SOUTH Africa was the third most biodiverse country in the world, but had given birth to none of the "cool" business solutions to saving biodiversity, the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s CEO, Yolan Friedmann, said on Wednesday.

Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given species, ecosystem, biome or planet, and there is growing realisation that a country’s social and economic development depends on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.

While the economic effect of climate change and water shortages was widely acknowledged, understanding of the risks to biodiversity, and the opportunities it encompassed, remained poor Ms Friedmann said at the launch in Johannesburg of the National Biodiversity and Business Network.

The network’s aim is to help business to "integrate and mainstream biodiversity issues into their strategies and operations", according to a pamphlet distributed at the launch.

Endangered Wildlife Trust conservation and business head Marie Parramon-Gurney said the network would have a steering committee by the end of next month and would address the Global Partners on Business and Biodiversity conference in October. It would have a five-year strategy by early next year.

The network’s founding partners are the Department of Environmental Affairs, De Beers, Pam Golding Properties, Pick n Pay, Nedbank, Transnet and engineering firm Hatch Goba.

South Africa is a signatory to the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity, which has three main objectives: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity; and the equitable sharing of the benefits of the use of genetic resources.

The Department of Environmental Affairs said the network "is in response to our national obligations and will assist companies in understanding and mainstreaming the goals of the convention and the Aichi targets".

Signatories to the convention meet at regular intervals and the 10th such meeting was held at the Aichi district in Japan in October 2010. The Aichi targets — there are 20 of them — are to do with maintaining and improving biodiversity worldwide.

Pick n Pay sustainability and marketing director Bronwen Rohland said when biodiversity was threatened so was the planet’s health, and all its ecosystems. "These ecosystems, whether they are aquatic or land based, are at the very base of all our operations at Pick n Pay," she said.

Hatch Goba environmental services director Max Clark said the firm’s extensive involvement in new mining, energy and infrastructure projects had brought home to it the value of "integrating biodiversity considerations" into its business processes.