11 April 2023 by Max Bodmer
Biodiversity credits are increasingly being accepted as a new and innovative way to fund landscape scale conservation. Project developers around the world are excited about the prospect of using this new financial mechanism to support their most ambitious biodiversity restoration initiatives, and the conservation sector is experiencing a re-energisation that will help organisations deliver on their promises to protect the natural world.
Most wildlife restoration is currently funded through a combination of short-term government grants and philanthropy which cannot sustain projects for sufficient periods of time to realise significant and permanent biodiversity, climate, and socioeconomic benefits. Many project developers therefore want to use biodiversity credits to fund the expansion of their existing conservation programmes by increasing their restoration activities and making them sustainable in the long-term.
Using biodiversity credits alongside other payments for ecosystem services (PES) to finance conservation projects is possible, but it does throw up questions around additionality and double counting. When applying for biodiversity credits a project developer must demonstrate that the interventions they propose are additional to those supported by other payment schemes. They must also ensure that any benefits they claim for the project are specifically attributable to a biodiversity credit funded intervention rather than activities that are funded by other sources of income. Biodiversity credits will only be issued if a project developer can prove that a conservation activity will not be implemented without funds generated from their sale.
Privately funded conservation only works if project benefits are real and greenwashing does not occur, therefore developers using multiple PES schemes to fund their work must avoid ‘double counting’; a phenomenon whereby a single benefit is claimed by two separate income streams. Well-designed projects consider the additionality of each intervention during the early planning stages which negates the issue of double counting as every activity is explicitly attributed to a specific PES scheme.
For example, a UK-based agricultural nature restoration project wishing to generate biodiversity credits to supplement the income they receive from government payments must identify new activities that are associated with significant, and independent benefits, beyond those which are already attributed to their publicly funded programme. The project developer’s basic payments may cover the costs of a tree planting and forest creation initiative associated with significant climate benefits. Any additional biodiversity credit funded interventions implemented in the same area therefore cannot claim carbon sequestration services and should instead focus on activities that promote increases in plant and animal populations, e.g. introduction of grazing herbivores. In this way, the climate benefits are associated with the publicly funded interventions, and the biodiversity benefits are associated with the privately funded interventions; additionality is secured and double counting is avoided.
As we move into the unchartered territory of biodiversity credit funded conservation, it is imperative that conservationists consider the identification of additionality in their projects as a priority. This will ensure that privately funded conservation develops a reputation for only accepting high quality projects with measurable and verifiable benefits, which will ultimately unlock billions of dollars that are so urgently needed for the protection of nature and wildlife.