Q&A: Slowing Biodiversity Loss
Andrew Deutz directs The Nature Conservancy’s global policy work on biodiversity conservation, climate change and conservation finance issues. He holds a doctorate in international environmental law and has worked at TNC since 2006.
What ﬁrst brought you to TNC?
It was the license to think bigger, not just around projects, but around how to solve global challenges. The Conservancy asks big questions and isn’t intimidated by the size of the answers—ﬁnancially, politically or technically. That makes it a really rewarding place to work.
Speaking of thinking big, a recent focus for you is slowing the unprecedented decline in biodiversity. Why does this matter?
Biodiversity is nature’s infrastructure for life. It’s what provides the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. Without biodiversity—the array of species, the array of ecosystems that provide all these services—we wouldn’t exist as a species and the world wouldn’t be what we love about it.
To address the root causes of biodiversity loss—such as land-use changes, pollution and climate change—you developed TNC’s 2020 Nature Now communication campaign. Why now?
Several major meetings were scheduled to take place in 2020, making it a “super year” for conservation, full of opportunities to inﬂuence a new set of global norms and expectations. Nature Now was created to demonstrate a full suite of solutions to help solve the biodiversity crisis and the interrelated climate crisis. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed many of these meetings, so our campaign will now extend into 2021.
Communities worldwide are reeling from the devastation and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. What effects do you anticipate for conservation?
Well, we ﬁrst must continue to hunker down, stay safe and support our front-line and essential workers to minimize the health risks. As we look beyond the immediate health crisis toward the resulting economic stimulus efforts, there will be opportunity to pivot toward a future economy that is carbon neutral and nature positive. That will mean investing in ecosystems to retain and store carbon, planning infrastructure to minimize impacts on nature, and shifting toward more sustainable agricultural systems.
The outdated narratives that place environmental regulation and economic development at odds could reappear, but I’m hopeful that this pandemic has led to an emerging shift in people’s understanding of their relationship with nature—and that this shift will inﬂuence how we recover and move forward.
One of the most signiﬁcant summits scheduled for 2020, the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15, was postponed but is now set to take place in China early next year. Why is this event important, and how is TNC involved?
At the CBD, world leaders will adopt a newly negotiated framework that will shape policies, corporate practices and funding priorities for conservation for the next decade. My team and I are collaborating with partners and delegations on the negotiating process, working to set targets of protecting the best 30 percent of our lands and waters, managing the other 70 percent sustainably, and investing in the ﬁnancing tools and policies for all of it.
Once the new framework is agreed upon, countries will develop plans to meet those targets. The Conservancy will lend expertise in spatial planning, policy development, ﬁnancial innovation and other areas to help governments determine achievable goals—and will show how these goals can be funded in large part by increasing the availability and use of ﬁnance mechanisms.
We don’t always need new money to realize the world’s conservation investment potential; in some cases, we just need smarter spending strategies. For example, in about 600 cities, it’s more cost-effective to invest in source-water protection than in water ﬁltration plants. There are lots of possible solutions, but they’re contingent on having policies in place that create incentives and markets so the dollars go where they’re needed.
How will you spread the word about the strategies outlined in TNC’s Nature Now campaign?
To demonstrate how these ﬁnance tools can work, we’re presenting them at numerous conferences leading up to the CBD. My team and I are also widely disseminating a paper written with Cornell University and the Paulson Institute that looks at how much money the world spends on conservation ﬁnance, how much money the world needs and how to close the gap. The intent is to motivate action and promote a “save the best, protect the rest, invest in nature” message.
What are your hopes for the future?
So many of our mainstream economic models discount nature, and yet when we face long-term global challenges around biodiversity loss and climate change, nature is actually a solution provider. My biggest hope is that we can ﬁgure out how to live respectfully with nature and use it sustainably, rather than treat it as a trash can. If we can do that, we will all succeed.
The 2020 Biodiversity Campaign in Action: Kenya
Leading up to the benchmark UN biodiversity conference in China, TNC is collaborating with international organizations, multilateral development banks and government agencies to close the conservation finance gap and help solve the biodiversity crisis. “We’re taking advantage of the fact that every president and prime minister will have an opportunity to standup on a world stage and declare that he or she is a leader in conservation,” says Andrew Deutz. One of the countries TNC is working with closely is Kenya, with the goal of doubling the amount of land that is stewarded by local communities. If that happens, these community conservation lands, combined with existing state-protected areas, will cover 30 percent of the nation—making Kenya a leader in conservation and creating more room for giraffes, elephants and other wildlife species.