Why Do We Need Carbon and Biodiversity Credits for Conservation?

28 November 2023 by Kathy Slater

The two biggest issues we face today in conservation are climate change and biodiversity loss and the challenge is to find a way to protect and restore important ecosystems while at the same time ensuring long-term food security for human populations. 10 million hectares of forest were converted to other land uses every year between 2015-2020 (UNEP, 2023), and in 2022, the Living Planet Report reported an average decline of 69% in species populations since 1970 (WWF, 2022). If climate change continues at the current rate, then the human population will face more extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes and flooding, or prolonged drought and fires, which will impact on our food production and economies on a global scale. For that reason, the private sector invested $851 billion in climate change mitigation in 2021 (CPIC, 2021). In comparison, only $18 billion was invested in slowing rates of species extinctions, which suggests that as a population, we do not consider biodiversity loss to be as much of a concern as climate change, or that investing in biodiversity is more complicated and difficult to achieve than investing in mitigating climate change. 


Biodiversity is the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part (UNCED, 1992). The primary courses of global biodiversity loss in recent decades are the rapid expansion and intensified management of land used for agriculture and livestock farming, and direct exploitation of ecosystems through fishing, logging, and hunting (Jaureguiberry et al., 2022). For example, the conversion of forest to agricultural plantations can have up to a 300-fold negative effect with sun grown monocrops such as maize showing the most significant negative impact on birds, herpetofauna, insects and mammals (Oakley & Bicknell, 2022).  


This situation is only going to get worse because the need for food and other agricultural products is predicted to increase between 35 and 50% from 2010 to 2050 resulting in an increase in agricultural land of about 100 million hectares (FAO 2017; van Dijk et al, 2021). However, up to 50% of the negative effects of landscape simplification on biodiversity is due to the loss of service-providing organisms, and the reduction in these organisms results in negative consequences for crop yields (Dainese et al., 2019). Consequently, biodiversity loss has direct implications for long-term food security of the human population.  


Biodiversity on farmland can be recuperated with the implementation of more sustainable methods such as the use of biofertilizers for crops (Tahan et al., 2020) and introduction of silvopastoral methods of livestock farming (Alvarado et al., 2018: Peres-Alvarez et al., 2023). If these sustainable farming methods could be rapidly introduced on a global scale, then it would be possible to significantly reduce global biodiversity loss AND ensure food security. Other nature-based solutions such as large-scale restoration or conservation of natural forests and wetlands can not only help to mitigate climate change but also can directly benefit biodiversity and people (Jaureguiberry et al., 2022). 


However, private sector funding in conservation is currently driven by the carbon market and therefore investment in conservation is heavily skewed towards carbon rich ecosystems such as tropical rain forests. One of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world are coral reefs that also provide important food sources for human populations, but as these reefs cannot generate significant amounts of carbon credits, private sector investment in coral reef conservation or restoration is minimal. Similarly, the implementation of sustainable farming practices cannot generate significant carbon credits which is likely to prevent large scale investment, despite the obvious benefits to the human population in terms of food security. Consequently, there is a need to quantify and monetize biodiversity to permit large scale investment in biodiversity uplift or avoided loss projects. If biodiversity can be quantified with a standardized method and the direct impact of human interventions on biodiversity can be measured in units of biodiversity, then this could unlock significant funding for nature-based projects in the same way that carbon credits defined as one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent has resulted in large scale investment in climate change mitigation. In short, conservation needs both carbon and biodiversity credits if we are to have any hope of combating climate change and biodiversity loss and ensuring food security for the human population. 



Alvarado, F., Escobar, F., Williams, R. D. et al., (2017). The role of livestock intensification and landscape structure in maintaining tropical biodiversity. Journal of Applied Ecology. 55, 185-194 

Dainese, M., Martin, E. A., Aizen, M. A. et al., (2019). A global synthesis reveals biodiversity-mediated benefits for crop production. Sci. Adv. 5, eaax0121. 

Jaureguiberry, P., Titeux, N., Wiemers, M. et al., (2022). The Direct Drivers of Recent Global Anthropogenic Biodiversity Loss. Sci. Adv. 8, eabm9982. 

Oakley, L. J. and Bicknell, E. J. (2022). The impacts of tropical agriculture on biodiversity: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Ecology. 58, 3072-3082 

Perez-Alvarez, R. Chara, J, Synder, D. L. et al., (2023). Global meta-analysis reveals overall benefits of silvopastoral systems for biodiversity. BioRxiv 

Schwarzmueller, F. and Kastner, T. (2022). Agricultural trade and its impacts on cropland use and the global loss of species habitat. Sustain Sci 17, 2363–2377.  

Van Dijk, M., Morley, T., Rau, M. L. et al., (2021). A meta-analysis of projected global food demand and population at risk of hunger for the period 2010-2050. Nat Food. 2, 494-501. 

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