Climate change is a big deal. It’s bells have been ringing in your ears for a while now but the question is, why should we care? From the Himalayan Mountains to the Amazon rainforest, the polar ice sheets and all the mega cities in between, wherever we live today – they will all be affected. A besotted bitch slap to the loss of biodiversity, endangered wildlife and the extinction of humanity altogether.
Empowering impoverished communities in developed nations whilst conserving the environment is one key ways in which some people are making a difference to save the planet. Bremley Lyngdoh from the Woldview Impact Foundation to explain how sustainable banking (Earthbanc) could preserve Mangrove trees, tigers transforming the lives of rural farmers and curb climate crisis. Interview by Sarah Starr.
I’m excited to know about your origin story. Who is Bremley Lyngdoh and how did your journey into becoming an Eco Warrior begin?
I am a former World Bank Environmental Economist turned Social Entrepreneur who grew up in the Khasi hills of Meghalaya in northeast India. My journey as an Eco Warrior started back in May 1985 when a cyclone from the Bay of Bengal struck the coastal islands of Bangladesh. In spite of early detection of atmospheric turbulence and the history of severe cyclones in the area, an estimated 11,000 people lost their lives. I was in Class 5 at St. Edmund’s School in Shillong and got an award from Help Age India for raising a lot of money, old clothes and food supplies from my community to contribute to the relief efforts for the cyclone victims across the border in Bangladesh. I understood then at that young age that we are so small in front of the mighty force of nature and so we must learn to respect the environment and live in harmony with our planet.
Where are you from and how does your background influence the type of projects you are involved in and advocate for?
My mother grew up in the village of Mawphlang where my clan members has been the custodians of our sacred forest with ancient trees that have been standing for more than 1000 years. Our ancient sacred forest is located about 30 miles from the capital city of Shillong. This sacred forest is under the custodianship of the Lyngdoh Clan belonging to the indigenous Khasi tribe that has been living in these hills for centuries. This forest is protected by a spiritual tutelary deity called U Khla (the tiger), who whenever he makes himself visible, takes the form of a tiger. The local chiefs perform religious ceremonies inside this forest in the form of rituals and spring dances in honour of the Khla, who is perceived as master of the wilderness. Apart from the elaborate and complex religious discourse associated with the sacred forest, there is also a huge corpus of tiger lore that has been generated for hundreds of years and is still in circulation. Tigers occupy a very significant role in Khasi mythology. While the tiger is admired, respected and revered, it is also feared. Khasi folklore suggests a subtle convergence of several perceptual and emotional features of the relationship between humans and tigers. Often portrayed as a bitter enemy of humans, he is also believed to be their greatest benefactor. This has given rise to a spectacular belief in the Tigerman, this power being an attribute of Rngiew, one of the components of the complete human embodiment. Our ancient culture of living with tigers has really inspired me to advocate for their protection and as a teenager I got involved with Project Tiger through WWF India.
Who inspires you and in what ways have they influenced you and your endeavours?
My father Eric Bremley Lyngdoh who was born in the year of the Earth Tiger in 1938 was one of the Lyngdoh Clan leaders. He really inspired me as I was growing up as he carried a lot of indigenous knowledge about the power of trees and the plants that grew inside the sacred forest in Mawphlang. He transferred his wisdom to me his first son as I was born in the year of the Wood Tiger in 1974 by taking me for long walks inside the sacred forest showing me all the alters and scared sites that our ancestors have specially marked for performing religious ceremonies. Eric was a passionate political leader during the Hill State Movement in the 1960s that gave birth to the creation of the Hill State of Meghalaya in 1972. Inspired by Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, he led a powerful non-violent direct action march with the support of young people of his homeland in the Summer of 68 to put pressure on the Government of Assam and the Government of India to give the Khasi people their freedom to rule themselves under their new autonomous state. He really influenced me in my endeavours because as a leader he took care of his people and his family throughout his life. He taught his children to respect our ancestors and take care of mother earth for generations to come.
If you could invent anything to save the world, what would it be and why?
I have always been fascinated by the incredible work of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) who invented alternating current (AC), the polyphase alternating current system, which laid the foundation for today’s mass-produced power supply. Tesla’s long-held dream was to create a source of inexhaustible, clean energy that was free for everyone. He strongly opposed centralised coal-fired power stations that spewed carbon dioxide into the air that humans breathed. He believed that the Earth had “fluid electrical charges” running beneath its surface, that when interrupted by a series of electrical discharges at repeated set intervals, would generate a limitless power supply by generating immense low-frequency electrical waves. One of Tesla’s most extraordinary experiments was to transmit electrical power over long distances without wires or cables, a feat that has baffled scientists ever since. His grand vision was to free humankind from the burdens of extracting, pumping, transporting, and burning fossil fuels which he viewed as “sinful waste”. Tesla was eventually undone by what he called “ignorant, unimaginative people, consumed by self-interest” powerful men that sought to protect the immensely profitable, low-tech industries they had spent a lifetime building. Today’s fossil-fuel industry, a legacy of that past, has fought just as hard in recent decades to protect the same interests — Luddites and laggards afraid of losing their companies to the wind and the sun. If I could go back in time and learn from this genius I would reinvent Tesla’s zero point energy system to power the world with free energy without burning fossil fuels and save humanity from destroying our home planet.
What has been your favourite project to date and why?
Back in 2012 when the military junta decided to open up Myanmar to the world, I joined my mentor Dr. Arne Fjortoftwhom I met at a United Nations Rights to Development Conference in Bangkok back in 1999 to work a large-scale mangrove restoration project in the Delta Region of Myanmar. This has been my favourite project to date and we called it Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park – in honour of the well-known Norwegian author, scientist, environmentalist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl – to promote awareness and commitment for urgent action on climate change. He was among the first in the world to raise awareness on climate change and campaigned strongly for reduction of greenhouse gases. My team at Worldview Impact Foundation has been supporting the restoration of mangrove ecosystems led by Dr. Arne Fjortoft on the ground and so far, together with other partners, we have planted 16 million mangrove trees in the Delta Region on Myanmar. Many people consider the mangrove to be a miracle tree. For human communities that depend on fishing, mangroves serve as nurseries for fish species and the detrital food cycle on which those fish depend for survival. Mangrove forests are the vital foundation for a complex marine food web, sustaining not only fisheries but many forms of bird and other wildlife. In Myanmar it is estimated that 75% of the game fish and 90% of the commercial species in certain areas rely on mangrove systems. Mangroves also serve as physical coastal barriers that can absorb extreme wave and storm activity and oceanic surges. Without mangroves to protect coastlines from such damage human lives can be imperilled, as occurred in 2008 when Hurricane Nargis hit coastal areas where there was no longer any mangrove protection and about 200,000 people were killed and millions displaced. Mangroves preserve water quality and reduce pollution, filtering suspended material and assimilating dissolved nutrients that would otherwise smother coral reefs. They also provide a substantial cooling effect and have the ability to mitigate up to five times more CO2 than rainforest trees.
What problem is Earthbanc solving in the world today, specifically in the banking industry and how will this influence our banking choices in the future?
When I met Tom Duncan the Founder of Earthbanc in 2018 at the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security in Switzerland we discussed the problem of sourcing climate finance for implementing large-scale restoration terrestrial and marine ecosystems around the world. I later joined him to develop Earth Plus as our first product. Our core innovation is in the way we bundle up high impact carbon offsets into financial products – meaning that for the first time carbon will be an asset on the books of companies and banks – not a liability. This fundamentally changes the way business looks at carbon and unlocks significant opportunities to create both profit and environmental and social good on a global scale. At Earthbanc we are serious about addressing climate change to unlock $23 trillion of climate finance that is required to meet the Paris Agreement. The local and decentralised nature of the most effective climate solutions makes it difficult to direct the trillions required to solve climate change. That’s why we’re creating a new regenerative asset class that solves the ‘last-mile problem’ of climate finance by enabling those trillions of dollars to flow to regenerative and cleantech projects through scalable financial mechanisms. For an Earth Plus customer their business drives systemic impact. We ensure our customers have the data and stories they need to demonstrate their environmental and social impact. It will change the way their organisation is viewed and be a platform for a new level of meaningful engagement with their employees, customers and stakeholders. Now that’s leadership.
Earthbanc reports and verifies carbon risks for banks and other large organisations by using its sustainable finance AI in combination with open banking data, satellite & IoT remote sensing services. Can you please explain exactly how this system works?
Our unique climate finance decision metrics help us select and build the most high-impact projects, and measure those across ecological, social and economic metrics so we can show our customers the maximum value for their Earth Plus Verified carbon offsets. Earth Plus provides a company dashboard that keeps them up to date with their impact metrics, progress reports and access to satellite videos, so they can clearly demonstrate their environmental and social actions and impacts. Truly making a difference means being able to show consistent, measurable impact across an array of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Our Earth Plus Verification Reporting efficiently verifies the carbon sequestration of our own high-impact regenerative projects and brings them to market as Earth Plus offsets and other financial products. Through our partnership with the European Space Agency we gain access to satellite imagery. Our proprietary deep learning models achieve 99% accuracy for measuring tree carbon, and 85%-95% accuracy for soil carbon. We eliminate expensive and slow ground truthing, reducing the scale of verifiable carbon projects from 20,000,000m² to just 200m². This dramatic increase in carbon verification efficiency significantly opens up access to carbon markets for smallholders and large-scale farmers – meaning that anyone can bank their carbon with Earthbanc. We coordinate and directly manage our ecosystem protection and regeneration projects in ways that incentivise the local communities responsible for the on the groundwork to stay involved over the longer term. Rather than a one-time transaction, we stay in partnership with communities, sharing the carbon yield 50/50 with them and creating stronger livelihoods through inclusion in new revenue streams from agroforestry and carbon markets. Our automated micro-payout system enables landowners of all types to enter the carbon market and monetise their tree and soil carbon – incentivising regenerative agriculture, and the protection and restoration of ecosystems at teraton-scale. Our Earth Plus offsets are the first to measure and monitor biodiversity and climate adaptation benefits.
Worldview Impact Foundation in partnership with Earth 300 launched the Earth 300 Tiger Climate Park to highlight the theme of Ocean: Life and Livelihoods to celebrate the United Nations World Ocean Day on June 8th 2021. How will this project create the necessary impact to create positive change, for example, in the lives of the farmers and in efforts to preserve the Royal Bengal Tiger?
To celebrate the United Nations World Oceans Day on 8th June 2021, Worldview Impact Foundation in partnership with Earth 300 launched the Earth 300 Tiger Climate Park highlighting the theme of Ocean: Life and Livelihoods. Together they will help restore 300,000 mangrove trees in the Sundarbans of India in West Bengal to fight climate change by creating sustainable livelihoods for the small and marginal farmers living around these swamps while protecting the habitat of the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger. This special climate park has been created to honour my father Eric Bremley Lyngdoh from Meghalaya northeast India who was born in the year of the Earth Tiger and who inspired the ecosystem restoration projects of Worldview Impact Foundation and the creation of Spring Valley Farm in India.
The Sundarbans are the largest mangrove forests on Earth and are shared between India and Bangladesh. They play a vital role in shielding coastal communities from storms and floods intensified by climate change, like the super cyclone Amphan that struck both countries in May 2020 and cyclone Yaas that struck India in May 2021. The 4000 hectares of restored grown mangroves acted as a storm bio-shield, helping to absorb some of the impacts of the up to 265 kilometres per hour winds, and preserving the banks from flooding and desalination. They remain intact after the devastating tropical storm, with no uprooted trees. Mangrove ecosystems are vital for the survival of many species on our planet, like the Royal Bengal Tiger, that have adapted to survive in the saltwater swamps of the Sundarbans. Tigers serve as apex predators within their ecosystem, feeding on fish living amongst the mangrove roots, hunting underwater – a highly unusual adaptation for big cats. This keystone species requires large, interconnected territories for prey abundance. Bengal Tigers are an endangered species, with only between 2000-3000 individual animals today in South Asia. Without sufficient mangrove habitat, tigers are pushed closer to extinction, and without tigers, entire ecosystems would collapse.
Why are trees, let alone Mangroves in your case important, could you explain further please?
Almost 1.3 million people are dependent on forests for their livelihoods in the region of Sunderbans (Census, 2001), and according to the same study, there are almost 200,000 woodcutters and firewood collectors in the region. Also currently, there is a huge rate of deforestation in the Sundarbans area, which we are working on reducing. We aim towards planting and conserving 40 million mangrove plants in the next 5 to 7 years. This could create livelihood opportunities for up to 20,000 people in the same time period, especially if vocational training is provided to them. Earthbanc has joined forces with local Microfinance Organizations to restore 10 million mangrove trees in India now. The Sundarbans is the largest store of terrestrial blue carbon on the planet and prevents local flooding by protecting homes and infrastructure from hurricane-driven storm surges. So far, 785,000 mangroves and erosion control trees have been planted by 23,000 active daily users on Earthbanc India now sequestering 800,000 tonnes of carbon, with the issuance of 800,000 carbon credits, verified by Earthbanc. This is being done by our Earth Plus Verification that builds upon the metrics of the Fair Forest Report, provided by Open Forests UG0F1. Earthbanc’s Forest Monitoring and Carbon Verification Protocol data sources include: satellite Sentinel 2, Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 of the Copernicus Program by European Space Agency; data provided by NASA, USGS, Hansen; and UMD extracted using Google Earth Engine Explorer and NASA Earth data. Results are compared with ground truth data of partnering entities.
You are creating sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable communities by training them on regenerative agriculture and ecosystem services. What kind of training does this entail, where and how many lives have been transformed because of it today?
Worldview Impact Foundation (WIF), which I founded in 1999, has been working with the Hill Farmers’ Union transforming the lives of 100,000 members who are small and marginal farmers from different states in northeast India. These hill farmers have been trained on regenerative agriculture and organic farming techniques and now they will be supporting WIF to participate in emission reduction activities through regenerative agroforestry and adaptive multi-paddock grazing. This will allow them to drawdown carbon into soils and trees. WIF supports the exploration of innovative sustainable finance and supply chain in setting to achieve emissions reductions that are meaningful, whilst ensuring farmers become more resilient in the face of climate change, improve circularity of production and reduce emissions intensive inputs or outright replace with only natural local circular economy or on-site farm produced inputs which are carbon negative. In partnership with Earthbanc, we are looking forward to demonstrating how to scale up sustainable farming and reduce emissions very significantly.
Climate change is a very urgent global issue. Based on your knowledge and experience as an Advisor to the UN and the World Bank, what actions are these organisations taking to implement strategies with participation and inclusion from all nations to combat the climate crisis?
Both the United Nations and the World Bank have financed many climate change mitigation and adaptation projects around the world to help developing countries to combat the climate crises. But over the last 25 years they have only touched the surface and time is running out. To speed up action the World Bank Group’s new Climate Change Action Plan will attempt to deliver ‘record levels’ of climate finance to countries most in need of support to reduce emissions and improve resilience against the climate crisis. Between 2021 and 2025, the World Bank Group– comprising of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and International Development Association (IDA) – will work to align all new financial operations with the needs of the Paris Agreement from July 2023. That 35% of its financial flows are in alignment with the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Specifically, the Group will support efforts from developing countries in implementing and updating Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the global climate accord. Priority areas for spending include energy, agriculture, food, water and land, cities, transport and manufacturing – with a focus on resilience, adaptation and decarbonisation. The new Action Plan is said to be identifying and prioritising actions on the most impactful mitigation and adaptation opportunities. This means helping the largest emitters flatten the emissions curve and helping countries achieve successful adaptation and resilience to climate change. They will be delivering climate finance at record levels and seeking solutions that achieve the most impact. At least 50% of IDA and IBRD climate finance will support adaptation. The World Bank is the largest multilateral provider of climate finance for developing countries and delivered $83bn in climate finance during its previous five-year action plan, including more than $21bn in 2020. A new Country Climate and Development Report (CCDR) diagnostic tool will also be introduced, to help developing countries find out what technologies would work best for their efforts to decarbonise and improve resilience.
You are portraying that World Organisations as above are doing their jobs greatly, but people in the world do not believe this is the case. Why is it so, and what can be done to ensure world governments, banks and organisations distribute a percentage of their funds to develop eco projects to benefit both the environment and grassroot level workers? Would there need to be a policy in place concerning tax?
The World Bank’s new commitment arrives just weeks after it was revealed that UK banks and asset managers collectively financed projects emitting 805 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2019 – around twice the UK’s annual national carbon footprint. The analysis from WWF and Greenpeace UK covers the financial activities of 15 large banks and 10 large asset managers with UK operations, assessing their Scope 3 (indirect) emissions from financed activities using the frameworks provided by the GHG Protocol and the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PACF). Collectively, the activities of these organisations accounted for CO2e emissions 1.8 times higher than the UK’s national figure in 2019. Many of the banks and investors, the report claims, are still funnelling millions or even billions into high-carbon sectors such as oil and gas, coal, aviation, road transport and mining, without environmental ‘strings’, despite a trend towards updated climate targets.
Banks assessed for the report are Barclays, CitiGroup Global Markets, Credit Suisse International, Credit Suisse Investments UK, Goldman Sachs Group UK, HSBC, JP Morgan Capital Holdings, Lloyds Banking Group, Merrill Lynch International, Morgan Stanley International, Nationwide, Nomura Europe Holdings, NatWest Group (formerly RBS), Santander UK and Standard Chartered. Fortunately, many nations are realising the importance of embracing green finance. In the build-up to COP26,
US President Joe Biden pledged in his election manifesto to double climate funding – a proposal that is reportedly not going down well among the Republican Party – and to improve climate risk disclosure requirements. The UK is also set to issue its first green gilts this summer. As for the UK’s COP26 unit, the organisation has selected Climate Finance as a key theme for the conference. Mark Carney, the former Governor of British Central Bank, BoE, is Finance Advisor for the summit and is heading up the ‘Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero’ (GFAN). The initiative will bring together banks, asset managers, asset owners, insurers and other providers of financial services in a network designed to unify and strengthen climate ambitions across the sector. Organisers are hoping to bring together 160 firms in the first instance.
What programmes do you have in place to ensure its feasibility and long term sustainability?
Worldview Impact Foundation has been providing bespoke services for cooperatives of small hold organic farmers in developing countries to integrate and expand agro-forestry integrated farming systems that bring local products to market and create market linkages with the merging sectors of regenerative supply chains and agro-ecotourism. For our clients we also do project development, feasibility studies, capacity building and training, environmental, social and economical impact assessments, marketing and financing. Our long-term goal is to create an organic revolution for the small hold farmers of northeast India training and supporting them with new technologies that can add value to their agriculture produce thereby improving their livelihood strategies and lifting them out of the poverty trap of subsistence farming. We plan to link them to international markets in the EU and US where certified organic products from the northeast region of India can be sold at a premium building a global north east brand.
What SDG’s does this project fulfil and what timeline is in place to ensure these actions are met?
In September 2015, 193 countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a roadmap to alleviate global poverty, advance social and economic development and importantly, further the integrated management of natural systems. The importance of restoring and protecting mangroves in both our projects in India and Myanmar as a low carbon investment is reflected most clearly in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, which focuses on sustainably governing our oceans and coasts and recognises mangroves’ immense value to local communities. But restoring mangrove forests also supports the achievement of many other SDGs, including eliminating poverty and hunger (SDG 1 and SDG 2), ensuring livelihoods and economic growth (SDG 8), taking actions against climate change impacts (SDG 13) and halting biodiversity loss (SDG 15). As we enter the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, addressing climate change provides a significant opportunity for a green recovery. Regenerating degraded ecosystems creates green jobs with respectable wages, safeguards biodiversity, and provides food security and water supply.
What are the key ingredients that give companies confidence to invest in sustainability projects in developing nations?
We know that 20-50 billion mangroves (when taking seagrass recovery into account) is equivalent to 1 trillion terrestrial trees in terms of carbon drawdown. So a global effort to halt climate change would require up to 50-fold less trees than the proposed 1 trillion tree target from the ETH Zurich study. Restoring 20-50 billion mangroves could provide us with about 15 years extra time to draw down our emissions and reduce our ecological footprint in order to mitigate climate change. It’s a lot of mangroves, for sure, yet the Worldview Impact Foundation team demonstrated that drone tree planting could achieve 100,000 trees per day in Myanmar. It’s a message of great hope to know that we could buy ourselves that kind of time to address our most pressing climate-related issues. Ultimately hand-based tree planting is more accurate for survival rates now, but drone technology will improve over time.
Mangroves are under threat globally due to land conversion, overexploitation, and other human-induced stressors. Various stakeholders, including governments and NGOs, have been working on the conservation and restoration of mangrove ecosystems for years with mixed results. Lack of sustainable finance is often cited as a reason for long-term project failure. Hence the opportunity arises for mangrove capital to lead the way in regenerative finance. Mangroves provide valuable ecosystem services estimated to be worth tens of thousands of USD per hectare, and play an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Through regenerative investment mangroves can deliver a number of environmental and social benefits. This is of great interest to both governments wanting to reduce coastal damage and increase economic livelihoods and impact investors wanting to do good while earning economic returns based on valuation of natural capital.
How did you get involved in these projects and what does their success mean to you?
I am a mountain man who has fallen in love with the sea. So I started working on restoring cloud forest ecosystems in the Eastern Himalayas of northeast India and now I am restoring mangrove forest ecosystems by the Indian Ocean right off the coast of southwest Myanmar. I got involved in these projects because despite the known ecological benefits, mangroves have also become the target of various coastal projects that require the destruction of the mangroves, including the production of charcoal by extremely poor local families who suffer nomadic and unreliable existences.
According to a NASA report only 20% of original mangrove cover remains in the vulnerable areas, and without any intervention, it is projected that most if not all the remaining mangrove cover will be gone by 2030. To help avert this disastrous ecological outcome, reverse the trend and provide significant economic benefits to coastal communities, WIF has been working with Earthbanc on implementing an ambitious but viable project, which has numerous synergistic components including benefiting women in disadvantaged communities. Our long-term goal is to meaningfully engage our partners globally in planting one billion mangrove trees with us and providing green jobs with sustainable livelihoods for millions of poor people living in coastlines and the Delta Region of Myanmar and the Sundarbans of India. Our success depends on these Climate Parks that we have created which are expanding in different locations and countries. The ultimate measurement of our success is to mitigate one billion tons of CO2 by 2030 primarily by maintaining and protecting mangrove forests from human activities that would otherwise release carbon from the ground to our planet’s atmosphere.