Whatever your take on global warming, there is no doubt that hundreds of years of human activity have taken their toll on our planet. Urbanization and industrialization have helped transform many pleasant green lands into 21st century landscapes of skyscrapers and heavy traffic.

Meanwhile, deforestation and overgrazing have turned once fertile land into virtual deserts. The United Nations has embarked on the battle to restore the usefulness of degraded lands and entrusted sustainable investment specialist Mirova with the challenge of raising funds to invest in nature.

Its Land Degradation Neutrality Fund has just completed a successful fundraiser, raising $ 208 million. Paris-based fund manager Gautier Quéru likes the challenge. The 40-year-old spent his student years, like many others, dreaming of doing something ‘meaningful’ without intending to join one of the world’s major industrial oil companies or builders. ‘planes.

“We were not the first generation of students, and we will not be the last, who are very sensitive to environmental issues,” he told newspaper I.

After studying engineering, he began his career at the French Ministry of Finance with an interest in the nascent carbon industry, focusing on renewable energies. After then participating in the creation of the first carbon fund, “I realized that finance could change everything and had a significant influence on the real world and the real economy. “

He worked for several years in renewable energy funds with great success. “I raised funds where I could explain to investors that with their capital I could finance what it takes to plant wind turbines, then pay them back through the sale of electricity.”

This led to the opportunity in 2017 to create the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund.

“At first I had no idea what land degradation was, but I quickly learned a lot about the exploitation of nature and the fact that we are underinvesting in so-called capital. natural.

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Natural capital is the name given to the world’s stocks of natural assets, such as soil, air, water, and living things. For hundreds of years, natural capital has been tapped, but the UN plan is to encourage sustainable investment in it to restore the land to its usefulness.

“I realized that what the UN was asking for was that we fund what is needed to plant trees and that we be reimbursed by the sale of cocoa, coffee, wood, tea and others. sustainable raw materials produced with good environmental and social practices, ”Mr. Quéru said.

“It is natural green infrastructure that we are rebuilding. “

It might sound like a big ambition, but that’s because it is. The fund’s recently released impact report exposes the harsh reality.

“Poor land management practices, often fueled by exploitation for short-term economic gains instead of promoting long-term sustainability, resulted in the loss of more than 25% of the world’s arable land over the past two years. last decades.

“In total, two billion hectares of land are degraded around the world, and through production from exploitation, human activities continue to degrade 12 million hectares of productive land each year. “

To understand the magnitude of the problem, it should be borne in mind that two billion hectares is the size of China. The problem that the United Nations is trying to solve is so big. Protecting and restoring nature has garnered support from countries and big business, as well as dreamy students.

“Many international companies are committed to having sustainable supply chains, committed to a net zero level, which means that at some point they are forced to plant more trees and care about nature.” , said Mr. Quéru.

It is clearly a project that fascinates him. The benefits of his fund are not just to restore nature – and generate decent returns for investors – but to help society and local communities.

“Restoring degraded lands helps local communities to live there and have sustainable livelihoods,” he says.

This is not a hippie dream, but a convenient way to fund and scale economically viable projects with a positive impact on natural capital and communities.

The impact report sums it up: “In addition to the direct economic value of the sustainable use of land and its resources, good management of terrestrial ecosystems can increase food security, reduce biodiversity loss and help address climate change, poverty, social instability and conflict. “

To date, the fund has a relatively small amount to invest – just over $ 200 million – but it has already launched projects in eight countries. They range from the sustainable production of coffee and cocoa to restore deforested areas in Latin America, to sustainable forestry projects and nut production in Africa and Asia, each time with a strong emphasis on the inclusion of smallholders. .

The UN-backed fund uses mixed funding – public and institutional money – to launch its projects. As such, it is not available directly to private investors until now, but the plan is to grow the fund and attract more money.

“This is just the start,” says Quéru. “We are trying to pave the way for a transition in the financial industry.”

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