In the news: Start-ups eye opportunity in Plibersek’s biodiversity reforms
Article by Tess Bennett in the Australian Financial Review on December 9 2022
A promised overhaul of Australia’s environmental laws, including revamping biodiversity offset schemes and improving access to environmental data, will provide a boost for local biodiversity start-ups.
Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek on Thursday said the government would establish a federal environmental protection agency as part of an overhaul of Australia’s environmental laws.
The founder of tech platform Xylo Systems, Camille Goldstone-Henry, said raising Australia’s environmental standards sent a strong signal that “the biodiversity market is going to absolutely blow up”.
Ms Goldstone-Henry, a Kamilaroi woman and wildlife conservation scientist, has worked with critically endangered species throughout her career, and in 2020 she founded Xylo Systems to track and manage conservation projects.
Over the past six months the business has begun to focus on developing the platform for corporate clients in construction, mining and agriculture to map their biodiversity impact.
“We are now aggregating a lot of really critical biodiversity information in our cloud environment and in our analytics platform, [and] we can now apply that information to industries that have a direct impact on the environment,” Ms Goldstone-Henry said.
“Our biodiversity is in a really serious place and we’ve got about 10 years left to really start regenerating habitats before we start to see things like global food systems start to collapse and knock-on effects on the economy.”
New ‘data division’
Ms Plibersek said Labor would establish a “nature repair market” to make it easier for businesses and individuals to invest in nature protection and rehabilitation projects, establishing a parallel market with the carbon trading scheme.
Environmental offset rules will also be overhauled to force proponents to first demonstrate how they are avoiding and mitigating harm, before resorting to offsets.
Among the changes flagged by Ms Plibersek was the introduction of a “data division” to improve the availability, access and quality of environmental information to underpin these reforms.
Ms Goldstone-Henry said the need to build the technology infrastructure to manage the data division would be “a huge opportunity for biodiversity tech start-ups”.
Next big ESG issue
Xylo is one of a handful of Australian biodiversity start-ups that have been using technology to regenerate habitats and help fight the extinction crisis.
Other start-ups include Wilderlands, which sells Biological Diversity Units (BDUs) which represent one square metre of protected vulnerable habitat, and Wildlife Drones, which use drones and thermal imaging to map wildlife populations.
Some experts have predicted that biodiversity will be the next major environmental, social and governance (ESG) issue facing the corporate sector, and identifying and tracking environmental impact could follow a similar evolution to monitoring carbon emissions.
For example, the World Economic Forum’s Taskforce for Nature-Related Financial Disclosures is drafting a reporting framework, modelled on the climate-related financial disclosure that drove the net zero goals globally.
The United Nations’ Environment Program’s Biodiversity Conference, COP15, is under way in Montreal, bringing together world leaders to agree on new targets for protecting nature.
Ms Goldstone-Henry said the regulatory movements in Australia and abroad would change how businesses reported and thought about biodiversity.