Following a thought-provoking day at Environmental Finance's Forest Finance & Sustainability Conference in London, a few thoughts on the key challenges faced by organisations working to tackle deforestation through financial mechanisms:
Embedding a natural capital mindset across organisations: today's event aptly coincided with the launch of the Natural Capital Protocol. Sustainability advocates have achieved great progress in raising Board-level awareness of a few specific issues (e.g. climate change). However, transitioning organisations towards a Natural Capital ('one earth') mindset is a broader challenge and will require thoughtful framing to ensure the concept is accessible, engaging, and ultimately acceptable. This will be a challenge for both for NGOs and - especially - for corporate sustainability managers, who will ultimately be responsible for obtaining the buy-in of company leadership.
The limits of the ICAO GMBM as a source of REDD+ salvation: while I hope this fall's ICAO General Assembly results in a binding agreement that is implemented in 2020, it's important to keep our expectations grounded in reality. The proposed offsetting scheme for international flights will only cover the *growth* in aviation CO2 emissions after 2020. And while we expect continued growth in international flights (and the consequent growth in CO2 emissions), it's important to stress that airlines will not be required to offset this sizeable baseline of pre-2020 emissions. So while an aviation offsetting scheme would be helpful for promoting REDD+ credits, it will not be a windfall.
Reconciling the language of finance with that of conservation: for those outside the finance sector, it is unusual and unsettling to hear forests described as an asset class. While I applaud the work of many of these organisations, this natural capital-derived terminology could be problematic in the longer term. Areas of natural beauty are often culturally revered as special or sacred. The commoditisation of forests - even for the purposes of conservation - needs to be broached much more tactfully with the wider public. This cold, sterile financial language is typically associated with the very firms and activities causing environmental degradation. Building stronger, more widespread support for these initiatives will require more inclusive, human-oriented language that can bridge the gap between financial organisations and conservationists. Language that communicates both value and values.
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