Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Integrating finance and biodiversity for a nature positive future

Apply for funding to create research networks to integrate finance and biodiversity for a nature positive future.

You must:

  • be based at a UK research organisation eligible for NERC funding
  • collaborate and co-create the proposed activities with relevant finance sector stakeholders.

You will:

  • develop research networks that will convene and catalyse a multi-stakeholder community
  • support projects to explore the gaps and integration between the financial system and biodiversity.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £187,500. NERC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Projects must last 12 months.

Who can apply

Normal individual eligibility applies. Detailed information can be found in section C of the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook and on our ‘eligibility of applicants’ page.

UKRI research and fellowship grants for all schemes may be held at:

  • approved UK higher education institutions
  • approved research council institutes
  • independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments.

See full details of approved organisations.

You may be involved in no more than two proposals submitted to this funding opportunity. Only one of these may be as the lead principal investigator.

No studentships can be funded as part of this opportunity.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

NERC values equality, diversity and inclusion across all of its funding programmes, and actively encourages proposals from diverse groups of researchers.

International collaborators

NERC grants do not fund other UK or overseas organisations, except for a specific arrangement where NERC will fund specific costs associated with co-investigators from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Detailed information can be found in section E of the NERC research grants and fellowships handbook.

All other international collaborators or UK partners (including those from business or financial sectors) not based at approved organisations, should be included as project partners and fund their own involvement. NERC grants will only fund minor incidental expenses, such as some travel costs, if required for project partners.

Partnering with stakeholders

These awards are intended to bring academic and stakeholder organisations together to form partnerships that can develop and deliver integration between the financial system and biodiversity.

You are expected to collaborate and co-create the proposed activities with stakeholders (for this programme specifically, these should be relevant finance sector organisations, but these can also be policy, regulatory or other industry). This is to ensure that the outcomes of the research are designed to explore the gaps and integration between the financial system and biodiversity.

Where possible, you should make every effort to build partner activity with relevant stakeholders to:

  • add value to investments, and provide evidence of user need and relevance
  • align with ongoing activity
  • make use of partner knowledge and expertise.

You should consider, in cooperation with these stakeholders, where project partnership can add value to your proposal through cash, in-kind contributions, or both.

What we're looking for

The purpose of this programme is to explore the gaps and integration between the financial system and biodiversity.

The programme will establish a virtual hub and spoke networks that will convene and catalyse a multi-stakeholder community and support this integration. Recognising this integration is complex, driven by the financial services community and rapid development of public policy. It will require underpinning academic data and knowledge of different scales, from local to international.

This opportunity is designed to drive the development of knowledge, tools and a skilled community to incorporate reporting on biodiversity for all business sectors.

To address this challenge, the hub and spoke networks will be responsible for delivering:

  • community networks across academic, business and policy, with common understanding, aims and linked approaches to embed biodiversity value into financial decision-making
  • a robust suite of standardised, accessible, and verifiable data and metrics, tools, methods and frameworks that incorporate biodiversity into financial services
  • a common framework and language to incorporate biodiversity as an asset that recognises value differs between audiences.

The environmental science community has the capacity to fill knowledge gaps, and provide environmental data and evidence to develop tools to incorporate biodiversity, as an asset or value, into private finance. In doing so, the community and financial sector can work together to help reverse the global trend of biodiversity depletion. This will be achieved through a change in business and consumer behaviour for a nature-positive future.

Expectations

Nature Positive Future programme awards are expected to complement and draw on the current NERC-led Economics of Biodiversity (EoB) programme.

The EoB programme explores the multiple values of biodiversity to many sectors of society using a broader economic (rather than financial) perspective. This includes both the ‘Synthesising evidence in economics of biodiversity’ and ‘Improve understanding of the economics of biodiversity’ funding opportunities and award holders.

Awards will also draw on the NERC and Innovate UK ‘Climate and environmental risk analytics for resilient finance (CERAF)’ programme, including the UK Centre for Greening Finance and Investment (UKCGFI), which is developing a platform for climate and environmental analytics for resilient finance.

In building on these programmes, the Nature Positive Future awards will:

  • harness the strong environmental sciences research base
  • build on the tools and data from these and previous NERC investments, such as the Valuing Nature Programme.

The Nature Positive Future programme is core to NERC’s ambitions to deliver environmental solutions and provide knowledge, capability and tools that link academic research to business needs.

All proposals are expected to have at least one project partner from the financial sector or business community and demonstrate strong engagement with this partner and relevant

stakeholders outside of academia. International collaborators can be included where there is clear value to the proposed project.

Overall programme outcomes

The Nature Positive Future programme will:

  • achieve better understanding of the complex interlinkages between biodiversity, finance and society and what it means for resilience (environmental and economic) and economic prosperity to support a roadmap to ‘net zero biodiversity loss’
  • deliver robust models and scenarios, leading to a more sustainable financial services industry in anticipation of a developing regulatory system (for example, UK firm-level net zero transition plans)
  • develop new or merge existing datasets that link research to business and build biodiversity into a next generation of financial instruments
  • raise the profile of UK leadership to leverage developing international initiatives
  • mitigate risks and highlight opportunities to address interacting stressors simultaneously, for example biodiversity interacting with climate change and driving ambitions for net environmental gain.

Programme format

NERC will invest £5 million (at 80% full economic cost) in the Nature Positive Future programme in two phases.

Phase one

Phase one will fund pilot activities that will bring the biodiversity and finance communities together to begin to resolve key integration issues. This could include, for example, evidence from a knowledge and challenge synthesis activity to align business strategy with fast-moving initiatives, including the update of the UK Green Finance Strategy.

Phase one also includes the opportunity to form a coordination and integration function across pilot awards. This will integrate outcomes in real-time and develop a proposal for the creation of the hub and spoke network, which will be funded as part of phase two.

This virtual hub and spoke network funded as part of the second phase of the programme will be expected to:

  • provide evidence led by private finance ambitions on Green Finance (and net zero)
  • inform investment for new research to fill knowledge gaps as the sector develops.
Scope

This phase one (£1.5 million) opportunity will provide funding for pilot activities to:

  • create integrated research, business and policy communities
  • scope challenge details and identifying approaches to deliver research and baseline information (for example through themed workshops or hackathon type events on key topics)
  • develop syntheses of current knowledge and research gaps.

Consultation with the finance and business community and other key stakeholder groups (for example a Green Finance Business Breakfast, COP15 workshop and an externally commissioned independent report) highlighted key challenges, including the following (noting that these should not lead or limit the scope and ambition of applications):

  • the importance of highlighting an inter-relationship between climate and biodiversity, and the danger of treating each in isolation (trade-offs or conflicts) and the failure to recognise the inherent complexity of biodiversity and ecosystems
  • how to recognise and quantify the contribution of biodiversity, such as through nature-based solutions and net zero goals
  • moving beyond indicator species and reference communities towards understanding properties of biodiversity, and how to chase moving targets as climate change progresses
  • defining the issues and the ‘system’ and establishing agreement on the (causal) linkages between biodiversity and business and finance, for example:
    • the benefits and limits of environmental impact assessments (EIAs), and how the health of ecosystems (or other manifestations of biodiversity) can impact the operations and financial health of corporations more broadly than at an individual site (where EIAs are typically done)
    • how the actions of decision makers (in business, finance and policy) impair or strengthen ecosystems
    • a lack of ‘decision grade’ data and applicable methodologies and an often-cited barrier in financial services for performing functions, such as accurately assigning biodiversity to supply chains and accounting for biodiversity in statutory valuations (particularly financial statements)
    • linked to the above, bridging the gap between academia and business including recognising the value of the expertise of the financial services sector in the use of scenario analysis or similar methodologies to support the incorporation of biodiversity into the analysis of business and financial risk, and expanding or improving these methodologies to incorporate biodiversity related issues
    • understanding the role of biodiversity valuation in implementing renewables pathways.
Coordination and integration funding

Phase one will also provide an additional £250,000 of funding post-award for an integration and coordination function to:

  • coordinate activity across the pilot awards
  • integrate the outcomes from these awards in real time
  • develop an understanding of both the gaps in knowledge and the potential for broader user engagement than the partners brought in through the pilot
  • work collaboratively across the awards to develop the full bid for the hub and spoke for phase two funding.

It is expected that this key coordination and secretariat function will be led by at least one of the successful award holders in phase one. However, all successful award holders are required to engage with this overarching integration and coordination function.

Successful award holders will be invited to bid into this fund. Further details will be provided to phase one award holders once the awards have been selected.

Phase two funding

Phase two will bring the phase one awards together into a system that is user informed and accessible.

£3.5 million of funding will be available from January 2024 to bring phase one awards together into a virtual hub and spoke or distributed networks. The network will provide leadership by delivering and supporting a portfolio of activities informed by and built on phase one outcomes.

These outcomes could include:

  • awards for pilot research
  • the generation of skills and capability through fellowships
  • feasibility testing
  • translation and impact-generating activities linking to user needs such as a repository or live portal of clearly described and broadly accessible case studies to complement the theory.

Phase two is limited to phase one award holders. However, other organisations and areas of work can be incorporated as advised by the pilot work and outcomes of the phase one coordination and integration activity. Further details of this will also be provided to phase one award holders once the awards have been selected.

Funding available

We will support costs of building interdisciplinary research communities, including but not limited to:

  • investigator salaries, plus associated indirect and estates costs
  • travel and subsistence
  • events
  • workshops
  • secondments
  • horizon scanning
  • feasibility studies and pump priming activities
  • minor equipment
  • administrative support.

NERC will not fund associated PhD studentships under this opportunity.

We will award 80% of the full economic costs of the project, and your organisation must agree to find the remaining balance.

NERC expects to fund a maximum of £150,000 per award for pilot activities. There will also be an additional funding of up to £250,000 available for one or two of the successful phase one award holders to undertake a coordination and integration function for awards made in phase one. Further details on this function will be provided once the phase one awards have been selected.

Awards will be made for a 12-month duration.

Projects must start by 3 January 2023.

Requests for equipment above £10,000 are not allowed as part of this funding opportunity. Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be requested under consumables (other directly incurred costs).

NERC facilities

If NERC services or facilities are needed, then please contact researchfacilities@nerc.ukri.org to discuss your requirements. NERC can liaise directly with the specified service or facility to check if the request can be accommodated.

There is no guarantee that the service or facility will be able to accommodate the request for a technical assessment and quote in the timescale of the funding opportunity.

Programme management

NERC will establish a Programme Executive Board (PEB) to oversee the programme.

Programme engagement

Funded grants would be expected to attend a kick-off meeting, PEB meetings and to engage fully with the integration and coordination function.

Knowledge exchange and impact

Knowledge exchange is vital to ensure that environmental research has wide benefits for society and should be an integral part of any research.

Public engagement is a key part of knowledge exchange, and a route to increasing the impact of research.

All funded projects will be required to engage with programme-wide integration and coordination activities. They will also be expected to engage with other relevant NERC investments such as Economics of Biodiversity and the CERAF programme investments, including the UK Centre for Greening Finance and Investment.

How to apply

You should ensure you are aware of and comply with any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

Applying using Je-S

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

We recommend you start your application early. You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

When applying, select ‘new document’ then:

  • council: NERC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: NC&C
  • call/type/mode: Nature Positive Future.

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

You can find advice on completing your application in the Je-S handbook.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance on completing your application.

NERC must receive your application by 1 September 2022 at 1600.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

Any proposal that is incomplete or does not meet NERC’s eligibility criteria or follow NERC’s submission rules (see NERC research grants and fellowships handbook), will be office rejected and will not be considered.

Required documents

Required documents include:

  • the proposal form Je-S proforma (including details of project partners)
  • the case for support, incorporating the capability to deliver (up to one side of A4), and description of the research project (up to two sides of A4)
    • the case for support should include details of project partners, how their involvement informs the development and delivery of the proposed work and adds value to your proposal through cash, in-kind contributions, or both
  • the justification of resources (up to one side of A4).

A separate pathways to impact statement is not required, but applicants should still consider how they will or might achieve impact outside the scientific community and include this as part of their case for support as appropriate to the research aims.

Impact activities do not have to be cost incurring, but relevant costs can be included and must be fully justified within the justification of resources statement.

What you must not submit

Documents that are no longer required and should not be attached, include:

  • CVs
  • outline data management plan: successful grant holders will have to work alongside the appropriate environmental data centre to develop a full outline data management plan
  • the project partner’s and other letters of support: details of project partners must be included in the Je-S proforma.

Document requirements

All attachments (with the exception of letters of support and services, facilities and equipment quotes) submitted through the Je-S system must be completed in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 point (Arial or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11), with margins of at least 2cm.

Arial Narrow, Calibri and Times New Roman are not accepted font types and any proposal including either of these font types will be rejected.

References and footnotes should also be at least 11-point font and should be in the same font type as the rest of the document.

Headers and footers should not be used for references or information relating to the scientific case.

Where you refer to websites, you should note that referees may choose not to use them.

PDF conversion

On submission to the council, all non-PDF documents are converted to PDF.

The use of non-standard fonts may result in errors or font conversion, which could affect the overall length of the document.

Additionally, where non-standard fonts are present, and even if the converted PDF document may look unaffected in the Je-S system, when it is imported into the research council’s grants system, some information may be removed.

We therefore recommend that where a document contains any non-standard fonts (for example, scientific notation or diagrams) it should be converted to a PDF prior to attaching it to the proposal.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

All proposals received that meet the eligibility criteria will be assessed by an independent panel of experts.

The funders will use the recommendations from the panel, along with the overall funding opportunity requirements and the available budget, to make the final funding decisions.

It is expected that applicants will be notified within two weeks of the panel meeting, which is anticipated to take place in September 2022 (date to be confirmed).

Assessment criteria

The assessment criteria to be used will be as follows:

Research excellence

Research excellence relates to the:

  • originality and quality of the proposed research and translation activities
  • importance of the questions being addressed, as well as the capability of the team to deliver this, including a consideration for the diversity, equity and inclusion in membership of the team.

This will include consideration of:

  • the degree of innovation of the proposed work, and its potential impact in integrating biodiversity and finance
  • a clear pathway and processes in place to facilitate the trajectory from aims to anticipated outcomes and impact of the project. This could, for example, be in the format of a ‘theory of change’ for the programme combined with a description of pathways, which will be put in place to deliver the intended outcomes.

Fit to scheme

Proposals will be directly scored against the:

  • degree to which they fit the required scope for each topic you’re applying for
  • wider objectives of the ‘nature positive future’ funding opportunity.

This will include consideration of:

  • rationale for the focus of the award, including evidence of user need from the finance sector
  • added value of partnerships, including the strengths of any co-applicant and project partner, and the added value brought by their participation
  • user engagement, the confirmed partner from the financial sector or business, and demonstration of substantial and sustained involvement of users in the (co)-design and delivery of the award (including relevant sectors of the finance industry).

Feedback

You will be given feedback from the panel summarising the reasons why the proposal was successful or unsuccessful. No further feedback will be available.

COVID-19

UKRI recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities.

We are committed to ensuring that individuals and your wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their careers that may have been caused by the pandemic, such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of on-going work
  • role changes.

Panel members will be advised to consider the impact that COVID-19 might have had on the track record and career development of those individuals included in the proposal, and will be asked to consider your capability and that of the wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred, you can highlight this within your application, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Email: naturepositive@nerc.ukri.org

Get help with applying through Je-S

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

Background

In the current economic system, the cost of depleting biodiversity (as defined ‘sensu lato’ by the Convention on Biological Diversity) is hidden, and the benefits biodiversity provides to human wellbeing and the economy are not fully understood.

This lack of knowledge means business behaviour is not incentivised through financing and investments to either:

  • minimise degradation of biodiversity and the services it provides to society and the economy
  • develop potential to increase the value of biodiversity and nature-related services, therefore creating a ‘nature positive’ future.

The £5 million Nature Positive Future programme will support networks that will be responsive to the needs of private finance as the biodiversity-finance nexus and wider green finance agenda develops.

The policy and green finance landscape is changing rapidly in response to the:

Integrating biodiversity into finance frameworks and identifying a nature-positive future is a national policy and international leadership ambition for government that will impact private finance. Activities include the:

  • Green Finance taskforce and strategy (2018 and 2019)
  • COP26 presidency (2021)
  • G20 Financial Stability Board’s Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy refresh of the Green Finance strategy.

Responsible business

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment, not just through research outputs and outcomes, but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set-out in the NERC responsible business statement.

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm or enhancing benefit on the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities.

Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion.

Grant holders should consider the responsible research context of their project, not the host institution as a whole, and take action to enhance their responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

Reporting requirements

If you are successful, you will be required to report research outcomes on Researchfish in line with standard UKRI terms and conditions. This is required annually and continues for up to five years post grant end.

For strategic research investments, NERC additionally requires biannual progress reports.

NERC may require additional information for monitoring and evaluation purposes during the programme lifetime and, according to standard grant terms and conditions, projects may be required to comply with any additional requests.

Webinar: 29 June 2022

The webinar was recorded and is available to view at:

Integrating finance and biodiversity for a nature positive future webinar via Zoom (63 minutes)

Passcode: PnZ9+BnR

Please find a copy of the webinar slides and question and answer document.

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.