A young economist with biodiversity finance in focus
Heitor Dellasta is an ecological economist from Brazil. He works as a Conservation and Climate Finance Analyst at Sitawi Finance for Good and volunteers as a representative of Young Professionals for Agriculture Development, Youth Task Force of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and Global Landscapes Forum LAC Team Projects. In an interview ahead of the GEF Assembly, he shared lessons from his work and studies focused on connecting the dots between agriculture, biodiversity, and finance.
What is your current area of focus?
Both my research and my work focus on valuing nature and designing economic incentives and financial solutions that can conserve biodiversity and navigate climate challenges. I have been working in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of socio-environmental policies for five years. I hope to identify and generate positive impacts for people and nature.
My work aims to recognize that closing the current funding gap for biodiversity conservation requires not just increasing the volume of financial resources, but unlocking and diversifying sources. In other words, it is by bringing together government, philanthropic, and business resources that we can create innovative financial solutions that support blended finance initiatives.
How did you get into this field?
I became interested in the field of finance for biodiversity after working as a volunteer on farms in Brazil, and with Indigenous Peoples and local communities in Mexico. These experiences made me aware of the need for funding to support agroforestry systems, ecological restoration and other sustainable efforts in places that are economically vulnerable.
If you could say one thing to today’s political or business leaders, what would it be?
Recognize the diversity of nature's values in all your decisions!
Ecosystem services, or nature's contributions to people, are terms that exemplify the importance of biodiversity for the quality of human life and the economy in the long term. However, the status quo of our economic system is still guided by the unlimited use of natural resources without recognizing our impacts and dependencies on biodiversity and climate.
If we want a future in harmony with nature, we need to realign incentives and redirect financial flows from biodiversity-harmful to biodiversity-positive impacts. Furthermore, it is necessary to recognize the diversity of nature's values – namely instrumental, biophysical and relational values – and place an emphasis on the different worldview of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
What are your other interests?
I am focused primarily on agriculture as a means to support biodiversity and ecological restoration, and to support all people including Indigenous Peoples and local communities. This interest also dominates the way I spend my free time. You can normally find me involved in some way with farming and food: planting, managing, harvesting, cooking, or enjoying the outdoors.
What are you looking forward to at the GEF Assembly?
I hope that the GEF Assembly will be a space that includes and involves young people in decision-making processes on financing biodiversity for people and nature.
Going into this meeting, it is important to note that we as youth are already working well together – holding meetings, writing briefing notes and position papers, and seeking to influence decision-making processes related to the biodiversity and climate agenda at local, regional, and international levels. As a result, we have collectively built proposals that represent the voices of youth around the world on different topics – including the issues I work on, namely agriculture, biodiversity, and finance.
What we have been lacking is the opportunity to liaise with senior people and experts from other organizations, agencies, and governments. We need spaces to be not only listened to but included in decision-making processes. For example, youth are not part of funding budget planning meetings and are not considered as organizations able to receive financial resources. Thinking about financial solutions and economic mechanisms to support youth organizations is essential to close the funding gap for biodiversity.
It is also important for young people to have paths to work in international organizations related to the environment – this can benefit young professionals seeking to build careers in this area, and also ensure that organizations can have effective representation of youth voices and perspectives. Paid fellowships and internships are an important part of this, as organizations look to support our inclusion in decision-making processes.