In an era marked by absolute climate collapse, growing water scarcity, and increasing biodiversity destruction, the need for innovative and scalable solutions has never been more urgent! As businesses and some governments (not ours) grapple with the growing realities of these impacts, a new economic system has emerged – the natural capital economy.
Natural capital credits allow organisations to fund measurable positive environmental efforts such as removing carbon from the atmosphere or stopping it from being released (carbon credits), improving biodiversity habitat or species diversity and abundance (biodiversity credits), and improving water quality and quantity (water credits). The purchase of these credits allows organisations to ‘offset’ the damage they have done elsewhere, or to use some of their profits to provide wider benefits to society through investing in the protection and restoration of natural capital.
These market-based instruments offer a unique opportunity to drive investment into conservation while delivering economic benefits – making the protection of the environment more profitable than its destruction and potentially transforming the way we restore and protect the planet. However, alongside this great potential comes significant risk; if we have learned anything from the current market system, people will always try to manipulate or cheat the system for personal priorities and, most often, financial gain.
In this article, we explore at a high level the need for natural capital credits, the associated risks, and how Oxygen Conservation plans to lead the way in creating high-quality, genuinely impactful natural capital products, services, and credits.
The Imperative for Natural Capital Credits
The global community faces a daunting task: balancing economic growth with the preservation of our natural ecosystems. Natural capital credits present a compelling solution by incentivising the protection and restoration of critical habitats and biodiversity. Here are some of the key reasons for their necessity:
Mobilising Funding for Conservation: Natural capital credits provide financial incentives for individuals, organisations, and governments to engage in conservation and restoration efforts. These incentives can help drive investment to deliver positive environmental improvement while fostering economic development and stimulating a natural capital-based economy.
Preserving Biodiversity: Biodiversity and ecological abundance are essential for ecosystem stability, resilience, and human well-being. Natural capital credits place a value on the services ecosystems provide, incentivising their preservation, restoration, and creation.
Climate Change Mitigation: There is a wonderful relationship between the natural world and our planet’s carbon cycle. Since they can sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide, protecting, restoring, and creating habitats – particularly woodlands, peatlands, and salt marshes – plays an essential role in mitigating climate change.
The Risks of Natural Capital Credits
While the promise of natural capital credits is undeniable, they come with inherent risks that must be carefully managed:
Commodification of Nature: There’s a concern held by some that nature credits could reduce nature to a tradable commodity, prioritising profit over conservation goals. Whilst a legitimate moral / emotional argument, the economic reality is that nature is a tradable commodity and profit is being prioritised over conservation already. In the absence of a framework that is actively valuing nature, its destruction and exploitation will sadly continue.
Greenwashing: The risk of companies or governments appearing environmentally responsible without implementing effective conservation measures is a valid concern. Natural capital credits can create opportunities for organisations to see the purchase of credits as a licence to carry on with their destructive practices. For credits to be effective, they need to be used simply as a part of a larger mitigation hierarchy that puts avoidance and reduction of harm first, and compensation for unavoidable damage second.
Ecosystem Simplification: Natural capital credits often focus on specific ecosystem services, frequently a legitimate challenge levied at carbon credits,. This can incentivise the development of monocultures or simplified ecosystems optimised for credit generation rather than diverse, resilient natural ecosystems.
Short-Term Focus: Market-driven approaches may prioritise short-term gains over long-term ecological health. Conservation efforts often require sustained, multi-generational commitments, which can be undermined by market pressures.
Market Volatility: Just like financial markets, natural capital credit markets can experience volatility and almost certainly will, especially over the immediate future. The value of such credits can fluctuate, potentially leading to unexpected economic outcomes or disincentivising long-term conservation efforts, but then again two tech bubbles have previously (and incorrectly) signalled the end of Silicon Valley, if you don’t remember these you can google them!
Oxygen Conservation: Our Approach
Amidst these challenges, we are committed to offering a high-quality, genuinely impactful range of natural capital products, services, and credits to allow nature to pay to protect and restore itself.
Here are some of the ways we’re committed to doing so:
Holistic Approach: We recognise that conservation means delivering positive environmental and social impact. This approach takes into account the ecological and social aspects of sustainability and ensures that natural capital products, services, and credits are produced as a result of conservation initiatives, not the purpose. For each of our projects, we set a series of environmental, social, and economic targets that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, allowing all our credits to provide wide-ranging sustainability impacts.
Community Engagement: We actively involve local communities in our conservation plans and projects; ensuring that the benefits are shared and that traditional knowledge is respected. This begins immediately following the acquisition of a new site when we welcome people to the Estate to listen, learn, and collaborate. It is important to note that engagement doesn’t mean everyone will be happy with landscape restoration or change, some will never expect it needs to (or in fact should) change, but we will always be respectful of those views, always listening even when we may not agree.
Integrity of Sale: We believe in creating partnerships not transactions and are incredibly selective with whom we choose to work with. We recognise that if we sell natural capital credits to a business or organisation, we become their business partner and so does anyone else who holds an Oxygen Conservation natural capital product. As a result, we intend to only sell to high-integrity, purpose-driven organisations with science-backed targets and a genuine and meaningful commitment to making a positive environmental and social impact. We do however recognise the argument that the best way to help influence those industries and businesses not doing enough on climate change is to work with them and help them move forward, at this time it just doesn’t feel authentic to our purpose.
Commitment to Transparency: We have made transparency a cornerstone of our approach, not just to the development of natural capital credits, but also the very way we do business. When you purchase a credit from Oxygen Conservation you are encouraged to visit the very Estate where your credits are based, to walk the hills, swim in the rivers, lochs and lakes and listen to the increasingly diverse wildlife that calls these places home.
Multigeneration Longevity: Our conservation work is delivered exclusively on land we own and manage ensuring the security and multigenerational integrity of our natural capital credits. At each of our projects, we establish long-term partnerships with local communities, businesses, and organisations to deliver lasting positive impact.
We are a Data Company: Measuring real-world impact is key to demonstrating and evidencing that natural capital credits deliver what they claim. All of our projects adopt a data-led approach which involves collating and measuring thousands of data points over time to quantify progress towards our targets.
Sustainable Funding: Revenue generated from our natural capital credit projects is intended to be reinvested into further conservation efforts, creating a self-sustaining funding source for ongoing environmental protection, allowing us to continue Scaling Conservation.
Oxygen Conservation Natural Capital
As we work hard to pioneer the creation of market-leading natural capital products, services, and credits, we hope to provide a model for responsible and effective environmental conservation and investment. With the right approach, natural capital credits can drive large-scale positive change, by sequestering carbon, restoring biodiversity, and creating a regenerative future for us all.
In a world that desperately needs scalable solutions to combat environmental damage and destruction, natural capital credits offer another tool in the box that we all need to help fix the damage we’ve done to the planet.