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Climate change and natural capital investment

The IPCC report released this month makes for terrifying reading. It can no longer sensibly be argued that humans are not influencing the world’s climate and at a rate which spells impending catastrophe unless we take immediate action. Large areas of the world are highly likely to become uninhabitable by humans which means that mass migrations are inevitable. We watch in horror at the very recent events in Greece, United States, Canada, Bangladesh and Germany, as the manifestation of climate change starts to play out.

A population ecologist would no doubt signal that the massive pressures placed on the future global human population will result in large-scale population collapse but the journey to collapse will be extremely painful. Whilst natural climate change has happened in the past (though the last time global surface temperature was sustained at or above 2.5oC higher than the years 1850-1900 was over 3 million years ago), the role of humans in the current climate ‘event’ is obviously unprecedented, more acute and more rapid. Previous climate change events were unchallenged by a population of over 7 billion people.

Part of the immediate action that we have to take should be to invest heavily in creating future habitats at scale to restore substantial areas of land that have been severely impacted by intensive farming. This will lock up carbon, reduce air temperatures, create resilience to facilitate species movements, soak up water and prevent soil erosion. We have to change our farming methods, adopt innovation, change diets and stop subsidising nature-damaging activity. And corporate business will have to account for their impacts on natural capital and reduce those impacts substantially if they are to survive and remain investable entities.

In the face of the challenges ahead this might seem like ‘fiddling whilst Rome burns’. But if we generate a system whereby the massive investment needed into our natural environment can be established very quickly, alongside all the other measures we need such as an immediate global move away from fossil fuels, reducing travel, dietary change and dealing with rogue nations, we stand a chance of containing the worst impacts of climate change.

At the Environment Bank we are trying to do our bit. We have established an initial c.£200m fund to finance the creation of habitat banks in the UK to facilitate built development in its delivery of biodiversity net gain. We will also soon be providing a credit-based method for corporates to make accredited biodiversity, carbon and nutrient investments. And I’ve pledged to reduce my travel by 65% using the technology that has suddenly become a central part of our lives. In the scheme of things I know this is but a small start.

Professor David Hill CBE
August 2021