Can conservation bonds repair Indigenous relations and endangered habitat?

This new sustainable finance tool aims to revive 1,000 acres of Canadian habitat

conservation impact bond
Photo by Dennis Sparks/Flickr

One of Canada’s most biodiverse and threatened ecosystems is the subject of research on a new sustainable finance tool: a conservation impact bond that invests in habitat renewal, green economic development and reconciliation. 

Over the next decade, up to $1 billion in annual funding will be needed to protect and restore habitats, meet global conservation goals and reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases using nature-based solutions, according to assistant professor Diane-Laure Arjaliès and fellow researchers at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School.

“The biodiversity and climate crisis will not slow down if we are just going to rely on the government, so let’s find a solution,” says Arjaliès, who since 2019 has worked with Carolinian Canada, a national conservation organization; local environmental groups; and First Nation communities in southern Ontario in the design and evaluation of the Deshkan Ziibi Conservation Impact Bond (the Anishinaabe name for the Thames River).

The bond, being piloted over a five-year period, aims to attract new sources of capital beyond traditional government grants and private philanthropy for a highly populated, ecologically threatened section of the Carolinian zone.

A social finance firm made the initial investment in the bond, with government, private sector and NGO partners committed to repay the funds with interest if goals of native tree replanting and conservation improvements of 150 acres near London, Ontario, are reached over five years. Ultimately, Carolinian Canada and its partners aim to renew 1,000 acres in the zone.

Significantly, the bond’s designers adopted the principle of “two-eyed seeing” that recognizes the duality of Indigenous and Western perspectives, with First Nation communities acknowledged as co-partners bringing culturally valid approaches to land stewardship. 

“We brought a different perspective into the development of the conservation impact bond that is not typically included, [namely] the human connection, the cultural component and the fact that we see the land as kin,” says Emma Young, senior environment officer for the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. Meaningful collaboration, she adds, is akin to “weaving a stronger rope.”

Ivey’s Arjaliès says she is “confident” of the potential to scale up conservation bonds globally, assuming investors are willing to be patient for the long-term reward: a healthy, sustainable environment.

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