In Their Own Words: Mike Parr & Lori Anna Conzo

American Bird Conservancy President Mike Parr spoke with Lori Anna Conzo of IFC at the 2018 Sustainability Exchange. They discussed changing mindsets around conservation and how the IFC Performance Standard on biodiversity known as PS6 has revolutionized the market.

Transcript:

Mike Parr: I either got an email or a phone call from this person who I didn’t know, at this institution that I barely heard of saying can I come over and talk to you about biodiversity work – I’m like, “that’s interesting, that doesn’t happen every day.” Because normally when it comes to financial institutions – there’s a dam being built on a particular river in Brazil and it’s going to cause a horrible problem for a particular bird species and we’d try to do something, but usually by that point it was too late.

Lori Anna Conzo: I was brought in to help the IFC figure out how to define critical habitat with respect to what are the highest-priority sites. So this is where the nexus of Mike and Lori was absolutely perfectly timed because what we did not want was huge regional areas that were somehow priorities because that doesn’t help us inform project-level risk. So when we came and I spoke to you, I was trying to understand how you were defining critical habitat. That was the question.

Mike: I mentioned bird watching, and traveling all over the planet. And when you do that you know there’s always one place to go which is the place to see whatever it is what you want to see – whether it’s a satyr tragopan or a long-whiskered owlet, or a marvelous spatuletail hummingbird, there is always one place that’s better. We were becoming concerned that the whole conservation movement was thinking too big. And we realized that if we keep thinking about these huge expanses like Amazonia, those special places might get missed. So, we started to map out where all endangered and critically-endangered species were known from single sites.

It started over pizza and beer in the basement, and something caught on. We started getting more interest from other groups and finally it kind of professionalized into our day jobs. That was kind of our opening, like the keyhole to the door, and then suddenly you kind of helped open that up for us.

“Why would a finance corporation really want to do something about some of these more esoteric elements of biodiversity, when it might be valuing things in a typical day by the dollar value that’s ascribed to them?” – Mike Parr

Lori: Yes, that was crucial in how we were going to define critical habitat. And we essentially defined it based on NGO definitions.

Mike: The good news is that these sites typically aren’t all that large. But, if you lose that site, then you’re losing something that is globally irreplaceable. Being able to work with finance institutions and having some assuredness because of PS6, it actually makes us feel a lot better that we can kind of continue to pursue more of the protected area creation with some assuredness that those protected areas aren’t going to be damaged in the future – certainly not by the institutions that are adopting these kinds of safeguards such as IFC is.

In some ways people might be thinking to this and think “well why would a finance corporation really want to do something about some of these more esoteric elements of biodiversity, when it might be valuing things in a typical day by the dollar value that’s ascribed to them?”

Lori: When conservation organizations and other experts started to take interest in Performance Standard 6, it was good for everybody. Everyone wanted to be involved now, and that’s what we need to solve problems. They wanted to help. They wanted to make projects better than they have ever been. That’s what Performance Standard 6 did. It enabled a legitimate grappling of ‘how do we do private sector development better?’ The NGOs and the external experts are on the journey with us.