The State of Nature – what should law firms consider?

The UK is now one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth.’

The 2023 State of Nature report paints a stark picture. Since 1970, we have seen significant declines across all nature categories, including a 54% decrease in the distribution of flowering plants and an average 19% drop in the abundance of terrestrial and freshwater species. The report follows hot on the heels of news that we have crossed six of the nine Planetary Boundaries that support human life – this includes the boundary for biosphere integrity.

Why is this worth thinking about in the context of law firm sustainability?

The drivers of nature loss relate to industries in which many law firms have active practices. Oil and gas, agriculture, forestry, shipping, fishing… If firms are making profits by servicing clients who are contributing to climate change, land use change, freshwater pollution, the overexploitation of fish stocks or any other drivers, then stakeholders are going to expect that firms respond to this by taking action to reduce their biodiversity impacts. We’re already seeing this in respect of greenhouse gas emissions (see our recent post on Advised Emissions), and it would be logical for this to be extended to advised biodiversity impacts. The climate and nature crises are now always spoken about as a twin and interconnected threat – they need to be addressed in tandem.

How can firms act now?

If you’re already thinking about being one of the first firms to start quantifying your advised emissions, you should absolutely develop an approach to tackle advised biodiversity impacts at the same time. It’ll be more efficient in the long run, not least because you’ll be able to gather all relevant client data during your Know Your Client checks.

Whatever stage you are at, take a look at the Science-based Targets for Nature (SBTN) framework. The first version of the framework came out in May 2023 and introduces guidance on freshwater and land, building on the climate targets that firms can set through the existing Science-based Targets Initiative. Although the SBTN framework is more obviously suited to industrial/manufacturing businesses, the concepts remain applicable. If you apply these, you’ll be able to develop a biodiversity response that is tailored to your advised impacts. In terms of sustainability strategy, this is far preferable to ad hoc support to conservation charities.  

(And when it comes to reporting, you also have the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures. Their final recommendations were issued in September 2023, putting forward 14 disclosures and a recommended set of disclosure metrics.)

Quantifying these advised biodiversity impacts will be very difficult, and it will likely be necessary to act on very approximate data as a first step so that action is not delayed. Given the urgency with which we need to act, though, we can’t afford to let perfect be the enemy of good.