Conservation charity lines up massive project pipeline for biodiversity market

Published 06:00 on June 12, 2023  /  Last updated at 18:57 on June 11, 2023  / Stian Reklev /  Biodiversity

UK-based Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) is preparing a large number of projects protecting threatened tree species for the fledgling biodiversity credit market, expecting the first issuances before the end of the year.

UK-based Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) is preparing a large number of projects protecting threatened tree species for the fledgling biodiversity credit market, expecting the first issuances before the end of the year.

BGCI is working with its network of more than 800 botanical gardens and conservation groups around the world and has identified 65 project opportunities across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, a number it says it can expand fairly quickly.

“We have got projects up and running that we have developed good baselines for. It’s just a matter of finding the right broker and customer,” Paul Smith, BCGI CEO and secretary general, told Carbon Pulse.

The group has been involved in tree species protection projects globally for decades, but like most in the conservation space, potential new projects are far easier to come by than funding.

It is now hoping that the emerging voluntary market for biodiversity credits can prove to be a steady source of funding for new projects to protect the estimated 17,500 tree species globally that are under threat of extinction – almost a third of all tree species.

Earlier this year it partnered with UK environmental investment consultants Eco Systems Services (ESS), conservation firm Green Gold Forestry (GGF) in Peru, and researchers at the Queen Mary University in London to facilitate and pilot transactions of biodiversity credits.

The partnership was founded after one of the Queen Mary researchers, Axel Rossberg, had been awarded £150,000 in funding from the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council to pursue such biodiversity credit pilot transactions.

THE METHODOLOGIES

Rossberg has now finalised three methodologies to generate Biodiversity Impact Credits (BICs), focusing on trees close to extinction, large-scale afforestation and deforestation, and organisational biodiversity footprints.

The methodology on trees close to extinction is based around calculating the difference a project makes to the total number of that species in existence, allowing programmes that plant threatened tree species to yield far higher scores than ones focused on more common types.

While most tree types take a long time to mature, developers can make use of available data on the percentage of each tree species that typically reach adulthood and apply that in calculating the number of BICs that can be issued already early on in the project process, Rossberg told Carbon Pulse.

The large-scale afforestation and deforestation methodology is based around range-size rarity – defined as the sum of the inverse range sizes of all species that are present at a given location – and change in the size of forested area due to the project.

“BICs are measured in units of ‘species’. To see why, note that interventions that single-handedly rebuild the population of a single species to a multiple of its previous size … lead to BIC values close to one,” the methodology paper said.

“BICs can hence intuitively be understood as the number of species whose populations have been rebuilt – even though the deeper scientific rationale is more subtle.”

The methodology for organisational footprints offers a way for businesses and others to measure their impact on nature and biodiversity in species as well, similar to the Bioscope approach developed by Dutch groups PRe Sustainability, Arcadis, and CODE.

The purpose of that, according to Rossberg, is to give those looking to compensate for their impacts an idea of how many credits they should purchase, though both Rossberg and BGCI’s Smith stressed that BICs are not for offsetting purposes.

“It is not possible to offset like for like with biodiversity,” said Smith. “What we are offering is a token that has some equivalence to the impact made.”

Rossberg’s BIC methodologies are focused on trees, but it can easily be applied to other threatened species, he said.

THE PROJECTS

Smith said the network was opting for tree projects, because trees are a keystone species.

“If you plant native trees, there will be knock-on effects for other species, such as insects,” he said. “They are a good surrogate for biodiversity, and relatively easy to calculate.”

BGCI’s initial list of 65 projects that would qualify under the BIC methodology are being developed together with its vast network of local partners, primarily botanical gardens, national parks, and conservation groups.

The BGCI network itself will carry out project outcome verification, as it includes many of the world’s leading experts in the field and already is involved in setting and ensuring global standards.

The BIC approach is designed to be simple – credits will be issued based on the number of trees and not a “basket of metrics” as advocated by Operation Wallacea.

“Certification is very expensive. That has been an issue in carbon, and we want to avoid that with biodiversity,” said Smith.

“It costs a lot just to get the expertise to set baselines, and it just leaves less money for the local communities. We have a different model.”

He also stressed BGCI’s focus on threatened species, and decried the adoption of monocultures such as eucalyptus in many carbon projects.

“We want to push people to thinking about rare species. They often fall between the cracks, not just in carbon, but in biodiversity as well,” he said. “We have to change that.”

Green Gold Forestry in Peru is involved in developing some of the projects as well, with its co-founder Stuart Clenaghan also holding a seat at BGCI’s board of trustees.

“It costs about $500,000 to save a species, and with 17,500 tree species under threat, that would cost less than $10 billion. The extinction crisis is not beyond our grasp,” he said.

“We have projects that are ready to go … and an approach that is very straightforward and easy to understand.”

THE CREDITS

The partners are hopeful that the first BIC issuances can take place before the end of 2023, as baseline work has been carried out already on several projects.

Transactions may not follow far behind, as pressure is rising for corporations – especially in Europe – to report on and take greater responsibility for their impact on nature.

“We are finding interested organisations, and we have noticed they have all been hiring biodiversity experts recently,” Clenaghan said, identifying large corporations and financials as those likely to dominate the first batch of buyers of biodiversity credits.

BGCI and its partners will engage intermediaries to find buyers and carry out transactions on their behalf, and is carrying out due diligence on one brokerage at the moment. They have also engaged a global law firm to help draw up a standard contract for transactions.

Clenaghan said it was unlikely there will be a traded market in BICs, as the parties do not see any added value in secondary-market transactions, without there being a specific prohibition.

“I do expect carbon project developers to engage with us, though, with the obvious carbon benefits involved,” Clenaghan told Carbon Pulse.

By Stian Reklev – stian@carbon-pulse.com

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