The variety and abundance of life on earth is astounding, beautiful — and essential to us all. We rely on biodiversity for medicines, food, and countless other useful products, but also to regulate natural processes: biodiversity is essential to purify the air we breathe, pollinate crops, create and stabilize soil, protect us from floods and disasters, and help us adapt to climate change.
But there’s a problem: species are going extinct at an alarming rate – about 1,000 times faster than they would naturally. Drivers include the construction of roads, dams, mines, oil and gas installations, residential and commercial buildings, and the spread of industrial agricultural, to name just a few.
Yet, not building roads or houses and not farming grains and cattle is also not the answer. Our society relies on these activities for goods, services, and a thriving economy. So, how then can we balance conservation and development objectives and promote economic activities that increase, rather than decimate, biodiversity?
Forest Trends has been working with partners around the world for over a decade to make that happen:
- Through the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP) we work with more than 80 companies, government agencies, financial institutions, conservation NGOs and experts to help companies with biodiversity impacts (infrastructure developers, extractive industries, commodity agriculture, etc) and governments plan to achieve “no net loss” of biodiversity, and ideally a net gain. We do so by recommending ways to avoid, minimize, restore and offset (or compensate) the inevitable impacts the development of such projects have in a given area. We have developed widely used standard that helps project developers manage the biodiversity-related risks of their projects by providing guidance for offsetting biodiversity loss and also by helping to determine the quality and success of these efforts.
- Forest Trends’ Biodiversity Initiative works directly with governments and companies to apply this approach, for example through modifying Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) requirements or national policies that aim for no net loss (or even a net gain) of biodiversity. And we assist businesses at the site- and corporate-level address their biodiversity impacts.
- Forest Trends has also partnered with EPA and USDA to identify and understand key market trends for environmental markets around species and habitat conservation across United States.
Governance and Policy for Biodiversity
Governments face the twin challenge of implementing large-scale development projects that will grow their economies and provide basic needs such as food and water, while simultaneously protecting the environment. Historically, many governments have not fully recognized and taken into consideration the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services in their decision making. They have also not understood the benefits of policies that allow economic development while promoting sustainability and the rights of local communities. But this is changing, and in recent years, we have seen an increase in governments working towards sustainable infrastructure. Over the last decade, Forest Trends’ Biodiversity Initiative has directly engaged with more than 20 governments to help them develop infrastructure projects that do not result in a loss of biodiversity (No Net Loss) and explore lower-impact models of resource extraction, infrastructure development, and commodity production, for example as part of the COMBO project which works with governments in Guinea, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Uganda.
This increase in government action is bolstered by a growing societal expectation that governments, working with civil society, must hold companies with a significant biodiversity impact to a higher standard.
Forest Trends’ Biodiversity Initiative provides policy and technical advice as well as capacity building, to governments as they seek to implement sustainable infrastructure projects. We do so by:
- Assisting governments (including Ministries of the Environment, Mining, Energy, Finance, Agriculture, Planning, and Justice) in the development and use of a roadmap to achieve a Net Gain (NG), or increase, in biodiversity.
- Supporting the development and implementation of government strategies for No Net Loss or Net Gain (NNL/NG) of biodiversity. These strategies typically cover regulations, policy and technical guidelines.
- Conducting policy gap analyses tailored to specific countries, provinces and regions, and providing advice on the advantages and disadvantages of different options in order to embed NNL/NG in the policy framework.
- Preparing data sets and spatially explicit plans and maps to support planning for No Net Loss or Net Gain biodiversity strategies.
- Producing guidelines on offset design and implementation.
- Capacity building and training of staff responsible for designing and administering biodiversity mitigation systems, land-use planning, and permitting.
- Helping governments build the financial resources and technical capacity to implement these systems.
The Private Sector and Biodiversity
When a company’s development activities negatively affect biodiversity, the businesses faces potentially significant regulatory, financial, and reputational risks. Governments, financial institutions, and civil society increasingly expect developers to take responsibility for such impacts and mitigate them. Avoiding, minimizing, or restoring impacts on the project site are the first steps in what is referred to as the “mitigation hierarchy”. Remaining impacts can be compensated for, or “offset,” by taking positive conservation actions nearby. Biodiversity offsets allow companies a way to demonstrate that overall, their development activities result in no net loss of biodiversity (some biodiversity may be lost, but an equal or greater amount is restored elsewhere). By following this process, a project developer can overall maintain or enhance biodiversity in/around a project site, improve outcomes for local communities, and reduce their regulatory, financial, and reputational risks.
Forest Trends advises leadership companies in the mining, energy, infrastructure, tourism, commodity agriculture, and forestry sectors at various stages of their efforts to prevent, minimize, and offset their impacts on biodiversity. These companies see the value in forging good relationships with regulators and stakeholders by adhering to internationally recognized best management practices for biodiversity. By working in collaboration with governments, they are helping to shape the regulatory requirements for conserving biodiversity increasingly being developed by governments. Hence, these forward-thinking companies are our critical allies in the effort to balance conversation and economic develop goals.
Due to the infinitely variable nature of biodiversity there is no global market for offsetting biodiversity (which would require the existence of a standard product), but there are, on a smaller scale, national and regional markets such as wetland banking in the United States. Forest Trends, on a fairly regular basis, provides an overview of the current global state of play of these various biodiversity offset and compensation markets. In collaboration with the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Agriculture, we have also worked on a series of maps that lay out the key market trends in species and habitat conservation across the United States.
Corporate Natural Capital Accounting
Strong and resilient economies depend on healthy natural ecosystems. They rely on natural resources (water, soil, plants) as well as on the services they provide (pollination, erosion control, and others). Together, these goods and services are often referred to as “natural capital”. While companies worldwide have started to think about how to account for the impact on our natural capital and set objectives to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, these efforts are not yet well integrated. And while businesses are aware of their dependencies upon natural capital, they have focused more on water and carbon than biodiversity. As a result, there are few effective tools available for businesses that allow them to plan and account for biodiversity in their operations.
Forest Trends and its partners are working to correct this by developing and piloting a method to integrate best practices for how projects can ensure that there is no loss, maybe even an increase, in biodiversity as a result of their operations and articulate it in the “Corporate Natural Capital Accounting (CNCA)” framework. This approach will place metrics for biodiversity alongside monetary values, helping companies to demonstrate how they account for their impacts on natural capital especially with respect to biodiversity.