Migratory Birds and Capital Return

The rapid rate of climate change and its impact on biodiversity is not being matched by timely actions. The Americas Flyways Initiative aims to close the gap.

For conservation to be effective, it needs both financial innovation and sound projects. Currently, the responses from governments, multilateral banks, private institutions, and citizen initiatives are not keeping pace with the rapid rate of climate change and the consequential impacts on biodiversity as evidenced by the billions of birds we have lost in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970s. We need to do things differently, and we need to start now.    

There is already plenty of literature written on the topic and a shared concern about the health of the planet. The business case for conservation is basically in place. Despite these advances, year after year we arrive at the same point; we are lagging in quantity and quality of investment in projects that are effectively addressing current development needs while at the same time meeting the medium-term challenges of conserving what ecosystems still exist and restoring what is recoverable. 

Even as the dialogue between financing, sound projects, and conservation continues to expand and contribute to additional resources to support biodiversity, we need to remember the old saying, "Conservation without money is just a conversation." Fortunately, a common language between investors or bankers and environmentalists is now in place including terms like carbon credits, blue-green finance, sustainable portfolio, sustainable transformation, valuation of ecosystem services, ESG objectives, and, of course, natural capital. 

But the investment gap remains. Global and Latin American reports point this out. According to the study "Conservation finance: What are we not doing? A review and research agenda," global investment for conservation tripled from 2012 to 2019, but "it is still insufficient compared to spending on agriculture, forestry, and fisheries subsidies that degrade nature, which is at least two to four times higher. According to the research, it is, therefore, necessary to spend between $598 billion and $824 billion more per year to be nature-positive by 2030, something not achievable through government and philanthropic investments alone, and that requires the role of private investment."   

The figures are concerning. According to the most recent report on the State of Financing for Nature (United Nations Environment Programme, 2023), “in 2022, investments in nature-based solutions totaled approximately $200 billion, but finance flows to activities directly harming nature were more than 30 times larger.” It specifically points out that “private nature-negative finance flows amount to US$5 trillion annually, 140 times larger than the US$35 billion of private investments in nature-based solutions. The five industries channeling most of the negative financial flows – construction, electric utilities, real estate, oil and gas, and food and tobacco – represent 16 percent of overall investment flows in the economy but 43 percent of nature-negative flows associated with the destruction of forests, wetlands, and other natural habitats.” And government spending is not far behind, especially with subsidies to four sectors— agriculture, fossil fuels, fisheries, and forestry—reaching US$1.7 trillion in 2022. 

These data, which together cover more than a decade, reveal a consistent disparity between funding capital for nature-based solutions and negative capital flows to nature. 

Investment routes 

It is time to move from words to actions. Because birds are indicator species of ecosystem health, they have become unparalleled ambassadors for mobilizing resources for conservation. Their migratory routes allow us to identify geographic hotspots for biodiversity and strategic areas for structured investment. This is the innovative approach brought by the Americas Flyways Initiative (AFI), a powerful alliance that brings together the science and environmental knowledge of two leading conservation organizations—Audubon and BirdLife International—with the experience of the Development Bank of Latin America and the Caribbean (CAF), which contributes to regional development by deploying high-value investments. Having a strong and strategic blue-green portfolio for migratory birds will also serve the needs of local or national governments in Latin American countries.

Americas Flyway Initiative

AFI is not just a financing mechanism. It focuses on the design and accompaniment of projects that require structuring or improvement to effectively access funds and data collection to demonstrate the economic, environmental, and social return on investment. This is perhaps one of the main gaps in the conservation universe, and therein lies the innovation. Using a case-by-case combination of applied science and financial tools we aim to protect critical sites for birds and wildlife under a sustainable development scheme that integrates and expands nature-based solutions and bird-friendly infrastructure.

AFI is our approach to bridging the funding and conservation gap for biodiversity, climate change, and sustainable development agendas. This investment facility follows the Americas flyways and identifies barriers to resource access by creating a blue-green financing mechanism. Based on case studies and supported by professional teams that understand the context and local specificities, it structures green projects that speed up the deployment of solutions while assessing the impact on communities and biodiversity.

This initiative seeks the integration of sustainable infrastructure that must be safe, sited, and designed to minimize impacts on birds and biodiversity. It also must be beneficial for local communities. This is already how we are working in Chile and Ecuador, where large projects will give us proven tools to replicate throughout the hemisphere, from the Boreal Forest to Patagonia. 

We are in a transition stage now, but it can't last forever. CAF aims to become a green bank—with a 40 percent green portfolio by 2026— precisely at a time when there is a greater understanding among economists, biologists, project managers, and ecologists because all now have a much clearer and broader understanding of the risks and values to our societies. Biodiversity must be at the core of the valuation of development projects. AFI's investment in 30 projects over the next ten years is a clear commitment to this purpose.   

Birds are telling us that if we want to increase our response to the climate crisis while benefitting sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean, the solution lies in the right combination of science and investment. That is ‘the secret formula’ we must share in all countries to give wings to this transformation. We will not only see the return on investment but also the benefit to migratory birds as they travel across the hemisphere.