Chapter 7

The potential of ‘nature tech’ for Latin America and the Caribbean

Svante P. Persson, Regina Cervera and Constanza Gomez Mont 

Can you imagine a world where technology and nature thrive together? In a world grappling with climate change and biodiversity loss, transformative advancements utilizing a range of new technologies are drawing the interest of those at the forefront of efforts to protect Earth’s diverse ecosystems.

The potential of nature tech (Nature4Climate, 2022) – defined as technologies aimed at addressing significant environmental issues like climate change and biodiversity loss, as well as those that facilitate the enhancement of nature-based solutions (NbS) – stands as a potential powerful game-changer for preserving our planet’s rich biodiversity and tackling the challenges of climate change head-on. How? By filling essential data gaps (Sistemiq, 2022) for transparent, effective, and trustworthy science-backed strategies and policies. These innovations empower us with comprehensive information crucial for making wise decisions in land use planning, management, conservation and restoration. As the global economy increasingly acknowledges the need for sustainable practices, businesses and projects that embrace nature tech are more likely to thrive.

Additionally, these cutting-edge tools have the potential to supercharge the expansion of smarter, eco-friendly, low-carbon agriculture (Van Acker, Fraser and Newman, 2022) and nature-positive supply chains (Bloomberg, 2023). Not only does this make our efforts more environmentally responsible, but the added transparency and resilience  thanks to a solid foundation of data, will also draw in a wave of new investors eager to support sustainable initiatives (Milborrow, King and Bromfield, 2023), as it has the potential to reduce uncertainty and risk associated with environmental projects and assures investors that their funds are being used efficiently and for the intended purpose. Moreover, nature tech enhances our ability to make informed decisions about land use planning, management, conservation, and restoration. When investors see that technology is optimizing the allocation and utilization of resources, they become more inclined to invest in projects that promise sustainable outcomes.

The nature tech landscape in the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region

This is particularly relevant in biodiversity-rich regions like Latin America and the Caribbean (Watson, Debade and Gallego, 2023), which collectively holds 40% of the world’s biodiversity, 30% of its freshwater resources, and nearly 50% of its tropical forests. As these technologies, such as machine learning, eDNA, genomics, and networked sensors, advance, they hold the promise of accelerating data-based decision-making and effective local action in the rapidly evolving field of biodiversity conservation and regeneration.

However, as we navigate this transformative landscape, it becomes evident that challenges loom large (Speaker et. al., 2021) to advance these innovations in the region: limited funding and allocation where it is needed the most, a need for a wide-spread access to context-based tools and technologies, a disconnected ecosystem of collaboration, and inadequate capacity building represent hurdles that must be surmounted for the region to fully take advantage of the nature tech momentum. Moreover, as we venture into the transformative landscape of nature tech, it’s essential to adopt ethical approaches that promote responsible technology usage. These approaches not only ensure that the unintended consequences and over-expectations of new technologies are mitigated but also that the identified vulnerabilities are addressed. Instruments, such as the UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence (UNESCO, n.d.) offer pathways to rethink the development of AI systems and carry out more sustainable and ethical projects. For example, a crucial aspect of ethical technology deployment is the rigorous evaluation of its direct and indirect environmental effects. This encompasses assessing the carbon footprint of AI systems, which, during their training stage, can emit anywhere from 25 to 500 metric tons of CO2 (Hao, 2019). Moreover, embracing ethical approaches means ensuring that technology benefits all segments of society. This means actively involving communities and indigenous peoples, as well as women and youth, throughout the entire life cycle of these systems. By fostering inclusivity, we not only honor the rich diversity of perspectives of the LAC region, but also make certain that technology solutions are representative of various cultures, contexts, and the unique needs of different communities.

Fortunately, the path forward also offers opportunities to unlock this potential: increasing radical and empathetic multi-sector and transboundary collaboration, improving the interoperability of data and technologies to facilitate information sharing, the application of frameworks of responsible uses of new technologies, as well as enhancing tech literacy and capacities for large-scale environmental data analysis.

As we address these challenges and grasp these opportunities, we can catalyze a shift in the investment landscape, unlocking the potential of nature tech.

A shift in the investment landscape and the rise of new opportunities

There is now a rising acknowledgment of nature’s significance as a fundamental infrastructure asset for businesses (WEF, 2020), and we can expect an increased desire for nature-focused technologies as the corporate and finance sectors pivot towards nature-positive strategies. As we navigate this evolving landscape, it is essential to recognize that capital flows to nature at the speed of trust, and nature tech represents a new market (Eng, King and Strong, 2022). Critical for building trust in nature-based solutions.

As a new wave of disclosure regulations is on the horizon, such as the eagerly anticipated recommendations from the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure (2023), nature tech could help meet the growing demand for transparency and monitoring throughout value chains. Notably, there are innovative solutions emerging from the Global South (Economist Impact and JP Morgan, 2022) that are actively tailored to the needs of smallholders and local communities, and some of the most significant innovations in nature tech are expected to originate from the Global South (Lema and Rabellotti, 2023).

What’s next?

Nature tech is not just a trendy catchphrase; it embodies a profound paradigm shift in our approach to biodiversity conservation and restoration. As the world grapples with the urgent call for government action in combating climate change and biodiversity loss, we must not overlook the equally critical role of private sector investment in expanding nature-based solutions.

Yet, the clock is ticking. We have precious little time to align ourselves with global targets and secure a future that’s not just habitable but flourishing and sustainable. In the face of these pressing challenges, the imperative for international collaboration and data sharing becomes all the more apparent.

To fully unlock the immense potential of nature tech, we must act fast and decisively. This means rapidly building capacities, fostering radical collaboration that transcends borders, and creating platforms for the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and expertise. Most importantly, we need to catalyze the responsible adoption of new technologies, ensuring that they are tailored to the needs of the most vulnerable populations and follow a human rights-based as well as an ethical approach.

​​​Innovations are on the rise in the LAC region

​​The upcoming ​NaturaTech LAC initiative led by the IDB Lab and local partners aims to enhance the effectiveness, scalability and transparency of biodiversity conservation and regeneration action, as well as sustainable finance to catalyze investments in this field, by fostering the development and adoption of new technology solutions in the LAC region, while fostering North-South and South-South knowledge and resource collaborations.​​

​​The mission of this initiative ​involves accelerating the adoption of new technologies, testing novel models, and providing funding, including innovative financing approaches, with a special focus on projects that benefit local communities and that integrate indigenous peoples’ perspectives. By doing so, it seeks to usher in innovative approaches that expedite the achievement of global commitments and targets, such as the Global Biodiversity Framework (CBD, 2022). Importantly, this initiative recognizes the importance of understanding local needs, contexts, and the diverse nature of the LAC region, translating these insights into tangible action. 

​​Stay tuned for more news on this initiative at​​ bidlab.org. ​​​​​ 

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