Rachel Lowry is Chief Conservation Officer at WWF Australia, and on this episode of the Good Future podcast, she explains why investors need to care about the growing biodiversity crisis, and the challenges of measuring and conserving natural capital.
WWF is a charity, focussed on protecting nature, but they also recognise the power wielded by companies and financial services firms. They’re not afraid to put on a suit, and work with organisations that aren’t traditionally thought of as being environmentalists.
This is the first in this ‘natural capital’ series, and it’s a vital introduction to what’s at stake amid catastrophic biodiversity loss and broad impacts on nature. Business and investors have a vital role to play, and this series will explore the tools and the solutions that are being developed, with the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) being a central framework, which will be explored in the next episode.
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On this episode…
We talk about the challenges of measuring biodiversity loss and Australia’s very poor track record of deforestation (we’re the leaders among developed countries). But we also talk about solutions, which is what Rachel highlights as the core philosophy of WWF, being solutions-focussed.
The Deforestation-Free Beef is just one such campaign; it aims to arm consumers with information to make informed decisions, and support those producers that aren’t clearing land to run cattle.
We also explore the important interactions and feedback loops between climate change and biodiversity loss, an alternative to the degrowth narrative, and Rachel gives us a first-hand account of the COP15 meeting in Montreal where the Global Biodiversity Framework was agreed, and a new goal was established to get the planet to be ‘Nature Positive’ by halting and reversing the decline of nature by 2030!
My key takeaway this week…
“Some people will look at nature and love it, because it makes them feel good because it’s beautiful, because they recognise the role that nature plays in purifying our air or our water. But the reality is our economy relies on strong biodiversity and nature inputs.”
Series Sponsor – GreenCollar
This is the first in a series of episodes exploring the concept of ‘natural capital’, and to get us there, we have the support of a new Good Future sponsor, GreenCollar.
GreenCollar is a developer and innovator of environmental market solutions, they recognise the power of putting a financial value on nature, as an incentive to drive sustainable land management, cleaning up our waterways and avoiding further loss of biodiversity and animal species.
Since launching more than a decade ago, the company has become Australia’s largest developer of nature-based carbon credit projects, and they’re pushing the market forward with schemes like ‘Reef Credits’, which target improved water quality at The Great Barrier Reef.
And their latest innovation is NaturePlus, a new form of biodiversity credits that aim to protect and restore ecosystems around the world. They’re measuring biodiversity outcomes on the ground, with a scientifically rigorous and verifiable methodology, that puts a value on natural capital, to enable investment in the conservation of high value ecosystems.
Reach out to the team at GreenCollar.com.au to find out more.
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Good Future Podcast – Rachel Lowry
Rachel, great to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much for giving us some time today.
Great to be here.
You and I met at an investment conference earlier this year. And to me, that really represents a major progress in the world of sustainable investing, where investors and conservationists are finally coming together. And of course, you and the WWF work hard to build these bridges, while investors I think, have been far too slow to recognise the the emerging crisis really of biodiversity loss, I don’t use that term crisis, lightly extinction rates alone, that the data is super scary. So maybe to get us started. Can you give us just a rundown, I guess, of the WWF role in conserving natural capital and whether that term natural capital is the way that that you would term the work you do? And how this then links to specific work that you’re doing to translate really these risks into a language investors can understand?
Yeah, sure. Well, let’s start with sort of how WWF operates with a World Wide Fund for Nature. And WWF is a very solution focused organisations. So of course, we have to, at times shine the spotlight on the crisis that you’re talking about. But more often than not, we tend to find people are aware of it, at least in some way, shape, or form. What people aren’t aware of so often is how we solve it. And so WWF’s theory of change really is putting on the suit sitting down at the table, talking with key decision makers across all sectors of society, listening, and then finding pathways forward. We are a charity. So we’re part of civil society. So we do very much have a role like all civil society members in speaking truth to the scale of the problem, and making sure we’re science based making sure we’re thinking about the problems from a community lens, and a nature sort of environmental lens. And an economic lens, because it’s important, we prioritise our solutions and the things that we throw our weight behind. Because we’re a charity, we have limited resources behind those and more likely to be catalytic. Because we don’t have time to keep fighting on the, you know, one front one landscape one seascape, piece by piece, if we look at the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, I think we’re 71 months away from 2030. I feel like it was just yesterday, I spoke at a conference where I said, we’re at two months away from 2030, it really feels like yesterday, so we can feel that clock ticking and we’re humble enough to be able to recognise where winning battles, so to speak, but not the wall. Each time we went on one front, we lift our gaze and you look around, then we’ve lost traction on a number of other fronts. So that word catalytic is really important because we need to obviously look at things from a systems change point of view, if we don’t change the system that we’re operating in, the paradigms that society is moving through, we’re just not going to get there by 2030.
So that takes us to scale. And when you start looking at solutions that are going to be catalytic and will have impact at scale, you’re naturally led down the pathway of looking at bankable solutions sometimes or, having to look at nature through use that word natural capital natural capital lens, which is really about trying to help people recognise that nature has many values. Some people will look at nature and love it, because it makes them feel good because it’s beautiful, because they recognise the role that nature plays in purifying our air or our water. But the reality is our economic inputs rely on strong biodiversity and nature. And so there are many people that have tried to actually capture nature from a frame that helps us recognise exactly that, that nature can help us stimulate economic growth. And equally if we don’t invest in nature, well, we can land ourselves into this what people often refer to as this invisible debt. That just keeps mounting every year, and there lies our problem. So when I talk about bankable solutions, often some of the solutions that we’re trying to throw our weight behind are those that can be commercialised because if you can commercialise a solution, it’s more likely to be sustained. Rather than this flash in the pan putting our hand out and asking for grants and asking for philanthropy which can work for a year or two. Sometimes if you’re lucky, even three to five. But eventually, inevitably, more often than not, some of these solutions start to fall off a cliff if they don’t have a sustainable funding source.
So there’ll be WWF’s roll at the moment is very much trying to we’re continuing to try to sit at the right tables, work with the right decision makers, work with industry, work with government and keep an eye on the leading science and see where we can find those catalytic pathways, which often and increasingly more are leaving us towards what we’re starting to hear this term dubbed regenerative economy solutions. So there’s some of the language there sort of to the to the latter part of your question quite often part of the problem is that when we do sit at these tables, we all speak a different language. The reality is, those terms don’t come naturally to me, I’ve had to learn them, I’ve had to lean into them and embrace them to engage the audience’s that I need to engage as chief Conservation Officer at WWF.
But my first degree was a science degree. I’m a trained Zoologist. The reality is to find myself is someone come to me when I was studying Zoology at Melbourne University and said, one day you’ll be doing a podcast talking about natural capital or regenerative economy, I would have said what now? But the reality is WWF recognises that unless we do bring those core capabilities inside. So one of the hires that I’ve made in the last five years in WWF, Australia is to bring in a conservation economist inside our conservation team, because we’ve got to calibrate our language. And, you know, identify these shared goals and identify these shared pathways so we can get impact happening at scale.
I think that’s what has me so excited about finally, financial services industry starting to talk about these words, biodiversity, natural capital, regenerative agriculture, regenerative economies, I think back to when I started economics, and one of the things in my core that wasn’t comfortable with, was the way, economics didn’t effectively value, environmental resources. We called them negative externalities, which was this really prosaic word that actually captured sort of everything of value, right, as you talked about it, that the bees pollinating, its freshwater, its resources under the ground, all of these things are so industry business is so dependent on. And finally, that the silos are breaking down groups are coming together. And WWF has been working that, as you say, putting on the suits for a long time trying to find solutions.
And I think if we come, we’ve talked about language, if we come to this word sustainability, in some ways, it’s the ‘digital transformation’ of today, a word that has sort of lost its meaning. But all of these issues with climate change, measuring emissions, a lot of good work has been done there. Now we’re trying to measure nature and biodiversity loss. But is it just an issue of sustainable resource use? We’re putting demands on the natural capital that are greater than its capacity to regenerate. That’s not sustainable, in the way that we can’t keep pulling oil out of the ground. We can’t keep chopping down trees without letting them grow, or, we need to support the bees, they haven’t yet sent us an invoice. Maybe they should.
And so this call it exploitation poses its huge risks for companies and the communities in certain areas. Why do you think that our modern markets haven’t recognised the danger? Economics should recognise, okay, the supply is diminishing here. We’ve got to pullback. Is it just a problem of economic theories, some of this growth at all costs? Where do you see that?
Yeah, I think it’s an excellent question. And I think you partly answered it in asking the question, the bees haven’t sent the invoice, right. And so we’re a growth driven society, our whole economy is built on growth and valuing growth. And I think that we have whether we say it explicitly or not, we have fallen into a paradigm of growth at all costs. And there is a bit of an ideology piece here, there’s a race who can grow faster, each sector has got in this competitive space, and who can who can get the biggest share of the pie.
We’re so focused on that race, that we’re not necessarily looking backwards at what we’re leaving behind, and that invisible debt that I was talking about. Equally, though, interestingly, when you’re racing, you’re looking forward, but we’re looking forward through a very narrow frame. And that’s what you know, this, the notion of that word sustainability asks us to look more holistically around what we’re leaving for future generations. But sometimes that that just feels too far away. We’re talking about what your next Annual Report is going to put out there. We’re not talking about what your grandchildren are going to be looking at from a legacy point of view more broadly when it comes to the future. So I think that their lies are a challenge. I think we have ultimately fallen into this slipstream, not at think I know, I know we have fallen into this slipstream of relying largely on an economy that is extractive and depleted. And one of the challenges is that I think those inside that system that are working and churning through that system have come to think, well, I’m a realist, this is what it takes to grow our economy. This is what it takes to bring wealth to this current generation. And I think there is this degrowth agenda that sometimes pushes, and so it says stop, let’s cease growth all together. And you’ve got this really jarring combination of language and ideals, where those that are in this sort of system again, you’ve got to be kidding me no growth. They’re quite extreme points of views, I tend to favour the centre-forward approach to change, which is why I work for WWF. WWF is not really about de-growth agenda per se, WWF is about growth, that’s regenerative that replenishes that’s smart and just and fair. And that does take the time to look at that invisible debt and make sure that we’re clearing that up. And in fact, you know, this nature positive movement is about leaving things better than when we found them. And you can actually still grow the economy, and you can still commercialise solutions and derive profit. But you’ve got to shift the paradigm and you’ve got to bring values-based decision making into the system. And you’ve got to stimulate the markets to reward that type of effort, which I think we’re gonna see a lot more of in years to come.
Because that’s that’s a really great nuanced view of this concept of de-growth, which I think you’re right, it gets people up on their haunches immediately. And I think that’s right. It’s not less growth, it’s more growth, but the right type. That’s right, GDP is such a poor measure of prosperity in our world, and it’s trying to find other methods, I think well-being the well-being budget in this new kind of language. And that’s what comes through a lot in the impact investment sector in the in the different models they use of measurement.
This leads on to a question about how we do measure this, let’s try and get into some solutions. WWF is all about, you’re a mission driven organisation, you’d be no stranger to measuring the impacts of your projects. You have to report to your donors and your supporters. What are some challenges you’ve faced in quantifying your impact? And I guess in answering that, how can that help companies that are now trying to start to measure their dependencies and impact on nature, to then be able to understand their risk?
Yeah, it’s a complex question, because biodiversity in its own right is a difficult thing to measure because the term is so broad. But if I take it down to its basics, if we’re if we’re really achieving something from a regenerative economy point of view, then measurement should still be one key measurement would be whether or not you’re making profit. We’re talking about a regenerative economy where we’re saying we’re still going back in growth, we’re just gonna back in growth, it’s done better, smarter that replenishes and regenerates as we go rather than extracts and depletes. So the impact investing is a great example where you look at impact investors, and they’re still ultimately measuring whether or not they’re getting return on their investment. So there is that measurement, which we can’t take our eye off, but the return might be slower return, I’ve spoken to a number of impact investors that say when I make straight out investment, I expect X return when I’m going into an impact investment, I’m going to give an extra three years before I expect to return or I might be willing to take 4% to 5%, etc. So I think that’s something that the impact investing field itself is still calibrating.
From a biodiversity perspective, though it comes down to which landscape which seascape, were planning on that business, that enterprise having impact on. And, there are a number of different ways to look at, whether or not you’re being truly regenerative, they’re sometimes they’re going to be social measures, like, you know, are you keeping an eye on marginalised communities and actually checking whether or not your regenerative enterprise is building inclusion, and the number of people within that local community that are benefiting from that enterprise, sometimes it’s going to be as easy as the enterprise actually putting trees in the ground and you might have some heck damages.
Some of your measures may be proxy measures, there may be measures around whether or not species are able to thrive or bounce back in a certain area. It’s going to depend on what it is the enterprise itself or initiative is trying to achieve. Ultimately, water quality is something we can measure air quality is something we can measure. There are some things though, that are really tricky to measure that take time. These are slowburn initiatives. And you know, there are a lot of people leaning into this to try to get better measurements. Science based targets are moving now into the biodiversity space.
But I think ultimately, what we need to focus on is sort of that leading part of your question, which is that solution focus narrative. We’ve got a lot to learn from the climate movement. For decades we were stuck in this really strong, dare I say left versus right political tension. And it really wasn’t until the ‘solution focus narrative’ around opportunity, what’s the opportunity of tackling climate change? There’s opportunity around job creation with renewable energies, this whole framing around united we shine this race to the top of which nation around the world, we’re the first to work out how to export renewable energy, because whichever nation works that our first going to hold IP that’s going to really reward their economy, right. And as soon as we started talking about the win-win paradigm with climate change, the united we shine, the renewable energy superpower, it was we started to shift out of this gridlock between fossil fuels good versus bad climate change real or not real and into this win win, why wouldn’t we? Why wouldn’t we join this race? Why wouldn’t we start to focus on the wind winds, jobs, environment, you know, economy, and we’ve got to get nature and biodiversity into the same frame, ultimately. What’s the equivalent to that united we shine for biodiversity? We’ve got to start turning into a no brainer, why wouldn’t we invest in nature positive solutions that are good for business?
Yeah. And that’s the progress that’s been taken in climate action to measure emissions, I think, sorry, harping on this measurement issue. There were lots of challenges there, everyone today, it’s too difficult. But we’ve now got there. And that’s just one kind of metric and one KPI, which is emissions, as you mentioned, you then look at biodiversity, so many themes, so many different factors. You’re looking at oceans, you’re looking at land, soil, flora and fauna, a big job ahead of us. And so maybe if we just focus down on one little area, I think in Australia, it’s becoming really clear that deforestation is a huge issue. Before we started, you mentioned deforestation free beef, as a campaign you’re working on, maybe you could talk us through that.
I was hoping you’d mentioned deforestation actually. So let’s talk measurement of deforestation for a moment. About three weeks ago, WWF, Australia launched what’s called a tree scorecard. It’s Australia’s first tree scorecard. Every Australian now can head to the website, they can pull up that scorecard. And they can actually get a very clear indication of how this respective state or territory is faring when it comes to protecting trees that are standing and restoring landscapes. You would think that data wouldn’t be too hard to get really, when the team came up with the idea and said, wouldn’t it be great to rank the best date down to the worst state so that those in the worst state can put pressure politically and say, come on, I want our government to do better. Why are we the worst in the country at protecting our trees?
It took us 18 solid months with more than two people full time pretty much to pull that data together. Because we don’t have good measurement at the moment. We don’t have good data sets. The state that measures deforestation from a whole of states that have land clearing point of view best is Queensland, they have what’s called a ‘slats system’, and they release the data transparently every year. The next best is New South Wales, but they don’t release the data transparently. The rest don’t have it.
Federally, the annual data set that was coming out was lower than the whole entire of slats data set from Queensland. So you’ve got yourself a problem nationally around measurement. So we won’t talk about measurement, we’ve got to invest in it, you know. We could have a national slats system. I was up in Parliament House just three weeks ago talking about this to a number of political leaders from all different political parties. And the argument is, aw yeah it costs a bit. I mean, some of the estimates of $20 million a year, it’s small biccies really to get good data that could really drive a lot of transparency into this system.
But to get to deforestation more broadly. Many know, Australia is a deforestation hotspot globally, that means we’re outstripping that the landscapes that we clear that have well and truly more than we’re replenishing. And we’re doing that at a rate that’s been considered alarming and amongst the worst in the world. From a developed nation point of view, we are the worst in the world at land clearing, so we’re cutting down our trees faster than any other developed nation. So that warrants pause for concern. When you say why and where it’s worst across eastern Australia, Queensland and New South Wales now. So I mentioned those two states have got some decent data systems now, but that’s only in recent years and we’re yet to really see that data drive the type of progress we’re going to need to see between now and 2030. But why Queensland and New South Wales there’s a number of reasons but largely production of beef is the single largest driver of land clearing in Australia.
So when we talk about a regenerative economy point of view what I like about this particular problem, it’s a wicked problem. But it’s not, doesn’t have to be a good versus bad, you can produce beef in a way that does not perpetuate land clearing, you can produce deforestation free beef, there are a number of pastoralists out there that are doing it, because they don’t want to be part of this crisis. The challenge is at the moment, the market doesn’t incentivize it and doesn’t reward it. And so there lies you know, an opportunity for Australia, if we want to really pick a commodity to really lean into and solve upfront beef is there for the taking, there’s going to be a number of reasons to do this one, you will not recover the koala in Australia, and turn things around for the quality that was recently listed as endangered, endangered across eastern Australia. If you don’t shift towards the deforestation free beef industry in Australia, it’s just not possible. When you look at the data. One of the key drivers of habitat destruction for the coiler is beef production. But so few Australians know about that. And you and I, at the moment can’t go to the supermarket, and feel empowered as consumers to do much about that there’s no koala friendly beef on the market yet. This is where government can step in and provide those sort of mechanisms to incentivize. And it’s where civil society has a role to play WWF putting out that scorecard, me talking about this right now. We are working with industry at WWF we meet we work with Meat and Livestock Australia, we work with a number of industry partners to try to define what deforestation free beef could look like and get an agreed definition. But we need to catalyse progress in this area, progress is slow. And we’re going to need to look at some levers to really move beef into that regenerative economy pathway before we lose too much more.
And what an opportunity for investors. Right? Yeah, they’ve gotten very good at having negative screens for armaments and tobacco and, and having a carbon footprint across supply chains. But now if you invest in, in food, if you invest in agriculture, what, what’s the deforestation footprint of that right, looking into some metrics and taking that, I guess, as a theme as part of your theory of change.
And I wonder, you’ve, as you said, you put the suit on, you get into the boardroom, if you’re trying to drive solutions, obviously, you look across the spectrum of all of the potential sort of touch points. But is there anything in particular that you see investors approaches that that they might get wrong? Or myths or perspectives you wish they would shift that could make a lot of difference?
certainly interesting. One, I think there’s two things that spring to mind.
One is there is this is tension coming around climate and biodiversity at the moment, we’re finally seeing this awakening globally. It’s not just in Australia, it’s globally that we need to tackle climate change yesterday, but today, we’ll have to do. And so there are an enormous number of investors at the moment that reach out to WWF and ask for advice around the investment from a climate lens. And but when I do have discussions about, you know, some of the wins around that climate nature Nexus, it’s almost ,Oh, it’s too hard. Like, you know, we’re just gonna start with climate. First, let’s get climate. Well, now, we don’t have time to just tackle the climate crisis. And one of my concerns is, as investors, if we’re just looking from a climate lens, we’re missing an opportunity to get duality of impact of every dollar that we invest. And not all climate action initiatives are good for biodiversity, building renewables right on top of ecological communities that may be threatened, not great. You would think that that would be a rare case study, more and more, they’re being brought to our attention. So let’s get the investments around renewables happening from a fast, just and best lens.
And when I say best bring nature considerations into that lens, if we’re having to threaten an ecological community, or push a species closer to extinction, to get that climate action. It’s not a good investment. And sometimes you’ve got to dig a little bit deeper. I remember no, I’m not gonna mention who aware but I remember looking at an initiative that was exploring an alternative to single use plastics. And this investor wanted me to take a look through the site and was very sort of proud of this investment. But when I dug deeper, you know, the idea was that this investment was using food scraps and food waste. But when there’s not enough food scraps and food waste, that we’re using organic materials that were coming out of native timber harvesting, to be honest, and if you start to think about when you scale that particular initiative up large scale, we’ve probably robbed Peter to pay Paul, because we want to make sure we’ve really got enough food waste and the systems in place to get the food waste to where it needs to get to before you’ve got these hungry machines that are going to need, basically trees to fuel them. So we’ve just got to keep thinking about the real wind wind and not the swapping out of one issue and then fueling the next one. Yeah. That’s right.
John Treadgold 25:15
And this, this nexus of climate change, and biodiversity is so interesting. And the view or the thing that pops up is people saying, Oh, this is just the next thing, right? We’ve done climate change. Now we’re doing biodiversity. It’s an add on to ESG. But I wonder, what’s your perspective, a bit more foundationally? Because to my mind, I mean, biodiversity nature that everything like that sits above it all. And I think this this, this really wicked problem, which is this positive feedback loop. If you lose more biodiversity, climate change gets worse, but at the same time, improving biodiversity, you can help reduce climate change, sequestration, all of these sorts of things.
How do you see I mean, you’ve talked through a bit there with those interactions, but there’s there a more sort of high level like infographic,
We’ve over simplified the climate and biodiversity crisis, even by giving them separate names, we understand what we’ve had to do that. But the reality is, you’re absolutely right, there’s this feedback loop, and they feed one another. And so, I can’t tell you, John, the number of times I sit in a room or at a conference where someone’s saying, It’s okay, technology, there’s a lot of investment in technology, we’re going to find this technological solution that will sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and we’ll be able to scale that out. And I know I’m not the only person that when you hear that thinks, well, we’ve got trees, right. They’re pretty amazing innovation, they sequester carbon, they can be scaled, because you can plant more. But for some reason, we’ve we’re putting our hopes on tech as an answer, whilst we’re clearing more trees than any other developed nation in the world. But if we recognise that Biodiversity Action, investing in nature, is not just a nature based action, it’s a climate action, we can create these carbon sinks, and help protect threatened species.
From a visualisation point of view, NASA released this really fantastic graphic recently around the world of sort of, you can imagine the globe with these red marks and these green marks and these orange marks. And the red is basically where you’ve just got emissions soaring, the green is where you’re actually drawing down more than you’re releasing, and the orange is that of going in between Australia has the potential to be this amazing Green Zone on that map, we’re a biodiverse nation, we’ve got these incredible wild places that we could protect and stop decimating. And actually, we could shift from being a deforestation nation to a reforestation nation, and really make that part of our national identity and make that a huge part of working towards our emission reduction, we have to make sure that we recognise and value the solutions that are in front of us. And at the moment, we tend to be putting a lot of stock and heart in tech based solutions for the climate crisis whilst over here, we’re just distructing our landscapes and cutting down these trees that sequester carbon.
Yeah, there’s no way to get away from that complexity. That’s interesting. Yeah, I often, my focus often on the language on the communication side of it. And that’s interesting that, that that effort to simplify it to try and put it in an infographic does it a disservice that we need to lean into the fact that this is a complex adaptive system. This is an ecosystem and everything interacts with everything else.
It’s interesting. You know, when I was in parliament house a few weeks ago, one of our political leaders said to me, you know, Rachel, very few people argue anymore that the last federal election was a climate election. We had a climate election, you know, Australians spoke, but I think we’ve over simplified it up here on the hill at Parliament House. I think Australians when they voted for what they were voting for the environment, you know, mainstream Australians, you know, the quiet Australians, whatever you want to call that have mums and dads and those people out there going to work and not thinking about this every day and trusting that our government is doing the right thing. When they vote for climate, they think they’re voting for the environment as well, for our wildlife and our wild places.
But our politicians have taken it very literally. And so you’ve got these big investments. You look at the last federal budget, it was very strong on climate investment, but nature biodiversity, you know, Minister Plibersek’s, portfolio, far, far too low. And so yeah, we have over simplified it that there’s no doubt about that. Equally, there’s some big wins for investors because the writing’s on the wall for native timber harvesting. For example, you’ve just seen Victoria make a commitment to withdraw. We’ve just had Western Australia withdraw the carbon market now he’s going to start strengthening the case. We’re going to need start investing in r&d and innovation around alternative wood products. We’ve got to look at the whole economic paradigm of native timber harvesting. It’s not the smartest, most lean economic system we’ve got out there. And so there is this this wide open space for people to come in and start investing in solutions right now because that transition is inevitable. That’s just another one like deforestation free beef. That’s a matter of time. Our job is to catalyse it.
Yeah, well, I’d love to deep a little bit deeper into that, if possible. Let’s always look at I mean, risks are an important factor. But let’s look at the opportunities. And what are the investable opportunities here? Are there any key categories that you think are worth raising?
I think regenerate regenerative agriculture is one that we’re going to be hearing more and more about. And we’re going to see a big mass movement behind globally. And I just hope Australia starts to incentivize and push early and don’t come in as lagger. Because there’s some movement here in Australia. But when you look at the Global Biodiversity Framework that Australia signed on to last December, there is strong acknowledgement that we need to look at food security and our food systems because our food systems are big drivers of that extractive depleted paradigm that we’ve been talking about. But doesn’t need to be that way we can start investing in the regenerative solutions. And I’m talking everything from sustainable seafood. I mean, WWF has has had our first impact investment and as a charity, we spun off an idea and have invited people in to invest in open SC which is about trying to bring traceability into a system to try to create change. But I’d be looking at food commodities, there’s going to be a lot of movement in that space, if we’re going to meet our 2030 development goals. And government’s going to have to start incentivizing and legislating change if we’re going to get anywhere close to them.
Yeah, regenerative agriculture is amazing term. Again, looking at the language, I think it’s really powerful. And I think we all know, the value of going to the farmers market, small scale, organically grown, but likely expensive, and likely a premium product. But then how then do we shift from these immense monocultures that are feeding the world making food affordable, that has a social impact benefit to scale regenerative agriculture, I’m so intrigued by it. There’s lots of groups, standalone investment, investors popping up mechanisation of processes.
And have a look in the States, you know, some of the investors in alternative proteins, big major investors that have come out of the sort of meat industry, they see the writing on the wall and putting their money where their mouth is now and starting to look at that sort of next wave. It’s really, it’s fascinating. That’s going to be not one magic bullet solution, the hunger for the solutions is going to continue to grow. There’s no doubt about it. Same as alternative wood solutions. Interestingly, we’ve got to keep an eye on other levers like the EU, or front runners here. And they’ve just started to announce they’re not going to allow any deforestation sort of commodities that are produced in deforestation hotspots, of which Australia is one to be imported for sale in the EU. So there are other levers that are going to start to create change as well. I think it will be very challenging for beef to be sold into the EU in a matter of years. The way we’re producing it now.
Which is so interesting, isn’t it? I think of the detractors, call them climate deniers, but those that argue that all of the climate scientists are wrong. They’re doomsayers look at what happened when they said how long it was ago, 100 years ago, they said, We’re going to run out of food because we simply can’t grow enough food for the population. But then the synthetic nitrogen fertiliser popped up, and suddenly, we can feed the masses. And to me that keeps coming to mind because suddenly, if we look at take the biodiversity lens, overuse of nitrogen is having a huge problem with the ecosystem polluting fresh waterways, that’s part of regenerative agricultural revolution, is to work out ways to alternative fertilisers that don’t have these negative externalities, to me that, you know, a good example of not taking that simplistic route growth at all costs. We look at the benefits of using oil burning petrol, amazing for growth, but the negative externalities and facts into that. And often when we talk about the benefits, that’s not brought in.
One of the criticisms I receive probably the most, and I think probably most civil society reps do if you’re oversimplifying things, it’s not that easy. You’re being an idealist. The real world looks like x or y. And I’m sympathetic to that feedback, because we’re talking about really complex problems. And quite often we don’t have all the solutions. Now I’ve talked about De-free-beef here. I really don’t think that one is rocket science, to be honest, it can be done. There are people out there doing it, we need to incentivize the market, but in some cases, it’s just not not that simple. And I think this is where we need to hold the mirror up and speak to investors directly. And so you know, it actually will never get more simple. Unless we first of all recognise the problem. And secondly, recognise the fact that there are solutions out there we fly man to the moon, we’ve invented Wi Fi in Australia, we’ve invented eftpos, we invented the solar cell, we can do it. But we’ve got to actually want to, we’ve got to align our values and our ideology behind wanting to find those solutions together, and investing in the r&d to get us there, it probably won’t happen accidentally or organically, and we don’t have time for it to happen accidentally or organically now. So if there are investors listening to this going, Oh, I just think it’s all a bit too simplified, you know, wicked problems, the solutions are probably going to be complex as well. But we have to start somewhere. And I think that we, we really need to start holding financial services sector more to account, you know, where we’re learning and investing our funds and the flow of funds. That is a powerful sector, that can really start rewarding those that are truly trying to back regenerative economy, nature positive enterprises, will start to see an end and stop whining funds to the extractive depleted, we’re going to see that shift happening more and more, you know.
Europe’s moving there. Absolutely. I sort of got my counterparts in. In Europe, Norway, for example, reaching out often saying, you know, you’re starting to see this in Australia, we are on a smaller scale. But again, there’ll be other levers coming our way that will help shift this along, like potentially the mandatory disclosures and impacts around biodiversity. That will be another thing that will help us sort of shift into that solution focus mode. But there’s a reward for business that do it first and earlier. And there are a lot of businesses working that out when I was in Montreal, helping lead the team Australia for civil society input into the negotiations. In Montreal last December, the number of business representative at bio COP in Montreal was 10 times more than the prior two years. It was huge. And it’s because businesses are recognising the opportunity of being front runners here at finding those solutions first, aligning their brand to them and getting reward for it before it’s mandated and there’s regulation that for enforces it. So yeah, plenty of opportunity there. But it does start with wanting to.
Huh, well, look, I could talk about that all day. But let’s dig into the Global Biodiversity Framework finalised in Montreal, the many decades it took to get to the Paris agreement in terms of climate change. The biodiversity approach has been far quicker, we’ve now got this big hairy goal 30 by 30, protecting 30% of land by 2030. As you say, you were there, and big business representation. Can you tell us a bit more about what goes on at these events?
Yeah, well, the aim of COP 15, as you mentioned, was to get that Paris Agreement for nature, and in a lot of ways we did because the 1.5 degree equivalent for nature, was the agreement with 196 signatories to halt and reverse the decline of nature by 2030. So when you look at it that way, the halt and reverse the decline of nature frame, leads us towards a nature positive agenda. And there was a lot of debate about whether or not just halting is enough, because right now we’re not even close to halting. Let’s be honest, globally, we just look at the number of threatened species that join the red list every year versus those that come off, you look at the deforestation rates, it’s alarming.
The reason halt and reverse the decline got through is because there was recognition that that invisible debt has grown too large, if we will just halt now, we’re going to do a disservice to future generations. And so we need to move into repair and regeneration mode.
So that was a big, great outcome in its own right, that meta frame. But at the end of the day, it’s just words unless you start to see action fall behind it. So there are a few more iconic wins. You mentioned 30 by 30. Yep, they’re the commitment to protect 30% of landscapes seascapes and freshwater which was a late inclusion and a good win in the negotiations. So Australia has got some work to do there. It’s not just about picking any patch of sea or any patch of land and saying, all right, you’re protected. We need to protect representation of ecological communities, we need to make sure that a fair share of grasslands are in there. And it’s not all forests, for example, that you know, we’re really smart about what we’re protecting, and we’re not sort of throwing low economic value patches of landscape into our protected areas that no one wanted anyway, that there’s no threatened species on so there’s hard work to do there because that’s going to require a lot of work. A lot of engagement with private landowners as well. And it’s gonna require incentivized funding to actually access landscapes to get that representation. Right. I think we will achieve a lot of it through Indigenous Protected areas as well. But there’s a lot of work to be done. And at the moment, no funding committed to achieving that particular goal.
Gosh, let’s expand a little bit. Let’s look beyond our jobs beyond WWF. I mean, good future podcast is all about the investment approach to solving these problems. But I think the core of that is a mindset change. You can’t change the world unless you change yourself. And so how what’s your journey been to I guess in some ways, it’s it’s an environmentalist approach somewhat spiritual, the barriers and our breaking down with our Euro green you’re you’re an environmentalist, I think everyone’s an environmentalist, because we all breathe fresh air. Some are just ignoring the reality and thinking short term. So yeah. Have you been on a journey? Do you feel that linkage to the Earth is being embodied and embraced more? What’s your view there?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve definitely evolving as we all are, I came into this sector, I opened a door that many open when they get into it, which is I love animals. You know, I was that kid that was out sort of climbing trees to check what was in the nest and chasing frogs. And I would love to get it, whether it’s domestic or wild animals, I just loved animals. And I grew up thinking I was going to be a vet, to be honest. And then suddenly, at University discovered this whole world of zoology, which no career counsellor had ever told me about, and suddenly thought, oh, my gosh, I mean, I can make a living from protecting wildlife and wild places like that feels to me like it speaks. It speaks to my passions. But then, you know, I entered the conservation sector more from a, I think people just need to be aware of the problems I went did an education degree, how do I educate people? How do I communicate about this. And then I realised after spending a lot of time in zoos, working to zoos, or running education programmes, a lot of people can know about the problem and still not do anything different. They go back home, life gets busy, they put on the TV, or they jump on and do emails, and they still go on buy, the same products that are driving the extractive deplete IV are pushing threatened species towards extinction. And even people that care couldn’t still do that, because sometimes convenience wins.
And so that sort of led me more towards WWF theory of change, which is around finding the solutions, not just raising awareness of the problem. But finding solutions. We need all types across civil society. And I sort of greatly admire those that scale the wall and strap themselves to the trees and raise awareness of the issue and to fight the bad stuff. But I’m certainly in my own evolution, been drawn towards backing and advocating the solutions, and the best one we’ve got available, while still trying to find the next best one.
And I think partly, I’ve come there because I’m the daughter of a farmer, my brother is a butcher, my dad grazes cattle. I’m really mindful that when we talk about something being bad, and we say, end it Stop it, we’re probably advocating for my family to be out of work. And I’m not okay with that. Whereas solution focused advocacy and influence is about creating more jobs. It’s about creating a better way. It’s not about just stopping the bad, it’s about bringing in the new it’s about bringing in the regenerative, it’s about finding ways forward that benefit communities that benefit nature that benefit climate. So that sits well with me. But it’s not easy.
I look, thank you for sharing that. No, I think that and that was great to give people you know, some of your background and understand where you’ve, you’ve come from, I think that that really helps people who are starting their journey or on their journey or, you know, it’s so easy to lose momentum. We need to remain optimistic. There’s plenty of reasons to be pessimistic, but that’s not going to get us anywhere. Practical takeaways. WWF is excellent at that can jump on the website. There’s endless reports to read and lots of campaigns that they can become involved in. But in that day to day, what would be one takeaway that you’d like to leave people with that change they can make?
I’m going to squeeze in two, so I work in civil society and I have for the last five years, your charities are really important. They provide this unbiased voice. None of us are invested in any one particular industry. It’s science based. It’s shining the spotlight on areas that need change, find a charity and support them, because you can’t do the good work that WWF leads or that any charity leads without people being generous and backing a charity that aligns with their values. The more we vet them, the better they get at We can hire more capabilities, etc. So that’s one.
The second one would be to say: we’re all consumers. And while we’re waiting for government to incentivize and get the right legislation and everything else in we incentivize markets every day. So where we invest, whether it’s our actual investment portfolio, or whether we put our coin, where we put at the supermarket, pick just one food commodity. I know how busy we all are. I’m a full time working mom, I get it. Pick one, whether it’s beef, whether it’s cotton, whether it’s your seafood, start somewhere, do the research and back in the enterprise, the business is trying to do the best reward them, just start there. And once you’ve gotten that research done, and you’re comfortable, and you’re happy with that product, take on the next commodity. If we all did that, we’d be driving, I think this regenerative economy harder and faster.
Oh, great, perfect. That’s what good heat is all about. And look to wrap up. Everybody would love to know, a book recommendation in within the industry, or perhaps just what’s on the bedside table.
I’m going to recommend Naomi Klein, what was it called? I’ve just finished it recently, on fire on fire, the case for Green Deal. It’s a hard read. It’s grounded by a lot of science. But it really articulates the urgency. And if I can convey one message, it’s that we don’t have another decade to tinker around and get this right. When I was reading, that’s what was drove home to me when I actually had to take some breaks from the book. As a mom with two young kids, I kept finding the you know that eco phobia, that moment of despair. It’s heavy going, but everyone should read it. Because the urgency is conveyed really well. And the idea about this green New Deal, we can do things differently. We’ve got to want to.
Excellent now look, Naomi Klein is she’s been at it for a long time, her book, no logo. From long time ago, I was in an idealistic, you know, 20 something at university when I read no logo, and it was all about sweatshops. And that book pretty much single handedly identified Nike as using sweatshops. And what’s interesting is that Nike sort of bore the brunt of that. But they made such big changes that now they’re actually the leader. And another branding issue is that Nike doesn’t really lead with this clean, green sustainable perspective.
And I wonder if that’s because they’ve got that background to lead to lead with that would rehash. And so they’ve possibly decided to do the work behind the scenes and get out there and let that tick, work harder for them and have that as a fallback if their needs are in really interesting. I haven’t read that. But I’ll pick it up. But she’s got a journalist background, so she knows how to do her research. She knows how to take complex information and make it palatable. Yeah,
That’s right. She works hard. Rachel, this is excellent. Thank you for everything you’ve shared today. You know, this is part of a broader series covering the spectrum of, of natural capital and biodiversity from that investor perspective. And I think this is a this is an amazing starting point for everybody to get a feel for, I guess, the gravity of the crisis, but also the fact that there’s plenty of opportunities and we can all get involved. So thank you.
Thanks, John. I really appreciate it. Look forward to hearing the other series. There’s lots of great work out there, we’ve just got to back them in and join them.