décembre 2022

Towards biodiversity certificates: proposal for a methodological framework

Auteurs et autrices : Arthur Pivin, Alexis Costes, Romain Julliard
Contributeurs & contributrices : Alain Grandjean

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Executive summary 

There is an urgent need to act for biodiversity, and to find more funds for the restoration, preservation, and sustainable use of ecosystems. Today, various signals indicate that companies are willing to invest in such actions. One solution to facilitate the private sector’s contribution to this global challenge is to develop a mechanism of “biodiversity certificates” allowing the financing of field actions based on quantified and certified “biodiversity gains”.

This requires notably to:

I. Develop a methodology for assessing the biodiversity gains

II. Define a certification process for the generation of certificates

III. Design a market framework for the trade and use of certificates

Figure 1: three main challenges for the development of a biodiversity certificate mechanism

I. Assessment

Most assessment methods come up against the problem of measuring biodiversity in situ. In general, we do not know how to measure biodiversity satisfactorily because of its complexity. However, experts generally state that they know, for a given location, which actions are favorable to biodiversity.

What we propose is to quantify the gain from these actions based on a consensus between experts. To do so, we will not consider biodiversity as such, but the Biodiversity Carrying Capacity of a given area, which is the capacity of the ecosystem to host and support species.

The first step of the approach is to define categories of ecosystems, "ecosystem types", which are considered to be sufficiently homogeneous to allow, at first, the same approach to be applied to assess their biodiversity carrying capacity (e.g., intersection between a biogeographical category and a category of land use). For an ecosystem type, a group of experts is formed, i.e. individuals with established and recognized knowledge of biodiversity in that ecosystem type.

With the support of the experts, we establish a set of “parameters”, that are identified as the main drivers of the biodiversity carrying capacity in the given ecosystem type.

These parameters can be anthropic practices (e.g., pesticide use) or ecosystem characteristics (e.g., species diversity in a forest), but should always be assessable or measurable with reasonable complexity.

The experts are then mobilized in a participatory research protocol that outputs a calculation rule for assessing the biodiversity carrying capacity based on the value on the parameters. The process is designed so that the rule will be a synthesis and a generalization of the expert’s collective knowledge.

Figure 2: participatory research protocol

This evaluation rule can be used directly to provide an evaluation over time of the biodiversity carrying capacity from a measurement of the set of parameters. 

It can also be used to derive an evaluation grid that will directly provide the biodiversity gains associated with certain changes of practices.

The evaluation may be refined in a second step to better account for local specificities. Overall, the method can be used to make ex-ante projections as well as ex-post evaluations. Importantly, it is designed to be easily applicable on the field, as the assessment relies only on the parameters that were selected according to their measurability. 

II. Certification

For the certification mechanism, we recommend seeking inspiration from the best-in-class carbon standards, while taking care to adapt them to the biodiversity context.

A general standard should be defined, including rules and requirements regarding project management, additionality, as well as management of the main risks, such as non-permanence and leakage. We also recommend defining a process of independent auditing.

III. Market framework

Having a robust assessment methodology and certification process is necessary, yet not sufficient to ensure that the certificates mechanism promotes adequate action for biodiversity. Principles should be implemented so that the purchase of certificates be part of a consistent global action for biodiversity that is in line with the challenge we face.

In particular, we recommend excluding the possibility of offsetting for biodiversity.  The concept already raises legitimate concerns in the climate field, and it seems even more problematic when applied to biodiversity, where impacts are essentially local and on non-substitutable ecosystems.

We rather recommend a contribution approach, where one distinguishes several types of actions, associated with distinct categories of certificates:

  • When the actions generating the certificates are implemented within the scope of the organization’s biodiversity footprint, certificates may be considered as impact reduction, provided a compatibility of the assessment methodologies. Importantly, certificates are only one of many ways to achieve impact reductions.
  • When they are not, certificates should not be used to “cancel” impacts but considered as the organization’s contribution to collective strategies for the preservation and restoration of ecosystems.
  • In the contribution category, we recommend distinguishing between contribution on a local scale, linked to the organization’s implantations, and contribution on a global scale.
Figure 3: three categories of certificates in a contribution approach

In a contribution approach, each category of action is monitored separately, and impact reduction is set as a priority. Also, each category has its own logic and quantitative objectives, which are derived from global biodiversity plans, issued by institutions of reference (ex. local authorities on the local scale, the IUCN, CBD or FAO[1] on the global scale), to define collective priorities and targets. Contribution projects are developed in coordination with those institutions and designed to be aligned with the vision they define for biodiversity action.

Overall, individual actions of organizations are carried out following a rationale of "fair contribution" to the collective objectives, and the communication around exchanged certificates (claims) is consistent with this perspective.

Figure 4: articulation with reference institutions and biodiversity plans

In addition, rules for the trade of certificates should be defined to ensure the global integrity of the market, and guarantee that most of the funds are indeed used for biodiversity action.

This is only a first step, join us for the next ones

It is important to note that what is proposed here is only a global approach. The operational methodologies remain to be developed, and that will be the core of the future work to be conducted with the OBC and its members.

Stakeholders of the biodiversity certificates mechanism (companies, field actors, experts, NGOs, etc.) are welcome to join us to contribute to the methodological developments, so that we can collectively create a fair and robust mechanism that is up to the challenge.



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Auteurs & autrices
Portrait de Arthur Pivin
Arthur Pivin
Portrait de Alexis Costes
Alexis Costes
Portrait de Romain Julliard
Romain Julliard
Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle·Professeur du Muséum
Contributeurs & contributrices
Portrait de Alain Grandjean
Alain Grandjean
Portrait de Colin Fontaine
Colin Fontaine
Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle·Professeur du Muséum