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Global Market for Conservation Investing Grows to $23 Billion

Conservation impact investing totaled approximately $23 billion in the five-year period from 2009 to 2013, according to a new report by EKO Asset Management Partners and The Nature Conservancy’s NatureVest division.

During the same period, private investments accounted for almost $2 billion of this market — an amount that is growing at an average of 26 percent annually, and is expected to reach more than $5.6 billion by 2018.

Investing in Conservation: A landscape assessment of an emerging market is the first data-driven study of the market for conservation-related investments based on direct feedback from investors. Conservation investments, also referred to as conservation impact investments, are intended to return principal or generate profit while driving a positive impact on natural resources and ecosystems. The report presents findings from a survey of 56 investors, including five for-profit and nonprofit development finance institutions (DFIs) and 51 private investment organizations.

Private investments in this space are expected to more than triple over the next five years, the report says. However, a substantial amount of potential private capital has not been deployed, demonstrating the need for a significant increase in the number of risk adjusted investment opportunities.

According to survey findings, the approximately $23 billion committed to conservation impact investments from 2009 to 2013 was invested in three main categories:

  • Water quantity and quality conservation, including investments in watershed protection, water conservation and stormwater management, and trading in credits related to watershed management.
  • Sustainable food and fiber production, including investments in sustainable agriculture, timber production, aquaculture, and wild-caught fisheries.
  • Habitat conservation, including investments in the protection of shorelines to reduce coastal erosion, projects to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), land easements, and mitigation banking.

The report says private investors expect to deploy $1.5 billion of already-raised capital over the next five years, and to raise and invest an additional $4.1 billion. Of the nearly $2 billion already invested by private investors, 80 percent came from only 10 sources. The total market for conservation investment is expected to increase to $37.1 billion over the next five years

Of the three categories of conservation investment studied, DFIs invested largely in water quality and quantity projects ($15 billion), while private investors invested largely in sustainable food and fiber production (about $1.2 billion)

Survey respondents noted a shortage of investable projects and opportunities, indicating that they need more deals with adequate risk-return ratios and more seasoned management teams. To address the shortage of conservation impact investment opportunities, the study co-authors are working to structure conservation opportunities that can be supported by private capital.

Impact investment is one way to address the critical global deficit in conservation funding. An estimated $300 billion annually is needed to meet the world’s conservation challenges, according to a Global Canopy Programme report. But current levels of investment, mainly from governments, multilateral agencies, and philanthropic sources, total only about $50 billion. There are still several challenges impact investing must overcome to realize its full potential.


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