by Dr. Nick Atkinson, Chief Science Officer at BeZero Carbon
Measuring threat abatement is more achievable than measuring biodiversity
Measuring biodiversity is really difficult. First you have to decide what aspects are important – is it a particular species, the number of species or their abundance, or the habitats in which they live? Then you have to decide what to measure and how, before finally getting your boots muddy and actually doing it. No wonder that nature claims within the voluntary carbon market are so hard to verify.
A shift in perspective might help. What motivates conservation action is the perception of loss due to damaging human activities. We know, for example, that the more deforestation happens, the more polluted an area becomes, or the greater the number of people living within it, the worse the impacts on wildlife. Perhaps we could measure those drivers of loss instead, and track the effects of action to mitigate them?
BeZero’s new report outlines a possible approach centred on the five major drivers of loss of biodiversity. In no particular order, they are climate change, land/sea use change, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution, and invasive non-native species. These can all be quantified using a range of existing ground-based and remotely sensed data capture techniques, with innovation and improvement ongoing. It follows that project impacts on these five axes could be tracked over time and matched against project developers’ claims for biodiversity outcomes.
One advantage of using such an approach is that claims could be independently verified, an important attribute if projects are to be rated. Risk factors such as project additionality, permanence and leakage could be assessed through comparison with similar reference areas; wildlife monitoring tends to happen only within a project area, making it difficult to attribute observed change directly to project activity.
Using a universal set of drivers increases project fungibility, the ability to compare impacts between projects of different types. Rather than being stuck trying to decide how many pangolins a snow leopard is “worth”, placing the focus on how effective a project has been in reducing habitat loss or wildlife trade would at least provide some insight into how effective any two projects have been, relative to one another.
Many conservation projects, especially rewilding approaches, require the bulk of finance at the start, long before there are any tangible benefits. Linking funding to outcomes creates a time lag that might render a project operationally inviable. Alternatively, linking claims directly to threat abatement enables actions that will lead to outcomes, even if they themselves are uncertain.
Decoupling project-specific outcome claims from the actions taken to achieve them therefore provides advantages in three key areas: enabling independent verification, increasing fungibility, and aligning finance and action timelines. Such an approach could sit alongside project narratives around biodiversity outcomes, and be a useful way to address the issue of ratings for biodiversity claims, both within the Voluntary Carbon Market and with the advent of standalone nature credits.
Read more: Opinion: The Name Of The Carbon Market Game