Nature and Biodiversity

How innovation can save the world’s remaining biodiversity

Reversing biodiversity loss requires innovative solutions.

Reversing biodiversity loss requires innovative solutions. Image: Pexels

John Dutton
Head, Uplink; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
Allison Voss
Innovation Ecosystem Lead – Nature, World Economic Forum
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Climate and Nature

  • Biodiversity loss is happening at an alarming rate around the world, with profound implications for the survival of all life on Earth.
  • Innovative solutions are helping to tackle biodiversity decline, but many more are needed, alongside the support and financing that will help them to scale.
  • A new UpLink innovation challenge calling for solutions that promote the conservation, protection, and restoration of biodiversity will launch this week.

The concept of biodiversity may be broad and complex, encompassing all life-forms on our planet and the finely-tuned ecosystems they inhabit. But beneath this complexity lies a simple, stark reality: without this biodiversity, humanity is in deep, deep trouble.

From the food we eat to the air we breathe, biodiversity nurtures all the processes needed for us to sustain healthy, happy lives. Take, for instance, pollinators – birds, bees, and various insects – which contribute to a staggering one-third of global crop production. Coral reefs and mangroves, meanwhile, serve as natural shields protecting coastal regions from the wrath of violent storms.

And yet, global biodiversity loss is occurring at an unprecedented rate, with profound implications for every single human on Earth.

Positive tailwinds for biodiversity

Research from the World Economic Forum shows that $44 trillion of economic value generation – over half the world’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services. However, this vital natural capital, the lifeblood of the global economy, is under severe threat of degradation and eventual exhaustion, with almost 70% of the world’s biodiversity lost in the past five decades and one million species on the brink of extinction.

Meanwhile, the funding necessary to curb biodiversity loss and facilitate the shift towards sustainable methods of production and consumption, pivotal for the restoration and revitalization of nature, currently falls short by an alarming $700 billion per year.

But there is hope that irreversible, catastrophic biodiversity loss can be avoided. There is potential for a “win-win-win” for nature, people and the economy and (in some quarters at least) indicators show that we are heading in the right direction.

Have you read?

For starters, we are seeing action being taken at the policy level. In England, for example, new laws have been introduced which will force builders to contribute to positive improvements in natural ecosystems for new projects undertaken.

The European Union’s Nature Restoration Law, meanwhile, has set a target for the EU to restore at least 20% of its land and sea areas by 2030, with a commitment to restoring all ecosystems in need by 2050.

There are biodiversity champions in the private sector, too. Recognizing the value of nature, over 300 companies have embraced the Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) recommendations, integrating nature-centric disclosure into their corporate reporting.

Biodiversity-focused innovators taking root

However, reversing biodiversity loss and safeguarding our planet’s future will require more than just political will and corporate commitments. It will also take a momentous shift in our approach to innovation.

By harnessing the power of technology and collaboration, innovative solutions are being developed to address the root causes of biodiversity decline. From new ways to measure and monitor biodiversity to solutions that strengthen local value chains, innovation offers a pathway towards creating a more resilient and biodiverse world.

Innovations like NatureMetrics, a UK-based start-up that uses cutting-edge genetic techniques to monitor and report on biodiversity. NatureMetrics collects and analyzes “environmental DNA”, traces of DNA that organisms leave as they move through the environment. The company then feeds this data into interactive maps, charts and dashboards for businesses, governments and NGOs around the world so they can reliably measure and track investments in biodiversity.

Another purpose-driven start-up that is using new ways of monitoring biodiversity is Boomitra, a US-company that uses artificial intelligence and remote sensing to report and verify carbon content in soils. Boomitra works with farmers to adopt agricultural practices that accelerate carbon removal from their land, and quantifies the carbon captured to generate verified carbon credits which the start-up can sell to corporations and governments eager to meet their sustainability goals. The company currently manages over five million acres of land and was one of the recent recipients of the Earthshot Prize.

Elsewhere, other groups of innovators are helping companies understand the value of investing in the protection and restoration of nature. Terrasos, for example, is a Colombia-based start-up has been a pioneer in funding mechanisms like biodiversity credits and habitat banks, and partners with private landowners to conserve and restore land that has been damaged by activities like cattle, mining and agriculture.

Virridius Terra’s TreesofLife platform, meanwhile, uses biotechnology to restore highly-degraded land, lowering the cost of restoration, reforestation and nature-based carbon removal, while also generating returns for its customers.

Other entrepreneurs are bringing “positive disruption” to value chains and making a significant socio-economic impact. COOPAVAM is a smallholder farmer cooperative in Brazil that works closely with Indigenous collectors in the Amazon. The cooperative pays the collectors up to 80% more than commercial middlemen, while also providing equipment, training, technical support and advance payments to finance trips into the forest.

An emerging innovation ecosystem approach

All of these early-stage start-ups are UpLink Top Innovators, selected by the World Economic Forum’s open innovation platform and its partners to receive targeted support to scale their solutions. Top Innovators are proof that some of the promising solutions needed to halt biodiversity loss already exist – but we need more of them, at greater speed and scale, to reverse this accelerating trend.

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To quicken the pace of change, UpLink is building innovation ecosystems around these much-needed entrepreneurs. This week, UpLink’s latest Innovation Challenge—the Biodiversity Challenge—will be launched at the Villars Institute Summit, where over 70 innovators, investors, experts and partners from the UpLink community will gather for a high-impact programme aimed at advancing solutions to the biodiversity and climate crises.

Launched in partnership with 1t.org and Mercuria, the Biodiversity Challenge calls for innovative solutions that promote the conservation, protection, and restoration of biodiversity, while enabling the maintenance of services that are crucial for the health of terrestrial ecosystems.

Unlocking the full potential of innovation to reduce biodiversity loss will require collective action: from businesses who must integrate nature-centric practices into their operations and investors who can mobilize natural capital, to governments who should enact and enforce policies that prioritize biodiversity conservation.

The clock is ticking to save the world’s remaining biodiversity. But we are starting to see the making of a new story – one where innovators are charting a new path to a nature positive world. Let's not miss the boat.

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