July, 2021

Nature Tech ‘isn’t something we could do a few years ago’

By Lucy Almond, Director and Chair

Earlier this year, we shared 5 reasons you should be on the lookout for Nature Tech this year. We gave an early definition of Nature Tech as “high-tech applications that enable, accelerate and scale-up nature-based solutions (NbS).”

Since then, we’ve been busy. Over the past few months, we have learned a huge deal about how technology can unlock the potential of NbS.

Here’s what we’ve been up to.

 

First, we wanted to test the concept of Nature Tech with a broad range of stakeholders. Over the course of four weeks, N4C facilitated a series of design sprints aimed at co-creating a collaborative global workstream to explore how technology can help solve some of the biggest nature and climate challenges.

We were overwhelmed by the response; it was immediately clear that there is a significant appetite for Nature Tech. We had over 80 participants join six 90-minute sprints looking at how to accelerate Nature Tech start-ups, cultivate corporate engagement, grow the investment landscape, and build a movement around Nature Tech.

The sprints convened cross-sector, transdisciplinary networks in a creative and facilitated virtual meetings to generate a range of ideas for further development. The process has generated a venture studio for Nature Tech, with five concepts being taken forward to the design stage. In the next phase, we will appoint a team around each concept to engage key partners, test core assumptions, and build working prototypes.

Looking ahead, N4C is planning to put on a Nature Tech expo at the UN Climate meeting in Glasgow (COP26.) The intention is to create a space offering a journey surrounding the technology needed to unlock NbS through engaging and immersive activities, including virtual reality.

If you would like to get involved in the next stages of the process, please join the Nature Tech Nexus group on LinkedIn.

Second, we’ve brought Nature Tech into the spotlight. N4C partnered with the CogX Live Festival this year to explore how science and technology can play a role in accelerating the deployment of NbS and bring further investment into the sector.

In early June, a full afternoon of programming explored how technology can help us address three of the biggest challenges we face: firstly, how we can stop and reverse the biodiversity crisis; secondly, how can we transform our food systems, and thirdly, how can we scale up nature’s role as a climate solution.

These are some of the key takeaways:

  • “Creating a sustainable food system requires business models that allow for communities to actually use them. We need to facilitate the accessibility of technology to young farmers, bringing them in early on to help shape the process.”
         Isaac Aboah, Co-Founder and CEO, AgriLab
  • “Biodiversity is incredibly complex, so data and measurement are critical to unlocking its value. If we want to integrate nature into global financial models and systems then we have to be able to measure and monitor what we have, what we’re losing and what we’re gaining.”
         Dr Kat Bruce, CEO of Nature Metrics
  • “Technology can be very good news when it is deployed for the common good, but without the right institutions in place, technology will be developed in a way that is rapacious. Nature has evolved over 4 billion years and we must create institutions that can govern our use of nature.”
        Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, author of the UK government’s Dasgupta Review on the economics of biodiversity
  • “I’m very excited about the potential to connect companies who want to invest in nature as part of their net-zero plans with organisations around the world who are doing conservation at scale – and ensuring that there is trust between these parties by using technology to verify these efforts. This is something we couldn’t do a few years ago – and hopefully it will drive hundreds of billions of dollars into nature-based solutions – for communities, carbon and biodiversity.”
        Diego Saez-Gil, Co-founder & CEO of Pachama
  • “We know at Amazon that we need to focus first and foremost on reducing our operational emissions; that’s the most important thing we can do. But science tells us that that’s not going to be enough. Of course, aggressive decarbonization of major emitting sectors is a critical thing; but businesses have an opportunity to step outside our own walls, and nature-based solutions can create real and lasting emissions reductions while also enhancing communities and wildlife. What makes me hopeful for the future is that I now see people tackling the core question of how we can do both, i.e. rapidly decarbonize AND invest in nature.”
        Kara Hurst, Head of worldwide sustainability at Amazon

Finally, there are many specific, uncontroversial actions within the broad range of natural climate solutions (NCS) that are largely endorsed by the climate and environmental communities, such as eliminating deforestation from supply chains, or reforming harmful land-use subsidies.

However, it’s also clear that there is a critical need to increase awareness and build trust in NCS, with honest reflection of their limitations, to encourage best practices and to more clearly distinguish good from bad, while also helping to steer the narrative beyond the current perception of limitations. Nature Tech has an important role to play here. For example, monitoring and verification is being assisted by leaps in machine learning and earth observation capabilities that were unimaginable even 10 years ago. This is merely one way that technology can build trust and confidence that NCS are delivering real impact.

As the ambition for environmental innovation continues to grow, N4C will keep exploring ways of facilitating a global movement around technology for unlocking the potential of nature-based solutions.

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