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Why companies must lead the sustainability charge

With climate change accelerating, corporations need to step up and be accountable – by championing meaningful initiatives that have impact.

Why companies must lead the sustainability charge

Protecting Earth's biodiversity is everyone's responsibility, and even more so for corporations that are in power to enact larger scales of change. Photo: Conservation International / John Martin

Climate change is near a tipping point – and time is running out.

Last August, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that by the next decade, global surface temperatures will rise beyond the 2015 Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold target, unless urgent action is taken.

The same report estimates that approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change. Already, the world is seeing an increase in the number of extreme weather events driven by climate change, such as flooding, forest fires and droughts.

According to a study of 1,500 companies in the MSCI World Index, without any concrete action to curb emissions, the international private sector would be responsible for raising global temperatures by over 3 degrees Celsius by 2050. While many corporations have engaged in corporate social responsibility efforts centred around the environment, these measures tend to be one-off and are unable to combat climate change effectively. More must be done on the part of businesses before it is too late – a call that is being sounded by leaders in the banking, finance and insurance sectors, among others.

An outcome of corporations doing right by the environment is that they seem to clock in better financial performance. A Harvard Business School study found that companies that integrated sustainability measures into their business goals earned investors almost double in a 20-year period. According to the World Economic Forum, consumer support for sustainable businesses is also growing in both developed and developing economies.

While around a fifth of the world’s 2,000 biggest publicly-listed companies have committed to net-zero emissions, corporations are also turning to partnerships with organisations that can offer sustainability expertise and outreach, in order to maximise the impact of their efforts. Many of these efforts have so far focused on carbon off-setting, through actions such as planting trees or switching to renewable energy – but few have turned their attention to biodiversity, an important aspect of our environment.

THE WONDERS OF BIODIVERSITY

Biodiversity, which refers to the rich and complex web of life on Earth, not only provides essentials such as water, food, fuel and medicine but is key to mitigating the effects of climate change. According to some estimates, nature is able to provide 30 per cent of the climate change mitigation required when harnessed effectively to absorb carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

Forests in particular are critical for absorbing and storing these emissions. As such, better forestry practices not only ensure that trees store more carbon but also produce more wood for the growing needs of the human population.

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The Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in Hong Kong works to raise awareness of ecological and sustainable issues, undertaking species conservation and ecosystem restoration. Photo: Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden


One of the largest barriers to tapping the potential of natural climate solutions is a lack of financing, with less than 3 per cent of current climate mitigation financing being invested in natural climate solutions.

That is where corporations can step in. MSIG Asia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, is committed to making the protection of biodiversity a key part of its mission by putting its weight behind natural climate solutions.

A PARTNERSHIP FOUNDED ON MUTUAL GOALS

To work towards tangible conservation targets in the region, MSIG Asia has partnered with Conservation International Asia-Pacific (CIAP). The partnership seeks to invest in and leverage natural ecosystems that can mitigate the impact of climate change. It also includes various engagement activities, such as biodiversity conservation talks and conservation volunteer efforts that bring together MSIG’s employees, intermediaries and customers.

When it comes to protecting biodiversity, CIAP makes for an ideal partner in more ways than one. Since 1987, Conservation International has combined fieldwork with innovations in science, policy and finance to protect more than six million sq km of land and sea across more than 70 countries. It has a presence in 29 countries and works with 2,000 partners worldwide.

In the collaboration’s three-year duration, MSIG Asia will provide support to a variety of biodiversity conservation efforts in Asia-Pacific which underpin the well-being of millions of people through the water, food, fuel, medicines, and climate regulation these natural ecosystems provide.

The partnership will support biodiversity conservation projects in MSIG Asia’s six core markets: Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. These range from restoring forests in Hong Kong to protecting threatened species in Vietnam, as well as funding marine research in Singapore.

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Vietnam is home to two species of pangolin: Sunda pangolin (manis javanica) and the Chinese pangolin (manis pentadactyla). Both species are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, meaning they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. Photo: Save Vietnam's Wildlife


It will also fund initiatives in Pacific nations New Caledonia and Fiji – two of the world’s most biodiverse areas, where CIAP is present and active. Through these efforts, the partnership aims to contribute to the conservation of an estimated 9,500 ha of forest – the equivalent of 13,000 football fields – as well as 72,500 ha of ocean, which amounts to an area slightly larger than Singapore.

With climate change being the greatest environmental risk confronting our industry, the issue of sustainability is integral to our business. This is why we are partnering Conservation International Asia-Pacific, clients and rallying our employees to transform our biodiversity concerns into tangible actions by consolidating our on-ground activities, conservation efforts and communication across Asia to help create a nature-positive economy,” said Mr Alan J Wilson, CEO of MSIG Asia and deputy head of International Business Department at Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance.

EMPOWERING BUSINESSES TO CHAMPION BIODIVERSITY

As tackling biodiversity and sustainability issues requires a spirit of collaborative partnership, MSIG is helping its corporate clients to amplify their conservation efforts so as to continue and grow this momentum. By doing so, it hopes to inspire more businesses to do the same and encourage active corporate action on biodiversity.

For example, its client in Hong Kong, railway operator MTR Corporation, is managing the Lok Ma Chau Ecological Enhancement Area, which features reedbeds, marshlands and fish ponds that contribute significantly to the region’s biodiversity.

Over in Thailand, seafood supplier Thai Union has developed SeaChange, a sustainability strategy that centres on safe and legal labour, responsible sourcing and operations, and caring for communities.

Moving forward, MSIG intends to have eco-certified offices across the region as part of its ongoing sustainability journey. With its partner CIAP and like-minded clients, MSIG Asia is working to ensure a thriving future for our planet, one where resources are used sustainably and our natural ecosystems can flourish alongside businesses and people. For this to happen, it needs the support of many more companies to embrace the movement and lead the way with their own sustainability initiatives. Only then can we preserve the world’s vast, interconnected web of natural biodiversity.

To find out more about biodiversity or how you can do your part to protect it, visit MSIG’s knowledge hub to watch a series of educational videos produced in collaboration with CIAP and discover a wealth of information.

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