Nature Tech in Action at NY Climate Week: Innovation, collaboration and emerging trends
Photos: Basil Childers/Better Worlds
Last week, Nature4Climate and MRV Collective hosted an event at New York Climate Week. The event drew a crowd of investors and climate professionals to the Nature Positive Hub, as nine speakers shared examples of nature tech in action.
Lucy Almond, Chair of Nature4Climate, welcomed attendees with an overview. She clarified the event’s definition of nature tech: technologies addressing severe environmental challenges, such as climate change and species loss, as well as those accelerating nature-based climate solutions. However, this definition is not fixed and could expand and broaden to cover any technology that is ‘good’ for nature, including clean tech and food production tech.
With an eye to the future, Lucy highlighted an upcoming nature tech report, co-authored by Nature4Climate, the MRV Collective and Serena. To be released at Greenbiz’s Bloom at the end of October, this third report will look at the size of the market, categorise investment stages and present expert contributor’s opinion on nature tech’s emerging trends.
Lucy previewed the five topline trends to be shared in the report:
- As an incoming wave of disclosure regulation begins to arrive – for example the much-anticipated recommendations from TNFD (Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure) – nature tech can support a rising need for value chain transparency and monitoring.
- Relatedly, we are likely to see a growing demand for nature tech driven by a shift to nature-positive strategies in the corporate and finance sector.
- Advances in MRV (monitoring, reporting and verification) are likely to provide great support to nature-based projects globally.
- We are seeing innovations from the Global South that actively respond and cater to the needs of local smallholders.
- Finally, unsurprisingly the food and agricultural sector is receiving by far the largest proportion of funding in this market.
These trends were brought to life by each of the nine speakers during the presentations and Q&A.
The session was moderated by Shyla Raghav, co-founder of TIME CO2. She addressed our current tendency to divide nature and tech into separate camps. Yet Shyla observed that we are entering a space where the two can be combined. Faced with dwindling opportunities to prevent irreversible climate and biodiversity breakdown, we must ask: “How can different stakeholders support each other?”
With several of the event’s speakers already working together, collaboration is clearly underway. Thomas Elliott of Restor works with NatureMetrics, Rainforest Connection and Terraformation to produce a freely available mapping resource for conservation and restoration projects. Via Restor’s map, potential funders can quickly connect with project developers and view easily accessible, transparent data.
Jonathon Kim of Terraformation began with a question: “What do investors think MRV is?” He quickly corrected any misconceptions that MRV is simply a check box exercise, emphasising the importance of impact metrics.
Marion Verles of SustainCerts shared how MRV can increase the speed and accuracy with which carbon credits are verified and reported. This makes the work of the project developers more credible because, with the right data, credits can be verified quickly. She calls for digital verification to be our new business as usual.
Monitoring biodiversity and nature
Kat Bruce, founder of NatureMetrics spoke to several of the emerging trends in nature tech. As corporates have greater obligation and incentive to demonstrate their biodiversity impact, they are looking for clear, accurate data. Kat described how DNA is found in the water, the soil and even the air. If this DNA is collected and analysed, it can build a biodiversity profile for an area. Not only can NatureMetrics provide the necessary evidence to begin a conservation project, but can also reveal positive restoration trends.
Sound can also be used to monitor species’ presence. Chrissy Durkin shared how Rainforest Connection uses small, unobtrusive devices to assess ecosystem composition. The company trains people to use simple audio recording systems, the results of which are uploaded to an open source platform. This data is designed for collaboration – it can be integrated with other datasets for maximum impact.
When it comes to restoration, it’s not enough to plant a tree. It must be the right tree. In her presentation, Meghan Hertel shared how Land Life plants context-specific trees in the most suitable areas. The company boosts a tree’s survival chances at every stage of its projects. Not only are saplings selected specifically for their environment, but Land Life’s seeds won’t germinate until conditions are optimal.
Both Meghan and Jonathan Kim of Terraformation monitor the progress of the trees they plant. Jonathan warns of the difficulties in seeing impact from remote imaging, even from 30 cm resolution. To counter these challenges, Terraformation manually tracks its saplings while still in the nursery. As a result, Terraformation can produce precise maps of a restoration area, depicting individual trees to species level.
Siddarth Shrikanth, author and investor at Just Climate, was clear. Who has stewardship of the land is of fundamental importance to conservation. Around the world, there already exists a vast bank of conservation expertise. Indeed, during the Q&A, Kat Bruce reminded the audience that people living close to forests and biodiversity have centuries of environmental knowledge. She emphasised that the purpose of nature tech is to work with people and provide them with data that is both meaningful and relevant.
“We’re not trying to replace it. We’re not trying to bypass it,” she said.
Manuel Pinuela shared how Cultivo builds trust with smallholders. As the company works to accelerate finance to regeneration projects, it understands that land degradation arises due to a complex array of pressures. Like Cultivo, Meridia also works with local communities. In her presentation, Beatrice Moulianitaki shared how the company makes supply chains more inclusive for community smallholders. Understanding that to be compliant, you must have good metrics, Meridia verifies smallholder data to raise levels of transparency and trust.
“We don’t have 100 years”
As the event concluded, Shyla Raghav summarised her key takeaways. Each speaker showed the great potential of nature tech to accelerate nature-based solutions, optimise carbon and biodiversity markets and more effectively value nature-based credits. She reiterated the importance of nature tech to aid transparent reporting and monitoring as disclosure regulations consolidate.
Yet while nature tech brings huge opportunities, we do not have a huge amount of time to get it right. As Marion Verles pertinently put it in the Q&A, it took us 100 years to get financial accounting and auditing right but in the face of climate emergency, we do not have 100 years to perfect the nature tech ecosystem. With so little time at our disposal, the need for international collaboration and data sharing is magnified. We need to rapidly share knowledge, ideas and expertise if we are to scale nature tech to its full potential.