In 2018, the Farm Bill will be up for renewal. It will shape the future of federal conservation finance. The bill, initially enacted in 1933, is the defining legislation on agricultural law in the United States. A number of organizations, including Environmental Defense Fund, actively work to find ways to maximize environmental gains that can be made through its policies.
Since 2000, residents of San Antonio, Texas have voted four times to approve ballot measures setting aside a portion of local sales-tax revenue for the city’s Edwards Aquifer Protection Program (EAPP). The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) January report “Beyond the Source: The Environmental, Economic and Community Benefits of Source Water Protection” showcases San Antonio’s program as an example of a publicly financed water fund. Water funds are institutional platforms that connect upstream and downstream users through the financing, governance and management of source water protection.
Timing can make or break a conservation deal. Land trusts and other conservation groups often work with motivated sellers who must divest property by a certain date or are otherwise eager to close deals quickly. The organizations must either gather the required financing on the sellers’ short timelines or forego the projects. When organizations are short on cash but deem projects too important to ignore, conservation loans can bridge the financing gaps.
The 2016 Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum, hosted by Aspen Institute and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, showed the role of impact investing in bridging the financing gap in the water sector. The resulting report, “Conservation Finance & Impact Investing for U.S. Water,” offers case studies and analyses of new tools and models that are taking root in the industry. This Q&A with Martin Doyle, one of the authors of the report, dives into the realities of funding water infrastructure in the current political and economic environment.
There is a high level of uncertainty about federal funding for land conservation over the next four years. The recently passed 2017 budget has kept many conservation-related programs and funds intact, but 2018 may be a different story. The administration’s proposed budget calls for broad cuts to conservation funding, but Congress makes the final decision on appropriations.
How can the growing community of practice around natural capital approaches continue to engage, learn and adapt? The 2017 Natural Capital Symposium discussed this question at Stanford University on Mar. 20-23. A key session was titled “Securing Freshwater through Innovative Public and Private Partnerships.” This session showed examples of innovations that often required partnerships between public and/or private institutions, development banks, and civil society.
Consider this: The $400 billion in private environmental finance needed annually, according to Credit Suisse and McKinsey & Company, is eight times even the more generous current estimates of conservation finance. Practitioners and experts gathered last month at the New York City office of Credit Suisse to explore how to bridge that gap and meet the conservation objectives of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Conservation Finance Network cohosted the event. Here are some key insights from the conversation.
Investors and bond issuers must improve communication in order to meet each other’s needs as the green-bond market expands rapidly. Green bonds have the potential to enhance transparency, mitigate risk, and stimulate the market toward reaching a low-carbon economy. The green-bond market is estimated to total $150 billion in 2017. This is an 85 percent increase above 2016, according to data from Climate Bonds Initiative.
Unexpectedly, Root Capital and Kiva have joined forces to create an unprecedented referral system that will cross-pollinate their sustainable-agriculture-finance programs. Root Capital is routing approved applications in the $10,000-$50,000 range to Kiva for zero-percent-interest financing. Once these businesses grow, they can apply for larger amounts of financing at competitive interest rates from Root Capital.
How do investment funds build social and environmental priorities into agricultural financing? Several investment funds showcased their strategies for investing in smallholder value chains at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris on Dec. 5-6. While continuing to seek financial returns, investors are supporting and measuring a broader set of environmental, social, and commodity-based outcomes tied to supply chain sustainability.
As conservation finance gains more traction among mainstream investors, discussions about how to evolve early-stage environmental marketplaces to provide more conventional investment opportunities have taken over the halls of conferences. Integrated capital funds may offer one solution.
There has long been a perceived tradeoff between the economic benefits of agriculture and the environmental benefits of conservation. Large-scale implementation of climate-smart agriculture holds promise to harmonize these objectives by integrating crop production with conservation efforts.
The White House has issued a directive to point federal agencies toward building ecosystem-services valuation into their plans, investments and regulations. This directive, released on Oct. 7, will help agencies synthesize conservation’s ecosystem benefits with its value to society.
A new forum has emerged for discussing key issues in the rapidly growing and evolving conservation finance field: the Conservation Finance Practitioner Roundtable. The group met for the first time on Jan. 20 at the New York Academy of Sciences in New York City.