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Cecil in Action: Why Rory Oxenham backs data-driven nature markets

By Tech in Action

It was 2019 and Australia was burning. As fire claimed the lives of people and animals, Rory Oxenham made a decision. He dedicated his career to tackling the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. This wildfire disaster, now known as Black Summer, was a catalyst. It spurred Rory and his colleague Alex Logan to quit their jobs to found a new venture: Cecil. Committed to driving high integrity nature markets, Cecil works to combine complex data sources and provide more accurate insights to market participants.

Can you introduce yourself and explain why you decided to found Cecil?

My life changed when I moved to Australia in 2015. I joined a clean tech startup with a mission to make residential battery storage and solar energy more accessible to rural Australian communities. Whilst it was here that my commitment to climate action took off, it would be another two years before I would meet my future co-founder. 

I met Alex Logan whilst working for the corporate venturing arm of Boston Consulting Group in Sydney, Australia. Here, we built and launched data-driven businesses for some of the most influential corporations in the world, spanning from insurance to agri-businesses. I’m not sure if either of us fully appreciated the severity of the climate crisis until it arrived on our doorstep in 2019. Catastrophic bushfires destroyed homes and natural ecosystems throughout Australia, claiming the lives of over three billion animals in the process. This tragedy sparked a joint decision; we would dedicate our careers to protecting, conserving and restoring the natural world.

Could you say more on the problem you seek to solve?

Globally, there is a nature financing gap of more than US $700 billion. If we are to close this by 2030, it is essential we establish high-integrity nature markets. As nature-related claims underpin these markets, we believe these should be both backed by high integrity data and grounded in transparency.

However, at the moment, organisations investing in nature or assessing nature-related risks are struggling to tackle three, core data challenges:

  1. Inadequate data management systems
  2. Combining complex data sources
  3. Keeping up with nature-related reporting requirements

Inadequate data management systems

Access to accurate and comprehensive data is critical for teams operating in nature markets. However, these organisations are currently cobbling disparate data sources using ad-hoc and non-scalable management systems. This inevitably leads to information silos, data gaps and versioning issues – problems only made worse as data volumes increase overtime. What’s more, manual methods of merging and validating environmental, financial, and operational datasets are time consuming and error prone. This leaves organisations unable to reveal the necessary insights to support decision making and drive impact. 

Difficulties combining data sources

The rapid rise of machine-generated data sources, from satellites in the sky to sensors in the canopy of rainforests, has unlocked new opportunities for organisations investing in natural assets to measure and verify natural capital stocks. However, datasets in both public and private spheres contain inconsistent data formats that require manual extraction or manipulation before they are ready to be analysed. This leaves organisations unable to leverage the full value of comprehensive data sources and struggling to hire specialised in-house expertise to make sense of the information. Ultimately, such inconsistencies limit the number of much-needed nature market participants.

Complex nature-related reporting requirements

Nature markets are undergoing a massive transition. From emerging biodiversity markets to nature-related financial disclosures, the reporting requirements are rapidly changing. We are seeing an increasing level of expected transparency and integrity of underlying data upon which claims are based. 

As a result, organisations operating in nature markets are responding to changing regulatory landscape and building capacity to comply with complex reporting standards. However, in the absence of high integrity data, the challenge for organisations to keep up is overwhelming. Teams are left unable to scale their impact at a pace proportionate to the urgency of the dual crises we face. 

Let’s get technical: How does your product work?

Cecil is focused on solving the data problem for organisations operating in nature markets today. Cecil’s cloud-based data infrastructure is secure and scalable, enabling teams to leverage the full potential of nature-specific technology and the data it unlocks.

Teams use Cecil’s data platform to: 

Connect: Automatically ingest data with built-in integrations

The proliferation of machine-generated data sources has dramatically increased the breadth and depth of information available to investors in natural assets. Cecil supports the automated ingestion of structured environmental, geospatial and investment data through API integrations. Nature-specific data sources can fall under the following categories:

  • Public registries: IHS Markit, Verra, and Plan Vivo
  • Market intelligence data providers: Trove Research, Allied Offsets, and Viridios
  • Publicly available datasets: Global Forest Watch
  • Geospatial mapping tools: ArcGIS, QGIS and the Landapp
  • Existing or emerging digital monitoring, reporting, and verification technologies: Downforce technologies
  • Standards and VBBs: Woodland and Peatland Carbon Codes

Organise: Consolidate data systems into a single source of truth

Through working with leading global nature investors, Cecil has developed a nuanced capability for organising data in this domain. Cecil’s data models structure project/asset level data logically, so that normalised data can be monitored, transformed and analysed. This enables Cecil to represent the complexity of natural systems by layering and drawing relationships between datasets over time. Cecil’s data models also provide a foundation for combining first party data with external data sources such as emerging digital MRV technologies, industry databases and other government datasets.

Monitor: Improve data quality in near real-time

When it comes to monitoring, Cecil can identify and confirm inaccuracies in the ingested data by performing data validation and establishing best practices for data modelling. Equipped with pre-defined specifications, we make sure the inputted data conforms. If an inaccuracy is flagged, it will be automatically resolved by the system or reviewed by a member of the Cecil team. 

Share: Deliver valuable insights to investors, partners and regulatory bodies

Teams operating in nature markets must transparently communicate the integrity of their assets to investors, partners and regulatory bodies. By helping teams establish a strong foundation of valid, analysis ready data, Cecil unlocks the ability to share granular insights with all stakeholders via destinations such business intelligence dashboards or private reporting portals and websites.

Can you share a story of success?

We are privileged to collaborate with forward-thinking teams who are driving impact within emerging nature markets. One inspiring example is Foresight Sustainable Forestry Company (FSF), a publicly-listed company dedicated to investing in sustainably managed forestry and afforestation (new woodland creation) assets in the UK. FSF was awarded the Green Economy Mark by the London Stock Exchange at the time of its IPO, and manages its fund in alignment with Article 9 of the EU SFDR (which requires it to pro-actively set and monitor progress against sustainability objectives).

Cecil has helped FSF establish a robust data management system capable of seamlessly connecting operational, financial, carbon, and biodiversity data collected across their ever-expanding portfolio of assets. By centralising data managed by FSF’s portfolio management team and its contracted forest managers, ecologists, and ad-hoc service providers in one place, Cecil can implement stringent data validation checks that improve data quality over time. Transforming nature-related datasets into meaningful metrics to streamline FSF’s reporting processes is another key focus, driving transparency and trust with FSF’s internal and external network of stakeholders.

Cecil has demonstrated the positive impact of establishing a solid data foundation at FSF. We’re thrilled to be playing a small but important role in supporting their mission to make a meaningful difference in the world of sustainable forestry and beyond.

Finally, what’s next for cecil?

At Cecil, we are closely following emerging trends emerging for nature markets. Encouragingly, nature appears to be rising up the global agenda.

We have seen the EU’s directive on deforestation free products  and the UK’s mandating of biodiversity net gain for development and infrastructure projects. We’ve also seen significant progress with industry driven initiatives, including the first release of Science Based Targets for Nature and the final recommendation from the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures. Furthermore, 140 financial institutions have now signed the Finance for Biodiversity Pledge, committing to the protection and restoration of biodiversity through their financial activities and investments. Going forward, we expect high integrity data to play a key part in driving these initiatives.

We’re also tracking how new innovations such as eDNA and bioacoustics are unlocking scalable new ways to track biodiversity. Organisations operating in nature markets are leveraging this opportunity to digitise existing datasets which, when paired with modern data models, can unlock new insights into the historic and forecasted health of natural assets. We believe that this trend will continue to increase the volume of data flowing through nature markets, rapidly reduce the costs to measure nature and, ultimately, transform how natural assets are financed.

 

Disclaimer: Cecil has worked with Respira International. Read more about Cecil here.

Biomass in action: Why CEO Marco Albani founded Chloris Geospatial

By Tech in Action

In the first of our Tech in Action  series, we speak to Marco Albani, the Co-Founder and CEO of Chloris Geospatial. Established in 2021, the company is operating at the intersection of space-tech and nature-tech. Using advanced machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensor-fusion, the team at Chloris Geospatial can directly measure vegetation dynamics on earth, from space.

Can you introduce yourself and explain why you decided to found Chloris Geospatial?

Although I trained as a forest scientist, I spent much of the last 20 years working in sustainability and on climate change solutions for business. Time and again, I saw action hindered by a shortage of good operational-scale data and by a lack of understanding of how changes in land use impact the volumes of carbon stored in the earth’s vegetation. Businesses needed greater awareness of the impacts of their activities on the natural world. So, not only did I know there was space, but also a pressing need for a solution. 

I knew that Dr. Alessandro Baccini, Chief Scientist and co-founder of Chloris Geospatial, had been working on the science side of this issue for over 20 years. He was using remote sensing data to directly estimate the carbon stored in vegetation and forest. While we each came to the challenge from a different angle, we both recognised the importance of making this science available to the market – both at scale and at the speed of business. 

With a growing number of companies starting to take responsibility for their impact on climate and nature, we knew we needed to make our Chloris accounting system easy-to-access and reliable. In this way, we could help new players understand and visualise the carbon stored in forests and vegetation. This was the belief on which we founded Chloris Geospatial.

Could you say more on the problem you seek to solve?

Fundamentally, healthy economies are underpinned by natural capital, such as our forests and grasslands. So, for the global economy to strengthen and achieve a state of net-zero carbon by 2050, we must comprehensively conserve and restore these ecosystems.

At Chloris Geospatial, our mission is to accelerate the transition to a net-zero and nature-positive future. The way we do it is by making it easier for businesses to understand their impact on nature. We are aware that all businesses and corporations are facing the challenge of transitioning to a net-zero and nature-positive economy, which is why we are determined to make access to carbon data, and its insights, both fast and easy. 

At present, our primary focus is on companies operating in the voluntary carbon market and supply chain companies in the food, land use and agriculture sector. Here, the Chloris technology is enabling a real paradigm shift for the measurement of forest carbon. It brings unprecedented integrity, speed and scalability to the voluntary carbon market and to the measurement of the climate performance of forest carbon projects. In just a few hours, we can generate biomass predictions for anywhere in the world.

Our logic at Chloris Geospatial is that if business leaders can access high integrity accounting on natural capital, they need no longer question the carbon calculations on which their investments are based. Equipped with reliable, trust-worthy data, they are free to focus on taking effective action for climate and nature by accelerating investments in nature-based solutions while, at the same time, being able to cost effectively monitor impact with confidence. 

Let’s get technical: How does your product work?

Today, we are the leading company in the market to deliver what is referred to as direct measurement of above-ground carbon stock and change from space. The data we deliver is empirical, spatially explicit, wall-to-wall and comes with quantified uncertainty at the pixel-level. This means, we do not use the average emission factors and area-based estimates that standard remote-sensing approaches are reliant upon. 

Unlike those standard approaches – and thanks to our scientific, machine-learning and software innovations – we see all above-ground carbon changes over very large areas. We can spot carbon emissions from large-scale deforestation, degradation, disturbances and fires. More encouragingly, we also observe the carbon removals as a result of reforestation or restoration. That is why we say that ‘we see what the atmosphere sees’. 

When you unpick this statement, it means that we measure (and annually update) the volume of carbon in and carbon out, for every pixel on the planet, since the year 2000. This is what really matters for the credible carbon accounting that a credible transition to net-zero requires.

As I mentioned, the Chloris Platform is built on the work and experience of Dr. Alessandro Baccini. As a pioneer in measuring forest carbon stock and change from space, he has been instrumental in building our technology. Our data products are based on the fusion of datasets from public Earth Observation missions, including data from NASA’s ICESat GLAS and GEDI instruments, from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 satellites, and from the United States Geological Survey’s Landsat satellites. 

To provide global coverage that incorporates geographic variation in vegetation types and structure, our models are trained at continental scale and capture geographic variations in allometry (the relationship between size and characteristics). Our models also capture the relationships between above ground biomass and remote sensing measurements. Once collected, our data is processed and delivered via the Chloris Platform, which is our cloud-native software infrastructure that deploys data at the speed of business, in a scalable and cost-effective manner. To ensure these high standards are maintained, we make both automated and manual assessments using proprietary benchmarks and publicly available data products.

As a result of the machine-learning and advances in artificial intelligence made by our science and engineering teams, our Platform provides accurate data and insights quickly and at large scale. Our machine learning models are anchored in state-of-the-art data science. They filter and pre-process input data for both quality and representativeness, and create novel predictive features that underpin our mapping algorithms. 

Arguably there is nothing new to use satellites to observe and measure forests, but the current standard approaches have serious limitations. We are pleased to overcome these at Chloris Geospatial and to bring to the market a solution that is able to visualise changes in biomass not only from degradation and deforestation, but also by the slow, steady re-growth of trees.

Can you share a story of success?

From very early on in our start-up journey, Permian Global was a dedicated adopter of our technology, trusting our data for their project development and MRV work in Indonesia. Gaining the trust of such a leading project developer was very encouraging. 

More recently, we have expanded our customer base for large scale work in the voluntary carbon market and in the food, land use and agriculture sectors. The opportunity to demonstrate our technology at these very large scales has been extremely positive for us.

On the product and science side, we are delighted to have achieved a big milestone this year. Since June 2023, we have been able to deliver spatially explicit, annual above-ground biomass stock and change data at 30 m resolution going back to the year 2000. Not only is this data extremely comprehensive, but also has full temporal and spatial consistency and scalability. This longer time series means we can gather more robust data on degradation and growth trends of above-ground biomass. As a result, we have significantly improved our ability to meet the needs of project developers and other actors who are screening and assessing high quality opportunities for avoidance and removals projects. 

Finally, what’s next for Chloris Geospatial?

We are not resting on our laurels! At the moment, we are continuing to develop our product to make it an even greater turnkey solution for REDD+ and ARR applications – both for developers and investors.

But, as a data company fully-focused on tracking natural capital performance over time, our attention isn’t limited to carbon. We see the measurement of biodiversity and water as viable, future opportunities for us and believe that such data would truly help communicate the value of nature conservation and restoration to businesses. Indeed, we see such measurements as essential if we are to build a net-zero and nature-positive economy.

 

 

Disclaimer: Respira International does not have any undisclosed affiliation with Chloris Geospatial, we are just interested admirers of their work and the way it aligns with ours. Find out more about Chloris Geospatial here.

Carbon Credits

Coming soon: Tech in Action

By Tech in Action

Technology is truly crucial for mitigating climate change and preserving our natural world. But although many of us understand this vast and emerging potential, far fewer are aware of the cutting-edge tech innovations already moving us closer to our environmental goals.

Enter our new series: Tech in Action. In every article, we will interview a leading climate or nature tech entrepreneur to highlight the latest developments in the world of tech.

Why now?

As a venture-backed, carbon finance business, we are focused on scaling high-quality, nature-based carbon solutions. Throughout our work, we have witnessed first-hand how climate and nature technologies are building on – and complementing – the hard work carried out across our sector to strengthen the integrity and transparency of the voluntary carbon market. Now, we would like to amplify these solutions and draw attention to positive, successful examples of climate action. 

What to expect?

In this series, you will hear from business leaders at all levels. From project developers to end-buyers, we reveal why each felt inspired to turn to tech. While shining a light on the specific problems each solution seeks to solve, this series is also an opportunity to learn about technicalities. How does the technology actually work? And how have these products brought environmental success? 

For all this and more, stay tuned for the first instalment of our Tech in Action series. Set for publication on the 12th of September, you will hear from Marco Albani, the Co-Founder and CEO of Chloris Geospatial. Utilising advanced machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensor-fusion, Chloris Geospatial directly measures vegetation dynamics on earth, from space. 

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