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Billions needed for COP15 nature deal but funds miniscule

A goose walks on a dried bed of Lake Velence in Velence, Hungary, on Aug 11, 2022. (ANNA SZILAGYI / AP)

LONDON – Climate conscious investors have channeled billions of dollars into clean energy but investment flows into protecting and better managing the world's ecosystems remain minute by comparison.

This could change after negotiators at the UN nature summit in Montreal secured long-awaited formal support on Monday for a Global Biodiversity Framework to protect nature. But plans have yet to be fleshed out on how to channel the huge amounts of capital from private and public sector sources that scientists say are necessary for conservation.

A growing crowd of investors aiming to manage their money with environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations in mind are looking to the deal for indications of the future shape of new financial instruments and rules to protect forests, marshes, waters, and everything in between.

Limited data collection and reporting and the difficulty of measuring a company's impact on biodiversity are all seen as major barriers for investment to money managers

Some managers have already pressed ahead. Around 74.3 billion euros ($78.8 billion) are already invested in funds aimed at protecting ecologically sound environments on land, air and water, according to data from Morningstar.

ALSO READ: Global biodiversity framework adopted at COP15

Morningstar lists 175 funds that run investment strategies that are intended to invest in companies, or securities, that are involved in industries that positively impact the environment. It groups these funds together under a theme it calls healthy ecosystems.

The five largest equity healthy ecosystem funds are managed by Pictet, BNP Paribas Asset Management and Amundi and account for 21.6 billion euros, or nearly a third of the entire group.

These funds are largely concentrated in the industrials and utilities sectors: six out of 10 largest funds are overweight the benchmark weighting of industrials in the MSCI ACWI Index (USD) while half of the funds are overweight utilities.

Biodiversity funds

Investment strategies targeting biodiversity specifically are an even more nascent product. Just 907.6 million euros are invested in Morningstar’s top 10 equity funds with biodiversity in their name.

Limited data collection and reporting and the difficulty of measuring a company's impact on biodiversity are all seen as major barriers for investment to money managers.

ALSO READ:UN official: China leading in global biodiversity protection

"We know the global economy and every company in it is negatively impacting biodiversity," said Tom Atkinson, portfolio manager at AXA Investment Managers, which has a 117 million euro Article 9 biodiversity impact fund.

"At the moment we can only assess the negative impact (on biodiversity) of the companies in our portfolio, this is why more biodiversity funds don't exist and why regulation is arguably dragging."

Like the broader healthy ecosystems group of funds, biodiversity-named funds are largely concentrated in industrials like agricultural equipment manufacturer Deere & Co and US water technology provider Xylem with 30 percent of individual holdings from a universe of 60 stocks directed to this sector.

ALSO READ: COP15 highlights China’s success

Consumer comes a close second however, with 27 percent of holdings invested in companies like Nestle, L'Oreal  and Darling Ingredients, a company that turns edible by-products and food waste into sustainable products and renewable energy.

Three of the six largest biodiversity-named funds assessed by Reuters are overweight industrials versus the MSCI ACWI Index(USD).

With a global biodiversity framework in place and efforts well underway to create a nature reporting framework for companies  —  the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures —  as well as a new tool to measure positive impact on biodiversity due early 2023, managers like Atkinson are predicting investment flows will increase next year.