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Biodiversity Guidance action 3.2.6
3.2.6 Consider other technical issues
One key consideration for all natural capital assessment is baselines (defined in the Protocol as the starting point or benchmark against which changes in natural capital attributed to your business’s activities can be compared). In addition to those covered in the Protocol, some additional considerations related to biodiversity include:
- Prevailing conditions where impacts in a year are compared to the average over previous years. A prevailing conditions baseline may be particularly appropriate if the objective is reducing the biodiversity impact of the whole business, where comparing to the last financial year could be an appropriate baseline. Using prevailing conditions as a baseline however may make it challenging to take into consideration the impacts of activities already occurring in the land/seascape.
- Pristine baseline where impacts are measured relative to biodiversity in its natural state. Pristine baselines have the advantage of making impacts easy to conceptualize, and encourage restorative actions. Most business activities are likely to be negatively impacting biodiversity when comparing to a pristine state. Some measurement approaches use a pristine, undisturbed state as a baseline. Further guidance on measurement approaches is provided in the Measuring and Valuing Guidance.
- The counterfactual scenario describes changes relative to a plausible state of biodiversity that would occur if the business did not operate (referred to as a “business as usual” scenario in the Protocol). The use of counterfactual scenarios can greatly affect the assessment of impacts during your assessment (Sonter et al. 2017). Biodiversity may change or decline over time independently of the business activity being assessed, and this state of decline is used as the counterfactual scenario. Climate change, for example, may force species to shift their ranges. If a counterfactual scenario represents an area of substantial biodiversity loss, then business impacts may be assessed as relatively lower (i.e., less biodiversity loss is attributed to the business activity), or alternatively biodiversity affected by the business operation could be deemed more valuable with time (e.g. sustainable management of degraded lands to improve biodiversity values). If the counterfactual scenario represents an area of stable, or increasing biodiversity, then business impacts may be assessed as relatively larger (i.e., more biodiversity loss is attributed to the business activity).
b. Spatial and temporal boundaries
Including biodiversity influences the spatial and temporal boundary of your assessment; it is likely that broader geographical and temporal boundaries will be needed for a biodiversity-inclusive assessment than when focusing on the non-living components of natural capital.
When considering biodiversity, the potential areas of influence can be large, due to, for example, impacts on migratory or wide-ranging species. For financial institutions undertaking portfolio-level assessments or companies with geographically dispersed operations, the potential area of influence may include multiple geographical and temporal boundaries.
The timeframes over which the implications of impacts and dependencies on biodiversity are felt also require further consideration. For example:
- The condition of biodiversity can change over time, influencing the benefits received by business and society in the future. It can be difficult to predict changes in benefits linked to changes in biodiversity, but it is risky to assume that benefits will persist without managing biodiversity. Equally there may be a time-lag between loss of biodiversity and the loss of services, particularly where it is the resilience of the ecosystem that is impacted making it vulnerable to collapse at a later date. Information on trends in biodiversity, and the drivers of its condition, will help you to understand whether it is likely to change.
- Biodiversity management efforts can take time to achieve their desired outcomes. You need go beyond a single snapshot in time, and consider the consequences of changes in the state of biodiversity over time.
- The presence of potential thresholds and tipping points, where minor changes in biodiversity can result in larger changes to the ways ecosystems function. Your timeframe should be appropriate to assess the consequences, and potential irreversibility, of your impacts on biodiversity.