Funding conservation and tackling poverty

| 3rd March 2020
Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. A new report proposes an innovative method for funding conservation and tackling poverty using Biocredits.

The key to success is also embedded in the urgency of the problem that we face in reversing the heavy set trend lines of biological destruction. 

World Wildlife Day is not necessarily a day for celebration given that biological diversity is in rapid decline. It can, however, be notable as a day in which we decide upon new meaningful action that takes a holistic approach to this enormous problem that is as much a threat to life on Earth as is climate change, or global pandemics.

Paul Steele, chief economist at the International Institute for Environmental Development’s (IIED), is a lead author of a new report titled 'Making The markets Work For Nature'.

Steele highlighted the link between the areas where conservation is being undertaken and those in poverty living close-by. In areas where animals are trying to be safeguarded against poachers, or their habitats protected from logging, or habitat destruction, working with local inhabitants can be a deciding factor in the success of the project.


For example, investing in efforts to include local people in the custodial effort of conservation and protection of species can prevent them being forced by short-term necessity to work with poachers or developers.

This new approach by Steele and his team at the IIED aims to create units of biodiversity, or Biocredits, that act as a regulated scheme to invest in, as well as track and monitor performance of conservation and social improvement work.

Local people involved in such schemes can be paid from the money raised by the biocrdit to meet their short-term needs. Future payments will then be dependent upon biodiversity performance improvements that have been verified. 

Other schemes for carbon offsetting such as REDD+ and payments for ecosystem services (PES), provide useful lessons as to how the bio credit might work in practice. 


Steele emphasises that this is not an offset. Offsetting with biodiversity can be very risky as those who are doing the offsetting maybe committing more destruction that the benefit they create through funding the biocredit. 

Those purchasing biocredits may include industries or entities who have a large impact on biodiversity, such as the tourism industry, where there are commitments to create sustainable travel. Governments and philanthropists are also likely purchasers of biocredits.

The idea of creating assets based on natural capital still raises controversy. One of the main arguments for moving in the direction of creating these assets is that without them we will not ever be able to account properly for the destruction that natural systems have to endure. 

In the case of this proposal, creating a monetary value in the biocredit that accounts for both human-social and biodiversity components, is strengthened by monitoring and verifying the outputs, and a secure link to ongoing funding.


The key to success is also embedded in the urgency of the problem that we face in reversing the heavy set trend lines of biological destruction. 

For decades conservation organisations have fought hard to raise money for complex projects that include a diverse range of stakeholders. These may include poor local people, government officials who may have conflicts of interest, rare and unpredictable animal species, and those who profit from the destruction of biological diversity.

Providing such a pathway for large organisations, governments, NGO’s and philanthropists to help protect and restore biodiversity must be explored at scale if we are to move beyond rhetoric and address global social equity issues coupled with environmental challenges.

Download the IIED report here.

This Author

Nick Breeze is a climate change journalist & interviewer, an organiser of The Cambridge Climate Lecture Series, as well as writing on and - follow on Twitter at @NickGBreeze.

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