Farmers are often portrayed as the bad guys. Whether it’s nitrogen pollution, the desiccation of the land, soil degradation, global warming, or biodiversity loss, the finger often points at the farmer. We would rather not see the other fingers pointing at us, the price-conscious consumer. Nor do we like to see that many of the problems are the result of subsidies that have for decades stimulated intensive farming.
On the contrary, there is every reason not to view our farmers, or landowners in general, through such a negative lens; but to welcome them as our new heroes. For they hold the key to solving the two greatest problems of our time: global warming and biodiversity loss. Now is the time to get behind them as future producers of habitat and wildlife in its myriad forms – not lambast them into a corner.
The earth is warming up because we are all burning billions of litres of fossil fuels every day, trees and shrubs along with wetlands and healthy soils sequester the CO2 released. But most land has been cultivated or modified by humankind in some way, and there is not enough vegetation, wetland and topsoil left to capture all the CO2. At the same time biodiversity has declined sharply. This decline in plant and animal diversity puts ecosystems at risk, and with them our food security and health. The massive restoration of nature and biodiversity is therefore crucial for us and for future generations. For this restoration of nature, a lot of land is needed.
As NatureCredits, a company that facilitates nature restoration, we interviewed 72 landowners in Europe, and they unanimously indicated that they consider nature and biodiversity important. With nostalgia they think back to a time when 'the land was still alive', with flowers, herbs, insects, birds and frogs, before their land turned into a green desert.
But the interviews also indicate that nature restoration does not seem to be a viable option for most landowners. They feel trapped by rules, dependent on subsidies and exploited by low margins and long contracts with banks and suppliers. Although many landowners are willing, they are stuck in a suboptimal system. The question is how to change this system into one that rewards far-sighted and proactive approaches with ecology at its heart – instead of being stuck in a perpetual cycle of bureaucracy.
The breakthrough is close at hand.
A record number of companies have made "net-zero" pledges, meaning they want to reduce net emissions to zero by 2030, 2035 or, for the less heroic, 2050. Net, because most companies cannot reduce their CO2 emissions to zero and will always have to compensate for some of the emissions.
This is where our New Heroes play a crucial role! Landowners who restore nature on their land sequester CO2 and respond to the growing demand for emission storage compensation. This allows them to earn a healthy and sustainable income. In many cases, this goes hand in hand with agriculture or cattle breeding. Think, for example, of peatland restoration or regenerative agriculture.
But there is still a problem: nature takes time to recover, and while the land is not absorbing additional CO2, there is no income. Without income, most landowners cannot start restoring nature. NatureCredits offers a solution for this. From the start, landowners receive an advance payment on the expected CO2 revenues. With this financing, in combination with technical guidance, they can immediately start restoring the natural rhythms of nature on their land and play a leading role as our New Heroes of ecological restoration for generations to come.
Who am I and what drives me?
I am Willem Nolens, 49 years old and I live with my family in Millingen aan de Rijn in the Netherlands. After studying economics, I have always worked on solving social problems through commercial entrepreneurship. I did this for 10 years with microcredits in Africa and Asia (ProCredit, ASA International) and then 10 years with solar energy in Africa (SolarNow). In Uganda, I experienced climate change first hand: many of our clients saw their crops fail due to drought. Every day, many football fields of nature were burnt to make way for fields. It made me desperate.
That's why I want to get involved in climate and biodiversity. In 2019 and 2020 I worked for Rewilding Europe, where I learned that restoring nature does not have to be complicated and expensive at all. In early 2022, I set up NatureCredits with a team of entrepreneurs and experts. NatureCredits is completely commercial. By showing that money can be made on nature restoration, we hope to inspire other entrepreneurs and investors so that much more money becomes available for nature restoration.
NatureCredits offers landowners in Europe a new perspective. Landowners who restore nature on their land receive advance payments of the expected carbon revenues from day one. The participating landowners form an active community in which knowledge and experience are shared. NatureCredits sells these high-quality carbon credits to selected companies, who not only offset their residual emissions, but also contribute to a more beautiful and healthier world.