Nature-based solutions (NBS) like REDD+, IFM or ARR carbon projects can have a significant impact on helping to mitigate climate change by reducing carbon in the atmosphere. In fact, they could account for 37% of mitigation efforts needed by 2030. NBS also have another benefit: tackling biodiversity (fauna and flora) loss, for example with conservation projects. This is an essential element when assessing the co-benefits of carbon crediting projects.
Handling two crises: Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss
Climate change has been at the forefront of international negotiations since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed in 1992. Reducing carbon emissions in all sectors is vital to keep the global average temperature under 2 degrees, ideally no more than 1.5 degrees, above pre-industrial levels.
However, next to the current climate crisis, the planet also faces a biodiversity crisis. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that, in the last century, 94% of the 77 mammal and bird species identified as on the brink of extinction later became extinct. This already worrying rate of extinction is accelerating. Additionally human activities are damaging nature at an ecosystem scale: 75% of the land surface, 66% of the marine environment and 85% of wetlands have been significantly altered by human actions.
We cannot look at one crisis without considering the other. A concrete example of the synergies between the climate and biodiversity crisis is when forest degradation occurs due to drought. Extreme weather forces rural farmers to go into new areas, like primary and protected forests, in order to grow crops. This action directly impacts the ecosystem of precious biodiversity. Our exploitation of nature is not sustainable: the Dasgupta Review found that in 20 years, the economic capital per person has doubled while the natural capital per person has decreased by almost 40%.
High-quality carbon credits can have a pivotal role to play in protecting biodiversity, especially in areas where there is no conservation action and where funding is lacking. When carbon crediting projects are well designed and properly executed, they enable both carbon sequestration and co-benefits to biodiversity conservation and local communities. It is crucial to emphasise this element as not all carbon credits deliver comparable co-benefits.
Co-benefits of carbon credits
Some carbon crediting projects, such as planting non-endemic tree species to offset carbon, can have adverse effects on agricultural yields, local biodiversity and the displacement of local people.
Nonetheless, the sound execution of a carbon project, with proper environmental safeguards, can ensure the preservation of the most significant carbon sinks and the conservation of biodiversity. Moreover, the sustainability and longevity of such carbon projects are supported by sustainable funding through results-based financing and carbon markets. For this reason, it is crucial that high-quality carbon credits with high co-benefits scores are promoted and economically valued at the right price.
Biodiversity in the spotlight
Many people are familiar with the UNFCCC. The UNFCCC’s annual meetings, or COPs, attract major media attention. But people are less familiar with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD). The UNCBD, like the UNFCCC, was established 1992 at the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro. Its goal was to facilitate global cooperation to tackle the biodiversity crisis.
The “Paris Agreement for Biodiversity”
This year, parties to the UNCBD (meaning countries that have signed up) hope to adopt the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) for 2020-2050, informally labelled the “Paris Agreement for Biodiversity”. The Post-2020 GBF will hopefully be agreed at the UNCBD’s COP15 to be held in Kunming, China. This would be the second framework established by the UNCBD, after the implementation of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (2011-2020), adopted in 2010.
Despite the ambition for supporting transformational changes in the biodiversity landscape, 14 out of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets were completely missed, with 6 only partially met. To ensure a better success rate for the implementation of the Post-2020 GBF, a new approach was agreed upon by the parties to draft and negotiate the new Post-2020 GBF during intersessional meetings with the countries, called Open-Ended Working Groups (OEWGs).
The fourth round of OEWGs, the last one before the UNCBD COP15, is happening in June 21-26, in Nairobi, with a number of disagreements remaining. For example:
- Concerns have arisen regarding conflating monoculture tree plantations with natural ecosystems like primary forests, which do not provide equal ecosystem services. In this regard, it is key to have an assessment of carbon credit projects to ensure that those are providing co-benefits to the natural ecosystem.
- Another source of disagreement is the right balance of emphasis on biodiversity conservation versus ‘access and benefit-sharing’. Biodiversity conservation is the conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of populations of species in their natural surroundings. The access and benefit-sharing provisions of the UNCBD are designed to ensure that the physical access to genetic resources, in nature, is facilitated and that the benefits obtained from their use are shared equitably with the providers. Both are important, but richer countries tend to prioritise the former, while poorer countries focus more on the latter.
- Another big area of discussion will be concerns around the risk that using forests and lands to serve such NBS strategies threatens to dispossess Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs), who are the true stewards of the planet's biodiversity. Therefore, an essential element for genuinely sustainable carbon projects is to have free, prior and informed consent to ensure that IPLCs are involved in implementing, monitoring, and evaluating the carbon projects.
Quality matters for carbon and biodiversity
Ensuring that carbon credits are high quality is important for capturing the claimed carbon and providing co-benefits, like biodiversity conservation.
While biodiversity monitoring is more challenging than carbon monitoring, Sylvera is committed to providing as much information as possible in our ratings and reports on the biodiversity impacts of a carbon crediting project. We examine the measures taken (if any) regarding safeguarding biodiversity, to ensure that buyers can make an informed decision about which credits to purchase.
Through our partnership with the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT), the world's most authoritative biodiversity data, we have access to key data to assess project areas. Sylvera incorporates vital biodiversity data to our carbon project analyses, including:
- species and habitat diversity
- monitoring tools in place in the area
- information on income diversification or improved agriculture to reduce pressure on biodiversity
- regional and national threats to biodiversity
This data is displayed alongside the Protected Areas data in the Sylvera platform map widget, and is updated monthly.
Ultimately, by working with the environment and ensuring we leverage new technologies, we can mitigate both climate change and biodiversity loss.