The writer is the author of ‘The Case for Nature’
Protecting nature is lovely but climate tech is cool. Learning from the success of the latter could be essential to bolstering the former: we need to move nature from the realm of nice-to-haves and place it firmly at the heart of the modern economy.
While the climate fight is far from won, there is cause for cautious optimism. In 2022, the EU produced more power from wind and solar than from gas. The US Inflation Reduction Act marked the single largest-ever climate action taken by the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases. Global climate pledges, including from developing nations, have reached the point where they would keep the world well below 2C of warming if fully implemented.
Climate investments have also weathered the broader market slump. Last year saw a record near $500bn invested in renewable energy. There were over 1,000 venture and growth equity investments into climate start-ups in 2022; the number of deals grew in every quarter, with over $40bn deployed.
These dramatic shifts in infrastructure, policy and finance are supported by a subtle, but powerful, force: a good narrative. Climate action is no longer just righteous, it is now the stuff of exciting careers. This is no longer a field only for engineers and scientists.
Narratives can create a virtuous circle of action. Pioneering governments and companies kick-started markets for lower-carbon products and services; the economic logic for climate action encouraged entrepreneurs and investors to enter a visibly thriving sector, leading to more ambitious net zero commitments and investment.
The biodiversity crisis is just as urgent. As extinctions accelerate and habitats are lost, it isn’t just plants and animals that suffer — the natural services that humans rely on for survival, from fresh water to soil health and pollination, are also at risk. But this other crisis doesn’t receive anywhere near the level of attention as climate; when it does, it is still stuck in the old paradigm of charitable giving to protect picturesque landscapes and charismatic species. The conservation movement did inspire successive generations, but the time has come to complement the intrinsic case for nature with an economic one.
The work has already begun: across the world, pioneers are building markets for ecosystem services like carbon and biodiversity, proving that nature-positive models of food production and eco-tourism can raise community incomes — even that cities can save money and lives by relying on natural infrastructure such as mangrove wetlands. In some places, agricultural subsidies are being reshaped to encourage nature recovery. Companies are discovering that nature-related risks to supply chains are all-too real, and that there is measurable economic value in mitigating them.
This work is helped by technology. We can now measure and monitor nature, from satellite-based habitat monitoring to bioacoustics that can analyse sounds with a precision that would have been unimaginable a decade or two ago. Better measurement allows companies or governments to pay for tangible outcomes, rather than to shovel money at feel-good projects that lack transparency.
The point here is economic logic. And while the business cases for nature are nowhere near as developed as for energy, elevating early examples of success and backing them up with sound money and policies could create the necessary momentum for change.
Putting safeguards in place so communities remain the primary beneficiaries of new business models will be vital. But the successful shift in the climate narrative has shown that these risks can largely be overcome. While the climate story is still being written, nature’s looks ripe for a reboot.