shangri-La Group, one of the world’s leading luxury hotel groups, has various ecological conservation initiatives in place. They help to conserve and protect the biodiversity of ecological diverse areas which are located within their scope of operations through “Sanctuary”, Shangri-La’s Care for Nature Project. Major project initiatives include aspects such as coral planting, mangrove planting and nature reserve. In 2018 for instance, 66 endangered species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List were conserved through Sanctuary projects across 16 of the group’s hotels and resorts throughout Asia, Oceania and the Middle East. On the other hand, the group became the first hotel group in Asia to collaborate with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). In order to obtain MSC certification, an organisation must demonstrate that the seafood is fully traceable from a sustainable fishery source; and hence with minimal impact on the marine environment and other species, including threatened or endangered species and juvenile fish. As of 2018, the group has achieved the full seafood Chain of Custody certification from the MSC for 53 hotels across China and Hong Kong. In addition, the trusted MSC eco-label has been introduced in the hotels’ restaurant menus.

 

Way forward

SDGs 14 and 15 are selected to demonstrate how the business community can utilise such framework in contributing to ecological conservation. Although SDGs do not have a binding effect, and companies only commit to them voluntarily, it’s an internationally recognised framework which can enable companies to demonstrate their sustainability efforts to global stakeholders. In addition, many companies utilise SDGs as a useful tool in guiding corporate decisions in sustainability initiatives and setting relevant targets, which align with their material issues. By publicly disclosing SDG commitments, conscious customers and stakeholders can make more informed choices when engaging with businesses. Such commitments would also influence customers’ environmental awareness in their personal pursuits.

 

If you want to understand how the SDGs can help your company, TPB is here to help. TPB has a team of seasoned sustainability experts who have assisted companies in various sectors in navigating their sustainability journey.  Get in touch  for an informal chat.

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