Ensuring biodiversity credit integrity with Indigenous Peoples & navigating voluntary carbon market pitfalls

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Q&A with Drea Burbank is an MD-technologist and founder/CEO of Savimbo which sells fair-trade carbon credits. Drea lives in the Colombian Amazon. 


| How do biodiversity credits contribute to overall sustainability goals, and what makes them relevant in today’s environmental context?

Savimbo is a big fan of, and core contributor to, the Ecological Benefits Framework, which puts sustainability in terms of six outcomes: soil, air, water, biodiversity, carbon, and equity @Canyouchangethefuture.org. Biodiversity is a critical pillar of sustainability and stands on its own for corporate accounting, intersecting well with the other pillars.

| Can you outline the key challenges faced by biodiversity credit providers in the current market?

Biodiversity has the same challenges as any frontier market: buyers and sellers finding each other, standardization, fraud, etc. What is different about biodiversity is that it can borrow a lot of controls, processes, and protocols from the carbon commodities market, so it’s forming faster and more fluidly than a completely nascent market. Providers are really struggling to find friendly buyers, buyers who are willing to take a risk and move the market ahead. A lot of clients have dry powder (cash sitting in accounts dedicated to biodiversity they are not deploying due to fears of ridicule). They need to start deploying it in experimental test purchases to move the market along.

| How do you navigate challenges associated with quantifying and verifying biodiversity benefits?

We’re great at this. Honestly, Savimbo is really an outlier on quantification because we work with Indigenous leaders and use their protocols, and they have absolutely amazing, well-developed systems for monitoring biodiversity stocks using totemic animals. We took their protocols, backed them with Western science on Indicator species, and this has really clarified our part of the market, which is Indigenous-led biodiversity crediting.

 

 

| What opportunities do you see for businesses and organizations to engage with biodiversity credits as part of their sustainability strategies?

What’s not apparent to corporates right now is that while carbon sits on the “compliance” end of a corporate balance sheet, biodiversity sits on the “growth” end. There is also no need for (dangerous) projections because animals are impermanent. So you can make an outcomes-based credit that has good evidence and really clean up a lot of the problems corporates had with carbon, while giving them a great way to position themselves on the market AND attract customers. We highly recommend corporates add a small voluntary biodiversity credit portfolio to their current carbon accounting and diversify this portfolio.

 

One of the biggest reasons carbon credits failed was counterfactuals and projections. We have eliminated both from our biodiversity credits and pay results-based crediting only, with no counterfactual. This is better for buyers, and it is better for Indigenous sellers because its simple, tangible, and results driven. No scientific intermediaries with hard-to-understand calculations.

 

Taking Cercarbono’s voluntary biodiversity certification program as an example: their best public positioning is that they are stimulating the market with experimental test purchases. That way claims match market standardization and they are taking nature-positive action in a friendly way.

| How can biodiversity credits create economic incentives for conservation and sustainable land management?

Biodiversity credits can target the highest biodiversity areas, which are currently underprotected, according to this recent review published in Science. Our biodiversity credits, which are designed by local populations, are really well-suited for the problem of high biodiversity, low conservation funding, in remote and Indigenous areas.

| How do you navigate concerns regarding the associated risks, efficacy, and legitimacy of biodiversity credit projects?

Carefully! Global scientific markets for climate commodities credits are still really inflamed by carbon failures. One of the biggest reasons carbon credits failed was counterfactuals and projections. We have eliminated both from our biodiversity credits and pay results-based crediting only, with no counterfactual. This is better for buyers, and it is better for Indigenous sellers because it’s simple, tangible, and results-driven. No scientific intermediaries with hard-to-understand calculations.

| How do you measure and communicate the environmental impact of biodiversity credit projects?

One hectare is a preserved ecosystem for two months, where a preserved ecosystem is defined as “all ecological niches available to, and filled by, native species.” We use indicator species as proof that the ecosystem was preserved and tie each credit to video evidence. Our credits extend beyond environmental impact to social justice and climate equity, with clear data that locals were paid for and from their sale.

 

We use indicator species as proof that the ecosystem was preserved and tie each credit to video evidence. Our credits extend beyond environmental impact to social justice and climate equity, with clear data that locals were paid for and from their sale.

 

| How do you involve local communities in biodiversity credit projects, and what measures are taken to ensure positive social outcomes?

Well, Savimbo didn’t have to involve local communities because we were founded by, and for, locals. Our top priority is getting locals paid for their conservation work. We’re designed from the bottom up for that purpose: business structure, financial models, and certification are all locally designed and then translated to international markets.

| Where do you see the future of biodiversity credits heading, and what role do you envision them playing in broader sustainability efforts?

I really see biodiversity credits as something Indigenous groups can carry to the borders of their lands and exchange transparently for results-based conservation funding. This empowers them to conserve and manage their lands within their paradigms, but also gets them the funding they need to keep protecting their borders. Indigenous peoples conserve  30% of the intact planet and manage 80% of its biodiversity. But they get less than 2% of its climate funding, and they are constantly under threat from external extractive entities at all levels: local, illegal mining, multinational petroleum, and corrupt nation-states. We are very hopeful that corporates will become nature-positive by contributing to global biodiversity targets and buying from Indigenous peoples first.

| How does the current policy landscape impact the growth of biodiversity credit markets, and are there specific policy changes or improvements you believe would enhance the effectiveness of biodiversity credit programs?

It’s really a shame that more nation-states aren’t directing climate funding directly to Indigenous Peoples. We hope, and our attitude is, that this isn’t a barrier of interest; it’s a barrier of effective mechanisms. We’d like to see more impact funders making purchases based on MRV alone, which can transact faster and reduce the certification load and costs for small farmers and Indigenous projects. The biggest policy changes we need to see are more funding for land rights titling of Indigenous Peoples and small farmer populations who are often excluded from climate markets simply because they were already excluded from land rights.

If I saw one policy change globally that would significantly empower locals to conserve, it would be inclusion of “land tenancy” in biodiversity crediting. Too many populations manage and conserve rare animal populations without any access to funding for the service.

 

| brief bio

Drea Burbank is an MD-technologist and founder/CEO of Savimbo which sells fair-trade carbon credits. Drea lives in the Colombian Amazon. Her international team of 300+ delinquent savants hacks carbon markets to support jungle smallfarmers who conserve and reforest. She’s addicted to yoga, passionate about creation, and prone to profanity or poetry — sometimes both.

 

| about

Savimbo does fair-trade carbon credits. No middlemen. We pay smallfarmers in tropical forests to replant and conserve, then resell their service in the form of carbon credits. We’re a B-corp. Our nonprofit arm does land-rights, literacy, and living conditions.

 


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