Grant to study how financial flows affect ecosystems and climate

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A project led by Victor Galaz of GEDB and Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) has been granted SEK 1,7 million by Sweden’s innovation agency, Vinnova, to study how global financial flows drive large scale changes in the world’s ecosystems with consequences for the Earth’s climate system. GEDB and SRC team up with Future Earth and the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, in this 2-year project which will incorporate an ambitious outreach and visualization component to bridge the gap between scientific research of the role of finance for planetary stability, the finance community, and the general public.

Mapping economic activities that affect crucial biomes

Science have highlighted that changes in specific biomes and regions have disproportionally large negative impacts on the stability of the climate system and shown that changes in the biosphere including the climate system can unfold in rapid and irreversible ways. Examples include the instability of the West Antarctic ice sheet, shifts in the West African monsoon, and Arctic sea-ice loss. Other “tipping elements” are modified directly by a combination of climate change and human activities, such as deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, and boreal forest dieback. The two latter are modified through economic activities such as soy bean production (for the Amazon), and pulp and paper industries (for boreal forests). Put bluntly, the economic activities that modify the forest systems, and the financial capital that sustains these, are directly contributing to the further destabilization of the climate system.

The key aim of this project is therefore to identify, and systematically map the financial actors providing the supporting capital for economic activities that induce these ecological changes. This would be the first attempt ever to systematically map how financial actors and capital connect to environmental change across regions in the world.

“With this new funding we will provide the first integration ever of insights from the global change sciences to research on finance and sustainability, says Victor Galaz. We also hope to provide tangible insights on new financial risks emerging as the result of environmental changes with detrimental impacts on the climate system and human wellbeing,” he continues.

Visualizations and communication to trigger change    

Data visualization is opening up new ways to interpret, analyze and share information with global audiences. The plan is to develop a novel visualization tool to allow users to explore global financial flows, and their links to key functions in the Earth system. The aim of the visualizations will be to spark constructive dialogue on investor impact on the biosphere. As such the visualisations will be designed to work as “boundary objects” between researchers, multinational corporations and shareholders. Furthermore, outreach and knowledge transfer activities will link the project with the financial sector through a series of workshops.

“We are convinced that with this combination of contributors from academia, practice and science communication, and the approach, we will provide considerable insights to both the scientific community and the finance industry”, Victor Galaz concludes.