By Professor Amy Dickman, Lion Landscapes
People love the idea that in an age of advanced robotics and Chat GPT, there is still space in our world wild enough for tigers, wolves and bears. It also has immense economic value: the benefits provided to people by biodiversity have been valued at over US$125 trillion annually.
Despite all this value, biodiversity is in serious decline. One million of the species of plants and animals on earth are threatened with extinction. Farm animals now make up over 60% of the world’s mammal biomass: humans make up around a third, while wild mammals comprise just 4%.
WHY ARE WE FAILING TO PROTECT THE WORLD’S INCREDIBLE WILDLIFE?
For far too long, nature has been undervalued, and often outcompeted by land uses that deliver tangible (usually economic) value to their owners.
For many local people, any benefits from wildlife are outweighed by the very real dangers they pose to lives and livelihoods. Far more money is needed to offset those costs and to incentivise conservation.
However, there is currently a major lack of investment at the scale needed for effective conservation action. This is true even for those species and areas which people find most iconic.
Across the African lion range, for example, over 90% of protected areas are severely underfunded, and it would take at least US$1 billion annually to fund them effectively. This seems scary to many conservationists – but it shouldn’t. People spent over US$12 billion on lipstick alone in 2019, so one or two billion dollars a year for lion conservation seems a small ask in comparison.
SO, HOW DO WE BUILD A BETTER FUTURE FOR WILDLIFE?
There is growing public and political interest in conservation, and businesses are increasingly interested in ‘green’ investing.
The global carbon offsetting and prevention market has grown at speed, demonstrating that there is financial as well as ecological value in investing in natural assets.
However, there is a risk that too narrow a focus on carbon may result in the conservation of ‘empty forests’. We need a real financial incentive for maintaining wildlife, not just carbon.
As a small step towards tackling this, Lion Landscapes worked with BioCarbon Partners to develop ‘Lion Carbon’, a premium carbon credit which helps fund conservation work in areas important to lions. Last year, the World Bank launched the ‘Rhino Bond’, the world’s first financial product aimed directly at species conservation. Meanwhile, interest in wider ‘biodiversity credits’ is growing fast.
There now seems a genuine opportunity to develop financial tools which directly reward conservation. But to be effective, it is vital they are structured to fairly involve and reward the people who suffer the greatest costs of conservation, which are often vulnerable rural communities.
Recent criticisms of carbon offsets have highlighted the need for such schemes to be accountable, transparent and equitable. But perfection should not be the enemy of the good: multiple indigenous communities have commended well-managed carbon programmes as delivering vital social and ecological benefits.
As governments, NGOs, local communities, investors and others look at the future of conservation, there seems to be reason for hope. There is a growing financial market for conservation, innovative mechanisms for measuring it, and ever-greater recognition that such initiatives need to be primarily managed by and for the local communities that live closest to wildlife.
Economic value will always remain just one of the many values that nature provides us with, but by properly harnessing it, we could make a substantial move towards reducing poverty and improving conservation at a global level.