WTF: where’s the finance? It was a hot topic at COP27, the UN Climate Conference in Egypt in November, and it continues to be a source of debate at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is just wrapping up in Montreal.

In 2011, 20 targets were set at the Convention on Biological Diversity. A study done nine years later showed that the world had failed to fully achieve a single one. This is not an opportunity we can afford to waste again. But in order to bridge the $700 billion biodiversity financing gap, real changes will have to be made.

On this episode of Disruptors, an RBC podcast, host John Stackhouse speaks with the leaders of some of Canada’s most prominent environmental organizations about biodiversity, how to fund it, and the best way to incorporate tech into our country’s conservation efforts. Catherine Grenier is the President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Dr. Justina Ray is the President and Senior Scientist at Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, and Hadley Archer is the Executive Director of Nature United. All are partners of RBC’s Tech for Nature program, a $100 million, multi-year commitment to preserving the world’s greatest wealth: its natural ecosystem.

Episode notes:

Click on the following links to read more about: Nature Conservancy of Canada, Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, and Nature United. For more information about the UN Biodiversity Conference: COP15, click here.

To learn more about RBC Tech For Nature visit their site.

To read John’s takeaways from the event, visit his LinkedIn page.

Speaker 1 [00:00:01] Hi. Is John here. I’ve been in Montreal this week talking and learning a lot about biodiversity and how we can protect far more of nature than we ever have. It’s going to take billions of dollars and new technologies to fundamentally change our relationship with nature. This was at the forefront of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, also known as COP15, which is wrapping up as we speak. You may have heard about COP27. That was the one that took place in Egypt last month. It was focused on climate, but the world is also convening to talk about biodiversity, not just nature, but the diversity of nature and how all of us depend on it. And this year’s conference comes at a critical time with the world’s biodiversity crisis more urgent than ever. In 2011, just a decade ago, 20 targets were set at the Convention on Biological Diversity. And a study done nine years later showed that by 2020, the world had failed to achieve a single one. This is not an opportunity we can afford to waste again. In Montreal, cop fifteens main focus was to have every country involved sign on to the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Both a global and Canadian goal is to protect 30% of land and sea environments by 2030. That won’t be easy. Where do we even start? Here in Canada, where our country stretches over 15 million square kilometers. It’s going to take a lot of finance and a lot of technology and a lot of data because what gets measured gets managed. But perhaps Canada can show the world how we can change and enhance our relationship with nature. Where will those new models come from? Where will the disruption come from? That’s what we’re going to explore today. This is Disruptors. An RBC podcast. I’m your host, John Stackhouse. Today on the show, we’re talking about biodiversity, what it is, and how to protect it, using the power of finance and economics. It’s a topic that is near and dear to one of Canada’s most prominent environmental groups.

Speaker 2 [00:02:16] I am Catherine Grenier, president, CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Often referred to as NCC or the largest non-governmental private land conservation organization in Canada. We take action at a large scale and we deliver permanent conservation across the landscape, from coast to coast to coast. One place for us right now where we’re investing lots of time and effort is on the data side through technology, using technology not only to identify where and how we work, but also measuring the impact of the work that we do. So beyond actor, right, being able to measure quality of habitat, species, quality of water, because those are all metrics that ultimately we could turn and monetize as a service. Because right now, carbon is really the one data that everybody could understand. There’s a market for it. It’s great, but carbon alone won’t get us all the access to private capital we need in order to accelerate conservation.

Speaker 1 [00:03:13] They’re doing important work and RBC is proud to partner with the NCC as part of our Tech for Nature program. That’s a $100 million, multi-year commitment to preserving the world’s greatest wealth, our natural ecosystem. Since 2019, more than 550 organizations have benefited. Another group were inspired to work with is Wildlife Conservation Society Canada. It’s a Toronto based charitable organization that uses science based data to save wildlife and wild places. Dr. Justin Ouray is the group’s president and senior scientist and our first guest on today’s episode. Justina, welcome to Disruptors.

Speaker 3 [00:03:49] Thank you so much for inviting me.

Speaker 1 [00:03:51] I want to start with the term biodiversity. How do you describe it?

Speaker 3 [00:03:56] Really, in a nutshell, it’s life on earth. It’s the variety of life on earth. And the diversity part of biodiversity acknowledges that we need a variety that sustains life on earth, which includes us. So it’s composed of species, ecosystems, but also genetic variety within species. So those are sort of the broad components, but there’s so much life underneath that.

Speaker 1 [00:04:18] One of the issues I wrestle with is how the pandemic made us arguably more tech dependent. Locked away in zoom land and perhaps more isolated from each other. I’m curious, as you reflect on the last couple of years, what you’ve learned about ourselves as a species and our relationship with nature that can be applied to biodiversity?

Speaker 3 [00:04:38] Well, one thing that was incredible at the beginning when everybody stopped moving, quite a lot of animals who were quite constrained in their movements by either noise or traffic or just the everyday. But hustle and bustle of people sort of came out from the shadows at weird times of the day. And there were all sorts of stories about large animals walking down the streets or birds singing in ways that people hadn’t heard before. You know, there were so many stories about that. And that unfortunately lasted just a pretty short time, relatively speaking. But it did for us biologists to study animals that provided a really good window into seeing just sort of how animals are constrained by us. And then when they’re not that they can sort of recover behaviorally, at least it did not change any of the trajectories that we’ve been seeing fundamentally, because those would take years of recovery to do. But a lot of people who felt so penned in themselves found that one of the only things they could do was go out in nature.

Speaker 1 [00:05:38] It’s interesting to reflect back on those existential moments, and a lot of people were asking this question Maybe we should be looking at this as an opportunity to reorient ourselves as a as a collective or even as as a species. Some saw that as a throwback to a more kind of naturalist era references to Walden Pond and the like. Yes, all the evidences were kind of reverting to the norm pretty quickly. Why do you think that is?

Speaker 3 [00:06:01] This is not the first time that’s happened. We’ve had lots of moments where, for example, during recessions you see a lot of the conversation in the media and so forth going into that reflection mode that maybe, you know, we’ve done too much of this for a while and we should we should re-orient ourselves or hang back. And then in all times we come back even more fiercely. And it is a huge disappointment, to be quite honest. And, you know, I. I don’t have a great explanation for that, except that we have to keep trying. I do think that each time it happens, we have more pause than before and more people are converted and more people are talking about it. So even though it’s not enough change, there is change that is happening. I’m quite sure of that.

Speaker 1 [00:06:42] In a report out of the UK known as the Dasgupta Review, looking at the economics of biodiversity. It showed how much we are depleting nature even over the past generation from 1992 to 2014. So not a long span of time in the grand scheme of things. The world both doubled what we produce per capita. So that’s arguably good, lifted a lot of people out of poverty, but we lost 40% of our natural capital per person. That’s the cost of in some ways of that growth. It’s extraordinary. The report said this really jumped out at me, that we literally need another planet to accommodate the growth on the trajectory that we’re on. When you pause and reflect, what stands out most to you.

Speaker 3 [00:07:24] Well, that particular report, what stands out to me is when economists get on the bandwagon and see it because it’s, you know, difficult for somebody like me who’s trained as a biologist to talk in economic terms because worth is different for me. But when I read the Dasgupta report and he and his colleagues explained, you know, how the term GDP needs to change to bring in and bake in much more consideration of depreciation of natural assets. It was a very powerful set of statements. But going back to also what you said and you know, scientists have been ringing bells for years and years and they are getting more and more bold in doing so. And there has been report after report after report that show that, you know, we have widespread species declines, we have huge ecosystem degradation and widespread systematic conversion of productive areas. These trends that you see are not as a parent, as climate like climate can express itself in drastic events that we all see play out. But biodiversity decline is much more of a hidden crisis, and it’s a slow moving one. It’s something that won’t be perceptively different from one day to the next. But when measured in, you know, years and decades, it’s out there. We think we might be satisfied with seeing trees. But actually what is occurring out in suburban areas where even though we have parks, is that these are becoming more homogenized. It’s the same species that are taking over and appearing. And diversity of life is declining.

Speaker 1 [00:08:54] It’s really interesting the way you lay it out. And it gets me thinking we have come to value diversity in all sorts of walks of life and we’ve even attached an economic quotient to it and are able to measure organizations, businesses that perform better with more diversity. There’s almost no argument about that now, but we haven’t found a way to attach the same value to diversity in nature as not just diversity for its own sake, which may be sufficient, but also that asset value, that nature is a more robust, resilient, stronger economic asset as well as natural asset with that diversity. There’s been great advances in the economics of climate and through instruments like carbon pricing, which is a financial tool that sees climate as an asset, that you need to attach a value to measure literally price. And then that leads to all sorts of economic behaviors. I wonder if there’s the same opportunity for biodiversity.

Speaker 3 [00:09:51] As a segue way to answering your question, I want to go back to an earlier point you made about how people don’t appreciate the diversity. And I think a lot of it is because biodiversity is so complex as a as an entity and you know, it species, ecosystems and genetic diversity as well. They’re not that many people who can go out and tell, you know, the variety of birds and grasses and grasshoppers. It’s amazing that when people do start to learn how to identify life and get introduced to it, the appreciation is unbelievable, right? So then you can imagine the reverse where people really don’t appreciate the diversity in how they see a tree as a tree is a tree. Right. The Segway then to your other question, is very important there because you have to measure the value in order to have it enter into, you know, instruments like that. And, you know, a credit, for example, a biodiversity credit is a thing in the sense that it’s a concept that, you know, people are talking about and thinking about. But its efficacy is all dependent on whether or not you’re able to measure that currency and then you can use it for something to offset damage. And it’s the same principle as climate. But measuring and monitoring is incredibly complex, and it also relies on restoration. And we’re not that great at restoration yet. We can restore a pond and we can restore an area to sort of grow back green. But bringing back the diversity that was there before, not only is that very difficult, if not impossible to do in many cases, but we won’t know success for many, many years. And so all those elements make it extremely difficult to bring that kind of market based instrument into the biodiversity realm. But people are trying. And the good news is that whereas many companies, when you looked at their ESG records and so forth, environment only equaled climate. Now, increasingly, there are efforts to bring biodiversity into that, but we have a long way to go until that actually becomes something that is actually going to be effective. I mean, all those stats that you said at the beginning about how we need another planet. Planet is because we have unbridled consumption and with that comes unbridled production. And these instruments will not help with that problem.

Speaker 1 [00:12:05] Is it possible to maintain progress as we know it and protect biodiversity?

Speaker 3 [00:12:10] Right now, our progress is very compromised by what we’re doing for the planet. So no matter what, if you say growth is one thing, but progress is something else which includes quality of life and so on. And there’s a lot of people on the planet who are suffering their quality of life, are suffering because of what we’re doing to the planet. So I would say that we’re not going to be able to make progress under business as usual anyway. So rethinking our relationship with nature and how we want to use it and value it would probably go a long way in maybe a different kind of progress, but certainly because of our relationship with nature and because we understand so well the tie between the state of nature and human well-being, that we have no choice but to do something different than we are right now.

Speaker 1 [00:12:59] I want to go back to a point you were, I think, touching on earlier, which is essentially homogeneity versus heterogeneity in nature and whether we are undervaluing diversity. And I think of the example of trees. So there are ambitions, let’s say, in Canada to plant 2 billion trees. No one talks about which trees exactly the diversity of trees is a better time of 2 billion trees, or would it be better to have 500 million with more diversity? Those sorts of calculations don’t really get made, and maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe we just need to focus first on quantity and then get to quality. Is it okay to kind of push ahead with these bold quantitative ambitions without reflecting on the quality or such as diversity? Or do we need to step back and assess quality first?

Speaker 3 [00:13:48] In terms of sequence, I don’t know, but I think quantities absolutely have to come with quality. And luckily the push that you’re talking about generally, that is where the conversation goes. I mean, an analogous one is is protecting 30% of lands and waters. It matters which ones you protect. And that is absolutely the plan is, is that you you need to have that protection happen in areas that are important for biodiversity, areas that are connecting nature, areas that are if effectively managed and so on and so forth. And then lastly, the restoration is only going to get you so far. There lots of ecosystems, for example, peatlands that naturally have store enormous amounts of carbon that you do not want to interrupt as you’re pursuing development goals, because that can exacerbate the climate crisis worse than you had it to begin with. So those are all the kind of things that you have to think about when you’re considering, you know, these so-called solutions that are nature based.

Speaker 1 [00:14:43] All of this is going to cost money. I think the Dasgupta review put the gap at $700 billion globally. It’s a big, big gap, as you know. I think it’s like it’s huge.

Speaker 3 [00:14:53] Yeah.

Speaker 1 [00:14:54] Of all the capital invested last year in climate related activities, I think it’s something like only 2% went into what could be categorized as conservation. 2%?

Speaker 3 [00:15:05] Absolutely.

Speaker 1 [00:15:05] How do you change that ratio or that equation?

Speaker 3 [00:15:07] So I’ll look to you know, that’s a really tough question. And again, I do think that the entire ecosystem of financial investment needs to be looked at. It wants to see if some things can be diverted, especially things that are harmful, where financial investments actually make the problem worse. So, for example, building roads into areas that will then induce growth or making it easier for companies to follow certain pathways that the public purse would pay for and so on. So if those are undermining some of the biodiversity goals, then you might want to want to rethink those at the same time. So Indigenous led conservation in this country has become hugely important and increasing. So and there is enormous value in the stewardship, monitoring, protection that communities confer on these homelands, many of which are the most intact areas on the planet. So you can see, look at that track record and say, well, that’s got to have some value. And to many people, it’s starting to.

Speaker 1 [00:16:05] I’m so glad you raised that, because what we’re seeing in all sorts of indigenous communities around Canada is what I might call conservation 3.0, conservation 1.0, being that kind of centuries old ring fencing of nature, going back to the tragedy of the commons where people decided, Boy, we better literally build fences around nature to protect it. 2.0 Starting to find financing for it, charging people admission to see nature or engage with nature, national parks and the like. But 3.0 is really leveraging nature as an asset, but stewarding it as an asset. Any asset owner knows that you’ve got to invest in the asset, you’ve got to protect it. You don’t deplete it. That’s bad ownership. It’s bad stewardship. And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that it’s indigenous communities that are bringing us to 3.0, although maybe that was the original 1.0 and I’ve mixed messed up the sequencing. But how realistic is it to assume that those 3.0 approaches, as I’m describing them, will be sort of. Efficient to close that enormous gap that we were just speaking to.

Speaker 3 [00:17:07] I can’t speak about realism because it’s just it’s too important to be pragmatic or too pragmatic. But I think the progress that we’ve made in the last number of years is significant. And the Prime Minister announced an investment of $850 million over seven years for enormous Indigenous led projects that also have private capital coming in. This is something to watch out for this kind of model and something that we would not necessarily have predicted even a year ago. So there’s been enormous progress and rethinking and reimagining how this is going to happen. I think there’s a lot of understanding that business as usual cannot keep that way. So if you have that understanding and you can let go of business as usual, then it is possible to imagine this. And the last point is that it again, it has to come with a package. I mean, we as human beings have an enormous amount of production and consumption, and that has a big bearing on where we find ourselves today. And so holding back on some of that at the same time as investing in the right things that have different kinds of value are probably a part of the recipe for success.

Speaker 1 [00:18:16] Just as we move towards clothes. I wonder what you think. We need to keep really front of mind as we come out of the Montreal conference and look to the challenges as well as opportunities of the next few years.

Speaker 3 [00:18:31] So all the nations of the world that have signed on to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is most of them have been gathered here in Montreal. There’s been a ton of attention on this and the matter of biodiversity. And in the process, there’s also been increasing appreciation, even by members of the public, that the climate and biodiversity crises are interlinked and then must be resolved together. So I think the best case scenarios is for people to understand we have no choice but to really resolve it and not continue on with business as usual.

Speaker 1 [00:19:01] That’s a great message that this is really on all of us. Our guest today has been Dr. Justina Ray from Wildlife Conservation Society Canada. Justina, thanks so much for being a part of disruptors.

Speaker 3 [00:19:12] Thank you so much for inviting me.

Speaker 2 [00:19:18] RBC Tech for Nature is our $100 million by 2025 multiyear commitment to accelerate tech based solutions that help preserve the world’s greatest wealth, our natural ecosystem. We work with partners to leverage technology and innovation capabilities to help solve pressing environmental challenges. This program is a key element of how we are delivering on our climate strategy. The RBC Climate Blueprint RBC Tech for Nature is now accepting funding applications until February six. Apply now to partner with us and create a more sustainable future. Visit RBC dot com slash tech furniture for more information.

Speaker 1 [00:19:53] Welcome back. WTF. Where’s the finance? That was a hot topic of debate at the big UN climate conference in Egypt and it was on the table again at Montreal in the talks over biodiversity. We’re talking today about biodiversity, but also about the financing and technology needed to conserve it. Our next guest is here to address that. Hadley Archer is executive director of Nature United. Welcome to Disruptors. Yeah, thanks, John. As we think about ways for the private sector, for investors, be they individuals or firms or funds, we all know of revenue streams that exist from nature be as simple as campsite permits. But we’re also seeing more sophisticated tools, offsets and inserts, for instance, or green bonds. I’m curious how you’re thinking about that revenue and financial opportunity as a way of attracting more private capital to invest in nature, be it fields, farmlands or forests or oceans. Nature is the greatest asset. Natural capital provides everything that humanity needs in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and indeed runs our economy. So absolutely right that we have to value nature. And if we do so properly, there can be incredible investment opportunities. The challenges, of course, are that we’re not properly valuing nature. Carbon is trading that 15 or $20 a tonne in forests, and some recent studies have placed a value closer to $600 a tonne. If you think about that, the carbon sink value that forests provide globally. So that’s the first thing is to get the values right and to really understand the benefits that whether it’s carbon sequestration or pollination for food or water filtration. The second issue is timelines, right? So if we think about investments all too often we think about short term paybacks and short term horizons. But if we really value what nature can provide us and continue to provide, we have to think about longer time horizons and see these as longer term investments. Indeed, indigenous communities look at seven generations, not the next quarter necessarily. So that’s another important piece that we have to get right and we have to address the underlying. On that note, issue of rights and title. So lots of things to work through. But indeed, when we do, we can see that there are very significant investment opportunities that emerge in the Great Bear rainforest where the last 15 years more than 5 million acres of temperate rainforest have been protected. A big part of that was protecting old growth forests that store tremendous amounts of carbon that has created an opportunity for credible, high quality carbon offsets, which create an opportunity for companies who want to purchase offsets to help address part of their climate footprint and in doing so, provide critical new revenue streams to indigenous communities and land managers on the ground to steward these places. Yeah, I’m so glad you mentioned the Great Bear Rainforest because it is a great Canadian success story. The forest would probably be given the Order of Canada if that were allowed. Yeah. I mean, it is such a great example, John, and in fact a global example of how we can protect and sustainably manage an incredible ecosystem that still supports viable coastal economies and resource sectors, but at the same time recognizes the value and the importance of these critical ecosystems and puts, in the case of great bear indigenous peoples at the at the center of that. It’s exactly what we need to do is learn from these successes where we’ve found solutions that work for not just the environment and the people living there, but also for the economy. It’s exactly how we’re thinking about agriculture, for example, is how do we support farmers to continue what they’re doing and to farm responsibly, but to accelerate the pace of adoption of some of these approaches to farming that we know the evidence shows that can benefit climate change, can benefit the environment, restore soil health, do that in a way that provides economic incentives for farmers to adopt those. And they help us understand the growing role of technology in biodiversity. Yeah, it’s incredibly important, John, because for a bunch of reasons. One obvious reason is just especially in a country like Canada, to be able to sort of assess the landscape and understand the state of nature and state of our forests, for example, or the, you know, the state of our natural ecosystems. And so satellite technology has been a game changer in that regard. So we can really understand with very impressive precision, what is the state of play with? One thing to say, we have to, but the real value on ecosystem services. But many of these are very hard to measure. Take soil carbon, for example. It’s very complicated. It varies across the landscape. Technology is going to be critical to being able to quantify value and validate and then in many cases figure out how we can use that to generate new revenue streams. And I hope we can do this again in a year’s time and measure the progress that we’ve made. Thank you for being on this episode of Disruptors. Thanks, John. It’s been a real pleasure. Look forward to being back. Near. Our guests today were Dr. Justina Ray from Wildlife Conservation Society Canada and Hadley Archer from Nature United. Thanks also to Catherine Grenier from the Nature Conservancy of Canada. For more on my takeaways from COP15, you can go to our Thought Leadership. That’s a wrap for disruptors for 2020 to join us early in the new year when we’ll take a look at the US Inflation Reduction Act and what 2023 may hold for our country’s clean tech sector. From all of us to disruptors, we wish you a safe and happy holiday. Thanks so much for listening this past year. And join us again in 2023. I’m John Stackhouse, and this is Disruptors, an RBC podcast. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 2 [00:25:40] Disruptors, an RBC podcast is created by the RBC Thought Leadership Group and does not constitute a recommendation for any organization, product or service. It’s produced and recorded by JAR Audio. For more disruptors content, like or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and visit RBC dot com, slash disruptors.

Jennifer Marron produces "Disruptors, an RBC podcast". Prior to joining RBC, Jennifer spent five years as Community Manager at MaRS Discovery District and cultivated a large network of industry leaders, entrepreneurs and partners to support the Canadian startup ecosystem. Her writing has appeared in The National Post, Financial Post, Techvibes, IT Business, CWTA Magazine and Procter & Gamble’s magazine, Rouge. Follow her on Twitter @J_Marron.

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