Moving Mountains: Unlocking Private Capital for Biodiversity and Ecosystems

Moving mountains blog visual
Moving mountains blog visual

By Massimiliano Riva, Investment Advisor, UN Joint SDG Fund

(Click Here to access publication)

Re-thinking and applying strategies to ‘move mountains’

It is a necessary - but incredibly difficult – task to direct private investments into nature conservation and the preservation of biodiversity. But there is emerging, encouraging evidence that it is possible to change the way the private sector looks at nature. The two worlds (and cultures) of conservation organisations and private investors rarely met before the new millennium and are only recently making each other’s acquaintance. The colourful newt on the cover page is a concerted effort to reference the role that nature plays in wealth generation, and symbolises a symbiosis between material wealth and biodiversity. This publication is about re-thinking and applying strategies to ‘move mountains’.

The ‘loss of biodiversity is just as catastrophic as climate change’ noted one recent publication. The global economy depends heavily on functioning ecosystems for food, fuel, fibre, climate regulation, water resources, air quality and many other essential products and services. These vital links—or dependencies on nature—shape financial risks and business opportunities. But at the same time, these vital links can be severely undermined by unsustainable economic activities and are only rarely bolstered or rejuvenated by deliberate business or investment operations.

To prevent what scientists predict to be the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth and restore degraded ecosystems, systemic change is needed. This requires steering the day-today investment decisions of CEOs, investors, pension fund managers, and other finance stakeholders towards halting biodiversity loss, restoring and conserving natural resources, and promoting their sustainable use. This is what is required to implement SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 15 (life above water).

Unlocking private capital by engaging a variety of (new) investors into novel impact-oriented markets that value business opportunities in nature will lead to measurable beneficial impacts on the environment. This strategy is ultimately about the promotion of sustainable business practices by building alliances (e.g. EU Business & Biodiversity platform), promoting standards (e.g. the Forest Management Certification and Climate Bonds Initiative’s Land Conservation and Restoration Standards), and transforming value chains that impact biodiversity. This new focus is underpinned by innovative investment strategies (e.g. impact investing in forestry by GIIN) and vehicles and products (e.g. the Eco Enterprises Fund or TNC’s conservation notes) that produce quantifiable gains for biodiversity. Employing this strategy will require public-private collaborations that spur innovation and create sustainable markets.


A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated

The Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) is not alone in promoting this agenda. Initiatives have grown (here, here, and here) as the biodiversity finance landscape continues to evolve. Financial flows have gone up in numbers and volume, while boundaries between public/private and for-profit/not-for-profit blur. The range and number of financing instruments, strategies, investors, providers, and delivery mechanisms are greater than ever before. BIOFIN’s role is investigating (and unlocking) these solutions as part of a comprehensive national action agenda: the Finance Plan for Nature; please read the Workbook’s Chapter for more and read Georgia’s example. Public and private collaboration is the critical niche where BIOFIN can help make private investment work for biodiversity and ecosystems. Learn with us in this journey!


This supplementary guidance to the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) 2018 Workbook aims to enhance public and private collaboration to unlock private capital for biodiversity and ecosystems. It is our ambition and challenge to assist investors and entrepreneurs to find creative and appropriate private sector finance solutions for conserving biodiversity. BIOFIN brings together 35 countries to provide a new perspective and dialogue to biodiversity finance, revealing the wide number of opportunities each country has for public and private investments in nature. Each country measures how much they are already spending on nature and biodiversity and calculates the volume of finance they need to achieve their national biodiversity goals. Countries then identify the most promising financing options and work to implement those. BIOFIN tools are available online at 

The Joint SDG Fund supports countries in accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by integrating economic, social, and environmental policies, as well as by applying a multi-dimensional and cross-sectoral approach to complex social and environmental challenges.

About the Author: 

Massimiliano Riva, Investment Advisor, UN Joint SDG Fund

Max is responsible for contributing to the United Nations work on sustainable and innovative finance. In late 2019 he joined the Joint SDG Fund as Investment Advisor to set up new approaches and schemes that can result in better/higher financing for the SDGs. This work led to the first Call for proposals on SDG financing ($100 million in grants), the largest systemic attempt by the UN system to tackle the financing of the SDGs. He previously worked for UNDP to identify and operationalize opportunities for leveraging financial resources in support of SDGs. Max is keen to meet and collaborate with colleagues and partners to unlock much needed resources for sustainable development and trigger a more efficient, effective and equitable allocation of resources in-countries.

Max is a sustainable finance advisor by background, with over fifteen years of experience in the public and private sector. He accumulated expertise in areas such as guarantees, inclusive finance, export credit, impact investing, green/SDG bonds and sector resource mobilization strategies. In his career he facilitated a wide range of partnerships on sustainable trade and finance, providing advisory services on the ground to more than 30 countries across all continents. He co-authored several articles and publications on the same. Max has a Master in Economics and International Policies from ASERI and a Degree in Economics from the Bocconi University.