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Making a case for investing in the global bio-economy

Jun 22, 2023

River Flowing Through Forest

Ivey Idea Forum: The bio-economy is the future we see

According to the World Wildlife Fund, between 1970 and 2016, 68 per cent of the Earth’s mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish disappeared, and more than 85 per cent of wetlands were lost.

While climate change often makes headlines, biodiversity loss has not been getting the attention it deserves as a global crisis.

“Biodiversity loss is one of the biggest risks to business and the planet, as companies are only beginning to explore their impact on the environment, and very few have specific biodiversity preservation strategies,” says Professor Gal Raz, Associate Dean of Research at the Ivey Business School.

At Ivey’s inaugural Idea Forum, titled “The Bio-Economy is the Future We See”, Raz facilitated a discussion on how innovative business models and new financial instruments can stem biodiversity loss and positively impact corporate bottom lines. The forum, designed to advance and amplify the School’s world-class research, featured Ivey’s Oana Branzei and Diane-Laure Arjaliès, experts on conservation regeneration and financing biodiversity. It also included Marty Odlin, Founder and CEO of Running Tide, a global ocean health company, and André Pawan Vashist, a social innovator working with Carolinian Canada on the Deshkan Ziibi Conservation Impact Bond.

The current state of play

It is critical to understand the value of vibrant, healthy natural ecosystems. According to research, 55 per cent of the entire global GDP depends on genuine ecosystem services; all at a time when biodiversity is decreasing, and oceans are getting warmer, more acidic, and less productive.

With these challenges in mind, global commitments are coming to the forefront. During the 2022 UN biodiversity conference, COP15, 188 countries reached a landmark agreement to protect 30 per cent of lands and waters by 2030 to reverse the unprecedented destruction of nature.

While protection is a step in the right direction, Arjaliès said a significant financial gap needs to be addressed, emphasizing the need to finance regeneration techniques to bring back biodiversity. Currently, only one per cent of the finance devoted to fighting the climate crisis is channelled toward restoring ecosystems.

“We know that nature-based climate solutions are one of the most effective and cheapest climate action approaches,” said Arjaliès.

To become climate resilient, Arjaliès said we must shift away from potentially harmful subsidies.

“Not only do you have to support the bioeconomy, but you have to shift how money flows and is going to shift the way we do business,” she said.

Branzei, whose research looks at how ecosystems can be regenerated through careful, mindful intervention by human actors, said she is hopeful for the future.

“The good news is that the ecosystems we are exploiting are very much part of our recovery, and 40 per cent of that recovery will come from our new models of regenerative organization,” she said.

Measurement is critical to success

Odlin and his firm Running Tide, are scaling up innovative methods to remove carbon globally in the world’s oceans. According to Odlin, success is rooted in measurement and internalizing the externalities caused by businesses and people. He suggested that utilizing carbon removal credits is fuel to connect humanity back to nature in a nature-positive way.

“The big challenge in connecting the capital to nature is in measurement and determining the positive and negative impacts of any given activity,” said Odlin. “Measurement and transparency are the keys to ensuring that we continue evolving our thinking and consciousness of the wider systems…. And I think we can do that in a way that facilitates companies' profitability.”

Seeing nature and economy through different cultural lenses

Innovative nature-based finance solutions, such as the Deshkan Ziibi Conservation Impact Bond, have succeeded in using what’s called the Two-Eyed Seeing approach, allowing Western and Indigenous sciences to combine and work together.

“Sometimes we have to use what is available to us in terms of everyone’s shared understanding, and then push that understanding to a different space as part of the cultural and social change,” said Vashist. “Working with some of our First Nations partners has given us space to do that work of reframing our cultural understanding and how we engage in nature. Our mental models start changing when we go further into this work.”

Arjaliès said other important innovations are financial products that have different metrics, such as relationships, and how we support those relationships.

“It’s not just about the financial capital, but it’s about the way we organize ourselves and the way we create relationships,” she said.

Branzei said reframing our place with nature is integral for success.

“Our relationship with the natural ecosystems has been antagonistic and exploitative rather than symbiotic,” she said. “Turning to Indigenous ways of thinking and being with nature and working for nature opens this greatest revolution in managing. So, we no longer control nature but harness the life-giving patterns of nature.”

Raz concluded, “there is much more work to do in bringing bio diversity to the forefront of climate change action for the business sector as we are at the beginning of this important regeneration journey.”