Nature and Biodiversity

5 ways nature tech can bring integrity and scale to nature-based solutions

Here's how nature-based solutions can be transformed through nature tech into solutions that are scalable, transparent and trustworthy.

Here's how nature-based solutions can be transformed through nature tech into solutions that are scalable, transparent and trustworthy. Image: Unsplash/Noah Buscher

Florian Reber
Head of Partnerships, Chloris Geospatial Inc.
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Climate and Nature

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  • Nature-based solutions, or NbS, particularly conservation and restoration of forests, are vital for tackling the climate and biodiversity crises.
  • NbS have risen sharply on the sustainability agenda of large corporations, but has also raised debate about their impact and integrity.
  • Here's how nature-based solutions can be transformed through nature tech into solutions that are scalable, transparent and trustworthy.

Nature-based solutions (NbS), specifically conservation and restoration of forests, are essential for tackling the climate and biodiversity crises – and nature tech will play a crucial role in enabling, scaling up and accelerating these solutions.

The scientific basis for the benefits of nature-based solutions is unequivocal: NbS have the potential to supply fully one third of the equivalent emission reductions and removals required for the global economy to be on-track by 2030 for achieving a net-zero carbon world by 2050.

And with 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity thriving in forests, the protection and restoration of forests is critical for realizing a nature-positive economy.

NbS have risen sharply on the sustainability agenda of large corporations – well beyond companies in the food, agriculture and land use sector that have been challenged with tackling deforestation for years. Nature tech can help facilitate them.

Nature tech could address rising corporate interest in NbS

The increased corporate interest in NbS is best illustrated with the unprecedented growth in the voluntary carbon markets. In just three years, the market has flipped from a seller to a buyers' market and has grown five-fold to reach a volume of $2 billion in 2021.

Forest carbon credits constitute by far the most sought-after type of carbon projects. According to research quoted by the Taskforce on Nature Market in September 2022, they are now worth US$1.3 billion annually – two thirds of the total carbon market value.

The growing interest in NbS and carbon markets has also brought back important and contentiously discussed questions about the climate impact and integrity of forest projects (in carbon markets lingo: their additionality, permanence and leakage).

In addition to these integrity questions, the still nascent carbon market is also challenged with a lack of business solutions to support the accelerated scale up and development of high-quality projects that is needed between now and 2030.

A pressing challenge for NbS today is therefore to transform them from a solution that is scientifically compelling and increasingly demanded, into one that is operational, scalable, cost-effective, transparent and trustworthy. This is where technology and new data solutions to support business workflows play a critical role.

Today, high-quality remote-sensing technologies – made possible thanks to significant advances in sensor technology, computational and data processing capacity, as well as machine-learning and artificial intelligence capabilities – have the potential to transform the development and monitoring of NbS, and unlock unprecedented transparency.

That said, the devil is in the details. Whether or not nature tech such as algorithmic remote-sensing solutions can deliver actual solutions to the challenges laid out above, hinges on their ability to deliver at least four critical functions:

1. Ability to measure changes in carbon stocks over time

The amount of carbon stored in forests is highly dynamic and impacted by a number of factors, including growth and re-growth of trees, deforestation and degradation.

To provide trustworthy data on the climate integrity of nature-based solutions, it is not enough to estimate carbon stocks at one point in time. Indeed, it is critical to account for all gains and losses and provide spatially explicit estimates of the carbon stored in trees and how it changes over time.

Today, many remote-sensing solutions deliver estimates on carbon stocks, but not on change due to growth and degradation. At Chloris Geospatial, we believe that doing both is an essential aspect of delivering high-quality insights on the integrity of NbS.

2. Scalability and consistency in space and time

Nature-based solutions are implemented around the globe, across vastly different geographies, climatic and ecological zones. They also vary in scale, some covering a few hundred hectares, others millions of hectares.

Despite those differences, it is imperative to ensure consistency of carbon estimates in space and time, with acceptable quantified uncertainties. This allows to confidently compare 1 ton of CO2e sequestered/lost in one place with a ton sequestered/lost in another place; today and in the past, no matter the size of the project.

Providing such consistency across space and time is a key challenge for the development of trustworthy and credible algorithmic remote-sensing solutions, and is where nature tech could play a vital role.

3. Cost-effective monitoring

Today, a large part of a project’s development budget is often spent on establishing biomass inventories and setting up monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) systems.

Albeit critical parts of credible projects, MRV should be as cost-effective as possible and ensure that as much capital as possible is spent on the actual conservation and restoration programs on the ground.

This is particularly relevant for larger projects, or complex settings with many small plots dispersed through a given landscape. Nature tech such as remote-sensing solutions should be designed and optimized to unlock that cost-effectiveness, if they are to support market scale up.

4. Robust, quality insights delivered at the speed of business

Today, it can take months of costly field work, often complemented with acquisition of expensive airborne-Lidar data, to establish the required quality biomass inventories for new projects. Rapid and consistent screening of project opportunities is challenging, too, and slows down the scaling up of the market.

At Chloris Geospatial, we firmly believe in the need to support the development of NbS projects with quality insights delivered fast and efficiently through the latest technology.

We have therefore developed a platform that delivers reliable and relevant insights on forest carbon stock and change for any area of interest, anywhere in the world within a matter of hours, not months.

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Ensure reliability of nature tech monitoring solutions

Last but not least: as algorithmic MRV solutions enter the sustainability mainstage, it is important to define processes for auditing the quality of the produced estimates. This could, for example, be led by an independent body that could administer a network of well-understood test beds.

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It could invite data providers to run their technology against these test beds, and then publish the results, or even request estimates to be within a certain accuracy threshold.

I am convinced that algorithmic solutions can help us tremendously on the way to reaching net-zero and nature-positive economies – not only with speed and scale, but also with quality and integrity.

It goes without saying that such nature tech-enabled solutions themselves need to be assessed against those criteria.

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Nature and BiodiversityClimate Action
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