Investing in what matters: how do we enable biodiversity protection at scale?

With more funding being committed in the past few years to sustainability and nature-positive outcomes, where can investors put their money in order to effectively address the biodiversity crisis?

Biodiversity in the Unamat forest in Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios, Peru.
Investing in enabling systems can support the success of nature-based solutions. Image: CIFOR/flickr 

The financial world is finally waking up to what scientists have been saying for decades: We need to invest in the natural capital that our supply chains rely on.

From Loreal’s €50 million (US$55 million) Fund for Nature Regeneration to Conservation International’s US$200 million Global Conservation Fund, corporates and investors alike are committing to regenerate and conserve our world’s natural resources. 

Importantly, regulatory frameworks are also being developed to financial institutions and the corporates they work with to increase their transparency over how they’re impacting nature, with international coalitions like the Taskforce of Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) recently announcing its beta framework for reporting.

However, committing financial capital and improving biodiversity disclosure rules alone isn’t going to be enough. While investing directly in natural capital such as forests, mangroves, peatlands and coastal ecosystems is crucial, there is an opportunity to invest in the enabling systems that will support the success of the nature-based solutions. These can have a catalytic impact, allowing a relatively small amount of capital to move the needle and scale solutions quickly. 

Data and management technologies

One of the inherent challenges of ecosystem and biodiversity restoration is that we’re working with inherently complex, hyper-local systems. To promote the biodiversity in any given area successfully, we have to first take the time to understand that diversity – not just at the level of species diversity, but also genetic, ecosystem, and now even ethno- (behaviourial) diversity.

Success stories of “rewilding” programmes are aplenty, but such programmes can sometimes cause more harm than good when the existing habitat and population structures are not well understood.

Being able to answer questions like “Are there existing threatened species in the area that might be adversely affected by the reintroduced species?”, “Will the reintroduced species have enough genetic diversity to withstand disease pressures?”, and “Is there enough vegetation in the area for grazing to prevent habitat degradation?”, is vital to manage a project well.

To answer these questions, what we need is robust data, and the ability to make sense of that data with ease and speed. But at present, gathering and analysing this data is highly dependent on skilled specialists who have spent years developing their knowledge on how to sample and identify different species groups.

This work and expertise are not easily scalable, but having access to data at a low cost and speed can help in the project design, monitoring, reporting and verification. Emerging technologies such as “environmental DNA”, “bioacoustics”, and IoT monitoring devices (like smart beehives) are just some of the solutions that aim to expedite the collection of biodiversity data. 

Supporting software platforms that not only pre-process raw data automatically, but also integrate and relate different metrics like geospatial or water quality data with one another will also be critical to addressing biodiversity’s data problem, and streamlining the decision-making process.    

Project implementation solutions

Once the data is sorted, the next challenges are operational. Many conservation and restoration projects are remote and difficult to access. Tasks like planting trees, rewetting peatlands, and enforcing zero-deforestation or anti-poaching policies are much more difficult than they would first appear.

While these tasks still require an effective and compassionate human touch, there are opportunities to innovate to make the work less taxing on labour, less invasive to the landscape, and more effective in the long-run.

Some of these technological solutions include drones that can seed trees from the air, lightweight materials that can make peatland rewetting less construction-heavy, or eco-engineering solutions such as “reef tiles” which increase the long-term viability of coral restoration projects.      

Aggregators, marketplaces, and exchanges

Lastly, to be financially sustainable, nature-based projects need to be able to reach the marketplace, whether they are selling products like unconventional specialty crops, eco-tourism passes, or biodiversity credits. One possible path to market is through aggregators who can process and/or market these products to corporate offtakers, or to the everyday consumer.

Online marketplaces and exchanges can also serve to connect nature-based products to the end-user of their products. Funders in the conservation space might look to support these platforms directly, or they could invest in the underlying back-end supporting technologies that make these platforms functional and traceable, such as block-chain technologies.

Consumers and corporates alike are certainly looking for more ways to support responsible, sustainable producers, with over a third of consumers stating that they value ethical practices in the products and services they buy, and companies like Nestlé, Unilever, and Amazon making public commitments to cleaning up their supply chains.

For biodiversity-positive brands, processors, and marketplaces to really take off, they’ll need to build a reputation for quality, make their supply chains completely traceable, and demonstrate marketing and advocacy capabilities. 

The path ahead

The biodiversity crisis is one of the biggest challenges of our lifetime – not just because it’s a source of beauty and inspiration that should be valued in its own right, but ultimately because it’s crucial to the health and survival of our species and planet.

The technology solutions outlined thus far can provide us with revolutionary tools, with applications in conservation, restoration and other nature-based solutions such as regenerative agriculture and ethical eco-tourism. However, these technological solutions will only be successful if the overall project goals are designed in consultation with the local communities, ensuring they are fair, have strong governance structures and maintain a reputation of legitimacy. 

Biodiversity loss is accelerating at an unprecedented pace, but if we act now, we can scale the solutions to address the crisis quicky. We need to find ways to support the right entrepreneurs, align with policy incentives, and create mutually-beneficial, cross-sector partnerships. Network-driven programmes such as the Silverstrand Biodiversity Accelerator+ (with applications launching in May) aim to do just that. If this piece has resonated with you, we encourage you to connect with us to grow this ecosystem together.

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