A growing number of airlines, energy providers and other carbon-intensive companies pledge to reduce CO2 emissions to net-zero by 2050 or earlier. But how does that work? In addition to decarbonizing their businesses, companies increasingly invest in enhancing the ‘carbon sink’ function of natural ecosystems. While not new, the larger scale and professionalism of such Nature-based solutions (NbS) potentially makes them more attractive for investors like APG, says Jos Lemmens.

Nestlé, ThyssenKrupp, Volkswagen, Repsol and BP: these are just some examples of the many companies that have recently announced their ambition to reduce their net carbon emissions to zero by 2050 at the latest. Although details vary, these companies’ approaches have one thing in common; they rely partly on increasing ‘negative emissions’ by boosting the ability of natural ecosystems to sequester greenhouse gasses (GHGs).

Nature-based solutions (NbS) – as these initiatives are called – have been around for some time, says Jos Lemmens, Senior Portfolio Manager of the Natural Resources Fund at APG Asset Management, co-managing a portfolio of productive timberland and farmland assets. “Often these have been associated with carbon credits markets, but there are other ways in which contributions to sequester GHSs can be made. For instance by integrating nature-based solutions in the acquisition and maintenance of farmland and productive timberland. We know that natural ecosystems are excellent carbon sinks. They have the potential to sequester 30% of global CO2 emissions. In order to fully realize that potential, natural ecosystems need to be preserved, improved and expanded.”

APG, on behalf of its pension fund clients, invests in forests and agricultural land. When properly managed, these assets can sequester more carbon in the trees and soil, increasing the intrinsic value of the natural resource. In this way, the interests of stakeholders – investors, operators and local communities - can be aligned.

Tipping point
Prior to the corona crisis, Jos addressed a high-level conference co-organized by APG, where researchers, investors, companies and policymakers explored ways to make nature-based solutions (NbS) scalable and investable. “The market seems be at a tipping point”, says Jos. “Initiatives are still small-scale. But with large companies entering this market, existing developers can benefit from the financing, marketing and risk management capabilities that these new players bring along.”

One of the takeaways of the conference was that tackling climate change requires betting on many horses. Duncan van Bergen, VP Nature-based Solutions at Shell, for instance, explained that Shell is not only taking steps to reduce the carbon intensity of its products, but is now also investing $ 300 million a year in NbS. Many companies have announced plans to plant trees or (re)develop wetlands, in addition to their carbon reduction schemes. It is now generally accepted that keeping the rise of global temperatures well below 2 degrees requires large ‘negative emissions’.

Building an investment case
Scaling up NbS projects in terms of size and professionalism potentially makes them attractive for large investors like APG, says Jos. “It is not a matter of simply planting some trees but of using NbS to build up a sound investment case. In the long run, profitability can only be sustained if the land - our investment’s capital base - is well managed and shielded against degeneration. Investments in natural resources need to be sustainable to be commercially viable in the long term, and vice versa.”

The conference demonstrated the need for all involved – including companies, offerors of NbS, and investors – to pool their strengths to further develop this market. “When it comes to investing in natural resources, sustainability is not peripheral but the core of what we are doing. As a large investor, we have the opportunity to have an impact, even if only a little, with each of the many euros that we invest.”   

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