Unlocking the biodiversity data revolution

With 50% of the global economy at risk from biodiversity loss, companies and investors are engaging on measuring and managing nature-related risks.

The recent launch of the TNFD has been a catalyst to unite leaders across several industries to tackle the biodiversity crisis, and drive action towards the preservation of nature. Data has a critical role to play in driving this momentum in the future. The development of geospatial data, Environment DNA (eDNA), and engagement on standardising data measurement across sectors and portfolios are some of the latest innovations experts explored during BNP Paribas Sustainable Future Forum (SFF) in London and the European Space Agency (ESA) Earth Observation for Carbon Markets Forum in Rome. 

During the annual SFF conference held in London, Markets 360 sustainability research analyst Sumati Semavoine-Jain led a panel on the biodiversity data wave, and was joined by Laura Plant, Director of Sales at NatureMetrics, Donna Lyndsay from Ordnance Survey, and Rachel Crossley from BNP Paribas Asset Management. 

2023 was a game-changer for corporates and financial institutions, when it comes to climate and nature-related disclosures. Data innovation is spurring the biodiversity integration within the global baseline for sustainability reporting and the latest emphasis of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) on opportunities is a significant enabler for financial and business decisions.

New biodiversity data wave across Geospatial and eDNA 

A key area of development in recent months has been the progression on technology developments in the biodiversity data space. The Ordnance Survey, a British public national mapping organisation, has been at the forefront of the geospatial data movement, supporting multi-sensor satellite mapping. This is beginning to extend to collaboration with the private sector, and Ordnance Survey is pioneering several initiatives with corporates and investors on mapping biodiversity across areas to help inform investor decision making and corporate supply chain assessments.

This is particularly useful in biodiversity assessments related to deforestation-free supply chains, and Lyndsay explained how pilot projects are “helping people understand where deforestation going on, as if you can see deforestation from space, you can see that it’s going on and then it can be more easily monitored and mapped.” This will be a relevant approach given the upcoming European regulation on deforestation, which regulates that companies must prove their commodities do not contribute to forest degradation or originate from deforested land. 

Data quality is crucial

There is also potential for the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) to support predictive biodiversity analytics relevant to where an asset is on the ground. For example, Ordnance Survey is trialling predictive algorithms to see where water pollution is happening and how to prevent it. Ensuring the data is relevant remains essential though. “The data that underpins these models is absolutely critical” and it “has to be the right quality and consistent to make sure it’s applicable” explained Lyndsay. 

The data that underpins these models is absolutely critical and it has to be the right quality and consistent to make sure it’s applicable.

Donna Lyndsay
Strategic Market Lead – Environment & Sustainability, Ordnance Survey

At a site level, in terms of data on the ground, NatureMetrics shared its perspectives as experts on environmental DNA or eDNA. eDNA refers to the fragments of DNA left behind by animals, collecting soil or water and identifying the DNA inside generates big data sets and robust metrics about specific species in an area. This “nature intelligence” enables corporates and investors to access more “decision-useful data” according to Plant. Not only is this easier to collect than traditional biodiversity data assessment methods, but it also enables tracking over time.

NatureMetrics has seen transformative results in certain sectors such as offshore wind energy, where the company’s technology has been able to demonstrate that offshore wind farm sites can become homes for new species provide evidence towards the developer’s nature positive ambitions. Location matters though, as Plant emphasised that “when it comes to biodiversity, location is fundamental”, referring to the fact that biodiversity is “completely different wherever you are”, compared to carbon which is relatively homogenous. This heterogeneity means that high level data sets, such as those generated by satellite data or AI, need to be ground-truthed and there are some innovative technologies, like eDNA, that are achieving this at scale.

When it comes to biodiversity, location is fundamental.

Laura Plant
Director of Sales, NatureMetrics

Collaboration to address biodiversity challenges 

One approach to reduce the biodiversity data challenge is through greater engagement on open-source technologies. NatureMetrics has seen greater willingness from companies to share biodiversity data, as “nature doesn’t respect boundaries of site clients” and many of their clients see “benefits from sharing data within that community and area more publicly”. Plant’s team is working to develop a data layer, in collaboration with the IUCN, that will be available for companies and investors and non-for-profits as a future engagement tool across sectors. 

BNP Paribas has been working on open-source data in this area with OS-Climate, a joint initiative with over 20 of the world’s leading organisations, to address physical climate risks and assess specific geospatial data tools useful for companies and investors. Donna Lyndsay reinforces that data quality and availability are key to progress on predictive global-scale scenarios as “it has to be the right quality and consistency, and make sure it’s applicable globally to get the scale that we need”.

Cross-industry collaboration was also highlighted by Rachel Crossley in several initiatives pioneered by BNP Paribas Asset Management (BNPPAM). Recently BNP Paribas Asset Management spearheaded the creation of Nature Action 100+, which brings together a coalition of investors to increase corporate ambition reverse nature loss by 2030, by engaging with 100 systemically important companies in eight key sectors.

The BNP Paribas Asset Management team on the stewardship front has been active across several sectors, notably pushing engagement with the pharmaceutical sector on synthetic alternatives to horseshoe crab blood, and lobbying the fishing sector to address deforestation from soy in the fish seed stock supply chain.

The purpose of engagement is to encourage companies to adopt appropriate policies and tackle systemic risks.

Rachel Crossley
Head of Stewardship, Europe | Sustainability Centre, BNP Paribas Asset Management

Crossley notes that when it comes to biodiversity, the “purpose of engagement is to encourage companies to adopt appropriate  policies and tackle systemic risks”. Data is a key enabler in this engagement, and Crossley explained that “as data comes through, we’re probably going to absorb a lot more dependencies that we didn’t know existed.” 

Supporting transparency and standardisation 

An area of the market where biodiversity data is becoming more valuable for transparency and accountability is the carbon markets. François Carré, BNP Paribas’ Carbon Portfolio Manager and specialist in Voluntary Markets and Guillaume Poupy, Energy and Ecological Transition Expert at BNP Paribas joined the European Space Agency (ESA) gathering on carbon markets to discuss the importance of new data approaches to support transparency in carbon markets.

The application of satellite data and Earth Observation monitoring systems was high on the agenda and could play a key role in supporting transparency and integrity across carbon markets.

Carré noted: “Innovation in data harnessing AI for satellite monitoring has an important role to play in supporting integrity and transparency across carbon markets. These tools are becoming increasingly important for project prefeasibility assessment, monitoring and verification, supporting companies and investors seeking to understand project impact on the ground and ensuring selected projects do pass VCM participant materiality thresholds/targets. These technologies are also an opportunity to reduce the cost of implementation and verification of projects and therefore could also contribute to channel additional required  effort into core benefits assessment and  verification, which are essential for many projects and companies/investors”.

Innovation in data harnessing AI for satellite monitoring has an important role to play in supporting integrity and transparency across carbon markets.

François Carré
Carbon Portfolio Manager and specialist in Voluntary Markets, BNP Paribas

Antony Delavois, Expert in Atmospheric Composition Applications at ESA, notes the importance and relevance for creating a robust market grounded in material data assessment, as “the evolution in Earth Observation data can provide valuable technological innovation across different contexts, notably in carbon markets, where addressing impact measuring through technology to enhance carbon credit transparency and reliability is key.”

The evolution in Earth Observation data can provide valuable technological innovation across different contexts, notably in carbon markets, where addressing impact measuring through technology to enhance carbon credit transparency and reliability is key.

Antony Delavois
Expert in Atmospheric Composition Applications, European Space Agency

However, there is still much room for development across markets, as highlighted by Lynsday who emphasised that we “need to find a way of standardising these approaches to understand how we are all impacting biodiversity, and although we are not all there yet, we all need to work together towards this common goal.”