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Portfolio perspectives | Article - 2 Min

ETF investing – Containing biodiversity loss

Biodiversity is being jeopardised by human activities such as industrial production, logging, agriculture and mining natural resources. They have destabilising effects on air and water quality, land use and climate change, to name just a few. Investors should, in our view, take note of the resulting imbalances affecting specific business areas and entire economies.  

Simply put, biodiversity refers to the incredibly rich variety of life on Earth. A contraction of ‘biological diversity’, the word refers to every living thing on the planet. It encompasses all bacteria, insects, plants, animals, humans and more.

Biodiversity is usually discussed on three levels: 

1. Genetic diversity deals with the different genes found in all individual plants, animals and living organisms

2. Species diversity denotes the differences found within and between populations of species, and between the different species on Earth

3. Last but not least, ecosystem diversity takes in the processes, habitats, communities and variations within any geographical area.

Why it matters to investors

Between 1970 and 2019, there was, on average, a 68% decrease in population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish – that is a decline occurring at a greater rate than at any other time in human history. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services identified the main drivers of biodiversity loss as: 

  • Habitat loss
  • Overexploitation  
  • Pollution
  • Climate change
  • Invasive species.[1] 

These factors have continued to grow at an unsustainable pace, and nearly 1 million species are currently at risk of extinction, many within decades.

Biodiversity loss impacts businesses with potential transition and physical risks as well as litigation and regulatory risks. These risks can affect the value of investments.

It is important to understand the potential impact on an investment portfolio, particularly as some sectors have higher risk associated with them than others. For example, among the most exposed industries are energy, mining & metals, utilities, and food & beverages.

Other areas are affected by biodiversity loss include pharmaceutical research into new active ingredients and molecules in plant and ocean organisms. This is a promising field for identifying treatments for human pathologies or treating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, biodiversity loss limits our ability to explore these fields.

According to a World Economic Forum report, 25% of drugs used in modern medicine are derived from rainforest plants, while 70% of cancer drugs are natural or synthetic products inspired by nature.[2] This means that every time a species goes extinct, we miss out on a potential new medicine.

However, the implications are more far-reaching. The loss of biodiversity can jeopardise all economies and our prosperity. In the same report, the WEF estimated that USD 44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half the world’s total GDP – depends moderately or highly on nature and its services and is exposed to nature loss.1

Reducing businesses’ biodiversity footprint

Since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, many world leaders have acknowledged the importance of putting sustainability at the centre of economic development. While economic activity cannot be stopped, an effort can be made to reduce its footprint on biodiversity.

Investors can contribute. BNP Paribas Asset Management provides a range of solutions targeting biodiversity-related challenges including an exchange-traded fund (ETF) strategy.

For more articles on exchange-traded funds, go to the ETFs category on Viewpoint.

[1] Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, 2019  

[2] World Economic Forum, Nature Risk Rising: Why the Crisis Engulfing Nature Matters for Business and the Economy, January 2020  

Disclaimer

Please note that articles may contain technical language. For this reason, they may not be suitable for readers without professional investment experience. Any views expressed here are those of the author as of the date of publication, are based on available information, and are subject to change without notice. Individual portfolio management teams may hold different views and may take different investment decisions for different clients. This document does not constitute investment advice. The value of investments and the income they generate may go down as well as up and it is possible that investors will not recover their initial outlay. Past performance is no guarantee for future returns. Investing in emerging markets, or specialised or restricted sectors is likely to be subject to a higher-than-average volatility due to a high degree of concentration, greater uncertainty because less information is available, there is less liquidity or due to greater sensitivity to changes in market conditions (social, political and economic conditions). Some emerging markets offer less security than the majority of international developed markets. For this reason, services for portfolio transactions, liquidation and conservation on behalf of funds invested in emerging markets may carry greater risk.
Environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment risk: The lack of common or harmonised definitions and labels integrating ESG and sustainability criteria at EU level may result in different approaches by managers when setting ESG objectives. This also means that it may be difficult to compare strategies integrating ESG and sustainability criteria to the extent that the selection and weightings applied to select investments may be based on metrics that may share the same name but have different underlying meanings. In evaluating a security based on the ESG and sustainability criteria, the Investment Manager may also use data sources provided by external ESG research providers. Given the evolving nature of ESG, these data sources may for the time being be incomplete, inaccurate or unavailable. Applying responsible business conduct standards in the investment process may lead to the exclusion of securities of certain issuers. Consequently, (the Sub-Fund's) performance may at times be better or worse than the performance of relatable funds that do not apply such standards.

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