As the Plan Vivo Foundation prepares to publish its draft biodiversity protocol on Tuesday, the first biodiversity credits issued by a major standard are rapidly approaching market readiness.
During a Monday webinar, Plan Vivo analysts outlined their draft methodology for crediting biodiversity improvements, confirming that their approach will be similar to the “basket of metrics” method pioneered by science-based research group Wallacea Trust.
According to the methodology, proponents must select at least five metrics relevant to biodiversity within a project area, and credits are then issued as equivalent to a 1% increase, or avoided loss, in the median value of the basket of metrics, per hectare.
Plan Vivo has been working on the “PV Nature” biodiversity standard for the past year, and the draft release on Tuesday marks the start of the consultation process that will inform the final protocol, which is expected later this year.
“The growth of nature markets offers real potential to channel ethical investment to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities while also incentivizing biodiversity conservation,” Plan Vivo wrote in its invitation to the virtual event.
“We believe we are well positioned to play a key role in this after 25 years in the voluntary carbon market,” it added.
The announcement follows the publication last week by Plan Vivo, in collaboration with conservation charity Fauna & Flora International and project developer Carbon Tanzania, of high-level integrity principles to inform a biodiversity market, with a focus on ensuring positive impacts on nature, people, and climate.
Plan Vivo has stated unequivocally that it intends to build on the lessons learned from the voluntary carbon market and will not initially offer the credits for offsetting purposes.
Instead, the standard is aimed at companies and impact investors seeking to have a positive impact on the environment, and it has been in discussions with a variety of stakeholders who have expressed significant interest in this type of use.
“Once we have something out there, the proof will be in the pudding to see if there is really demand for this,” Keith Bohannon, CEO of Plan Vivo, said.
“We have to make sure we’re generating high integrity credits – that’s what people have told us they want,” he added.
There is no single metric that can be used to quantify biodiversity improvements in the same way that a tonne of CO2e avoided or removed can be used in the carbon market.
“We realized fairly early on that there is no biodiversity equivalent of a carbon dioxide molecule that can be used in biodiversity markets, specifically, in the way that a carbon dioxide molecule can be seen as equal across all projects,” said Luke Howard, Plan Vivo’s technical coordinator.
“We cannot find that metric in the biodiversity world,” he added, noting that an alternative approach was required because a simple land-size approach would fail to capture the region’s level of biodiversity.
Scientists and other experts convened under the Wallacea Trust, have explored the topic of biodiversity “quality” or “improvements in quality” for many years.
The group eventually developed the “basket of metrics” methodology, which is currently being piloted by project developer rePlanet.
The methodology is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in economics, which measures changes in average prices used to maintain a constant standard of living – where the “goods” in this basket vary by jurisdiction.
In the case of a “biodiversity basket,” at least five metrics relevant to the project area are chosen and then prioritized based on metrics such as domestic or international endangerment rankings.
While each proponent will select and defend the five metrics based on what is most appropriate for their project area, an example was provided during the webinar. This example combined the improvement of overall forest cover with the measurement of total species richness and abundance for fish, terrestrial invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles using satellite imagery.
“I think it’s important to emphasize that this was primarily developed by ecologists… draws on learning from voluntary carbon markets… and is being peer reviewed by a research team at the University of Nottingham,” Howard said.
Howard pointed out that metrics can be chosen as groups of species within an area, such as breeding birds or amphibians, or they can represent ecosystem services, such as those related to improved air quality.
He also mentioned that, due to the complexities of the methodology, project review and verification would necessitate a much higher level of expertise than is typically found in the carbon market.
Plan In-person speakers also mentioned that proponents will be able to stack biodiversity credits with carbon credits, but only for newly authorized projects.
Despite the fact that Plan Vivo will be the first major registry to release a draft biodiversity standard, other crediting programs, such as Verra, are actively developing their approach, and several smaller schemes are already in place.