The time has come to nurture natural capital.
And it is believed that the recently launched Natural Capital Grant Challenge 2023 is one of the key steps in improving T&T’s standing in that regard.
The Natural Capital Grant has on offer $100,000 for small and medium-sized enterprises in a bid “to invigorate and ultimately help mainstream the idea of incorporating nature’s value into everyday business operations.
The grant is one of the initiatives of the Caribbean Natural Capital Hub, which was started last July, also in a bid to increase biodiversity in business across the Caribbean.
“The hub is space for like-minded people, who want to contribute to natural capital in the region to come together, share ideas, undertake initiatives, build the capacity, and also raise capital, attract and build a capital base or natural capital and this is money, funding. So we’ve created this space where we’re doing a number of things,” said Keisha Garcia, environmental, social and governance (ESG) Natural Capital Lead for ANSA Merchant Bank Limited.
“What we want to do, we want to really be thought leaders, to generate thought leadership on the issue of natural capital in the Caribbean,” said Garcia
But what exactly is Natural Capital?
“Natural capital refers to the stock of assets that we have in nature. Whether that be related to air, land, soils, water, freshwater, coastal marine or biodiversity. People sometimes use natural capital and biodiversity, those terms interchangeably, but they’re not exactly the same. Because biodiversity would be the living component of natural capital. So natural capital includes things like the soil and the air and the water within which biodiversity exists,’ said Garcia.
“The reason that we use the word capital, is that capital refers to wealth, you know, some form of wealth, and natural capital, it’s self-explanatory. It’s the wealth and we don’t just mean financial wealth here. We talk about our health or well-being, our ability to enjoy life, and things like that. All of those things are tied to the natural environment.”
Garcia explained that in many cases natural resources provided protection or mitigated the effects of climate change.
“Just natural ecosystems standing on their own. That’s a service that’s that natural capital there that we’re talking about a free service that they’re giving us right. So in terms of the climate discourse, when we think about how we build adaptation to climate, well, we build adaptation to climate through, for example, ensuring that our coastal ecosystems are intact.
“Think about our exposure to things like storms and hurricanes and stuff. Ensuring that our mangroves, seagrass, and coral reef systems or coastal ecosystems are intact, would provide us with some shoreline protection, for example, ensuring that our hillside forests are intact or in the Northern Range, for example, help to provide what we call protection and ecosystem service which is protection against flooding and land slippage, “ she said.
The Capital hub is focusing on expanding the Caribbean’s Natural Capital, especially in the face of sustainability challenges and climate change impacts.
The grant, which is a collaboration between ANSA Merchant Bank and the Cropper Foundation, is one such initiative that is geared toward targeting sustainability initiatives.
It is hoped that the grant helps get this push from local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups who, according to Caribbean Development Bank 2016 data, make up between 70 and 80 per cent of businesses in the region, and contribute to 60 to 70 per cent of GDP, and account for approximately 50 per cent of employment in the region.
The top three projects will receive financing and business development support to implement innovative business solutions that seek to preserve and protect this country’s biodiversity.
At the start of the last month, managing director of ANSA Merchant Bank, Gregory Hill, announced the Natural Capital Grant Challenge 2023 at the Amcham T&T ESG Conference.
“We launched the SME challenge at the AmCham conference. It’s the first of its kind for us, where we’re inviting applications right now, from SMEs. We’re not being prescriptive at all about what types of businesses they should have, except that they should be registered and either they are already undertaking some type of natural capital, like conservation protection work, or they had these ideas and they just don’t know how to bring it to life in their business. We’ll be working with people like that to see how we could help them to improve their practices,” said Garcia.
At the launch of the challenge, Hill noted the importance of having corporate entities walk the talk with respect to the environment.
Hill noted the link between biodiversity and climate, emphasising the need to preserve what we have in T&T and the wider region.
He said, “The initiative goes beyond beach clean-ups and littering to find pockets in our ecosystem in the region that needs specific investment and preservation such as water sources and wildlife. This is a call to action.”
Garcia admitted that she had been previously disheartened by the lack of corporate support given to environmental NGOs in the past, but felt that this collaboration had finally found synergy between those entities.
“That partnership is unique. It is hugely unique we are developing a prototype here for how we can build these partnerships between the private sector and NGO to make a real difference. Because usually, the NGOs lack the capital,” she said
She explained that Hill’s approach to these new initiatives underlined that there was a greater understanding of what was required.
She said, “This guy is so visionary. He saw the links between natural capital and climate very early on. And what we know from science, is that if we do not start to address natural capital, we won’t make the headway that we need to on the climate portfolio because natural capital and climate, climate change, climate adaptation, climate resilience, climate mitigation, they are inextricably linked.”
Garcia said the response to the grant and by extension the hub, had been extremely positive.
She said, “At the moment, we have over as I said, over 100 people subscribed to the hub itself., I already have about 10 applications to the grant when growing and it’s only been open for about a week. So things are happening and I’m getting people writing in and calling, you know, saying that I think I have something to do with natural capital, but I’m not sure that has to do with natural capital. Can you please explain to me what it means? And then as I start to explain it in the way that I’m explaining it here, people say, this is what I’ve been doing all along!”
Garcia said this was heartening as there had been environmental funds established before which had seen little to no positive movement thereafter and she noted that this struggle had been recognised by former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan when he stated: “Our biggest challenge in this new century is to take an idea that seems abstract—sustainable development—and turn it into a reality for all the world’s people.” Over 20 years on, the global community continues to grapple with the growing challenge of balancing human-environment interactions in a bid to facilitate more sustainable forms of socio-economic development.”