Interview with Jean-Christophe BENOIT, Investment and Development Director at CDC Biodiversité

For this fourth episode of Season 8 of Chroniques Urbaines™ dedicated to the theme of “Urban Biodiversity”, we interviewed Jean-Christophe Benoît, Director of Development and Investment at CDC Biodiversité, who tells us more about CDC Biodiversité’s role in the urban ecosystem.

Green Soluce: What is CDC Biodiversité’s mission?

Jean-Christophe Benoit : CDC Biodiversité is a private company created in 2008, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Caisse des Dépôts, whose core business is environmental compensation. It aims to provide operational solutions to economic actors, such as companies and local authorities, to carry out actions that promote biodiversity, reconciling ecology and economy.

The Avoid-Reduce-Compensate sequence has existed in French law since 1976 but was almost never implemented before the 2010 Grenelle Environment Forum ; whereas it is an extremely relevant tool when properly implemented. Caisse des Dépôts’ objective was therefore to create the first environmental compensation operator in France.

My role within CDC Biodiversité is to develop the company’s field of activity. Today, CDC Biodiversité is gradually extending this to the city, the marine environment, agro-ecology, etc. In parallel with our corporate activity, we are leading the Biodiversity Economics Mission, which is a research and reflection laboratory financed by Caisse des Dépôts: a team of a few people is working on new innovative tools for financing biodiversity conservation, such as payments for environmental services; ecological compensation is also one of these tools. We are considering the development and implementation of these levers in order to propose solutions to economic actors, which they can integrate into their activities.

Green Soluce: One of the main thrusts of the Nature 2050 programme is to promote the return of biodiversity to the city. Why is this axis essential?

Jean-Christophe Benoit : The Nature 2050 programme, created after COP 21 a little over two years ago, is a programme for adapting territories to climate change. Its principle is based on voluntary action: we seek funding from economic actors who wish to go beyond their regulatory obligations, by adopting a positive biodiversity approach, and, with the funds collected, we set up actions in their territories to make them more resilient to climate change, with solutions based on nature. In concrete terms, this program aims to:

  • Wetland restoration
  • The creation of green and blue frames
  • Adaptation of forest and agricultural areas to climate change
  • The creation of natural urban sites

These actions also contribute, especially in cities, to the improvement of the population’s living environment (reduction of heat islands, water regulation, improvement of air quality, food supply, etc.). Urban biodiversity is a major focus of our development.

For example, the Nature 2050 programme makes it possible to convert a 12-hectare industrial wasteland in the heart of the city of Sevran in Seine-Saint-Denis into an urban natural site open to the public and adapted to climate change through the development and planting of adapted local species.

Green Soluce: Why did CDC Biodiversité develop the Global Biodiversity Score and how is it constituted?

Jean-Christophe Benoit : A few years ago, we launched the design of this indicator, the Global Biodiversity Score, to meet the need to measure the footprint of economic activities on biodiversity. The ambition of the Global Biodiversity Score, or GBS, is to build a transparent and consensual biodiversity footprint measurement tool, using a biodiversity metric equivalent to what the CO2 equivalent tonne is for the “climate” issue, in order to measure the impacts of economic activities on ecosystems along the value chain (from raw material extraction to product use). It is based on a single metric that focuses on biodiversity: the Mean Specific Abundance, used by IPBES, IPCC and the Convention on Biological Diversity. This metric represents the impact in equivalent km² of destroyed virgin natural areas and provides a quantitative account of the multitude of anthropogenic pressures that simultaneously impact ecosystems. The pressures of economic activities are expressed in MSA values, knowing that a car park has an MSA value of 0, while a primary forest has an MSA value of 100.

In line with the role of the carbon footprint in combating climate change, GBS aims both to report on the biodiversity footprint of companies for non-financial reporting purposes and to act as a decision-making tool to identify the direct, indirect or induced impacts of these activities in order to reduce them or even to achieve a net positive impact on biodiversity.

Green Soluce: Can you tell us about the Cossure operation, a pilot operation launched in 2008 with the Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition? How can it enable companies to meet their environmental compensation needs?

Jean-Christophe Benoit : Projects carried out by a developer often have an impact on biodiversity. The latter must therefore implement the Avoid-Reduce-Compensate sequence, and may then be required to compensate for the residual impacts of his project (which could not be avoided or reduced).

The Cossure operation is a pilot operation started in 2008 with the Ministry in charge of ecology. We acquired the Domaine de Cossure, a 360-hectare estate of former industrial orchards in the Crau plain (Bouches-du-Rhône) in 2008, to carry out restoration and development operations on biodiversity elements and create a natural compensation site. It is a steppe environment, semi-arid Mediterranean, in which we rehabilitate an area favourable to sheep breeding and biodiversity.

This is an innovative operation, which anticipates the need for compensation, and it is the first environmental compensation offer in Europe.

The principle is as follows: the ecological added value, created and recognised by the Ministry, is valued through compensation units made available to developers who have impacted similar environments in the same region. This experimentation led to the creation of a separate tool called a “natural compensation site”. This tool, now part of the law for the reclamation of biodiversity, nature and landscapes promulgated in 2016, offers developers the opportunity to purchase environmental compensation units from natural compensation sites.

Green Soluce: How can biodiversity be a driver of economic development?

Jean-Christophe Benoit : Biodiversity can be integrated into a company’s or community’s economic model. We often forget that a significant part of French economic activity is closely dependent on biodiversity, particularly in the fields of tourism, agriculture and luxury. We are trying to change the way companies view biodiversity, which they currently see as a constraint. In terms of innovation, resilience and competitiveness, biodiversity is a source of opportunities. Permaculture and biomimicry are examples of applying natural models to our activities.

In addition, there are currently high social expectations regarding the quality of life, particularly in cities, or food, through organic farming for example. Our work consists in providing methods and tools to support the ecological transition of cities and agricultural areas, knowing that food practices have a strong impact on biodiversity, using nature-based solutions.

Biodiversity is a key subject that economic actors should be integrating into their business models in order to remain competitive and in line with social expectations and environmental issues.

Interview by Constance Flachaire and Lucille Christien for Urban Chronicles™

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Green SoluceInterview with Jean-Christophe BENOIT, Investment and Development Director at CDC Biodiversité
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