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Biodiversity and Institutional Transitions: Navigating Planetary Boundaries

The red ibis, a beacon of biodiversity, spreads its wings in a rich forest.

Biodiversity stands as a critical pillar within the planetary boundaries framework, and its preservation is crucial as institutions navigate transitions toward sustainable futures. At Responsible Alpha, we recognize the urgency of addressing biodiversity loss and are committed to guiding institutions through tailored transition strategies that prioritize the protection of our planet's rich ecosystems. 

Understanding the Planetary Boundaries 

In our posts on planetary boundaries, we've explained the delicate balance that sustains life on Earth - a balance the actions of human beings have thrown into chaos. The concept of the planetary boundaries describes a safe operating space for humanity within nine key boundaries. Among these, biodiversity emerges as one of the fundamental boundaries - crucial for maintaining the stability of our planet's interconnected systems.

Current State of Biodiversity 

Recent studies, including those cited in the article from the Helmholtz Climate Initiative titled "Planetary Boundaries: The Wealth of the Biosphere," underscore the alarming rate at which biodiversity loss is accelerating. Despite its vital role in stabilizing ecosystems, human intervention threatens the genetic and functional diversity of life on Earth. We've already crossed the planetary boundary for biodiversity, signaling significant risks to humanity's future unless we take immediate action. 

A 2019 assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) highlighted that "25% of plants and animals assessed — totaling 1 million species worldwide — are threatened with extinction." This paints a grim image of the biodiversity crisis. With such a dramatic number of species facing the threat of extinction, urgent action is needed to reverse the current trajectory. 

Lastly, a study from the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that six of the nine planetary boundaries are transgressed, including biosphere integrity. The section highlights both genetic diversity and functional roles, as highlighted in Table 1, and argues the importance of genetic diversity in maintaining the dynamic and fluid nature of the biosphere. The study introduces the concept of net primary production (NPP), which represents the amount of energy captured by plants through photosynthesis and available for ecosystem functioning. This key metric is utilized in assessing functional integrity, alongside genetic diversity, within the biosphere. Genetic diversity is measured in terms of extinctions per million species-years (E/MSY), with a target boundary set at less than 10 E/MSY (and an aspirational goal of approximately 1 E/MSY). Functional integrity is gauged by the percentage of human appropriation of net primary production (HANPP) compared to preindustrial Holocene levels, with a boundary set at less than 10% to ensure over 90% remains for supporting ecosystem functions. The table also includes baseline values, upper limits of the zone of increasing risk, and current values of the control variables, highlighting significant deviations from the desired boundaries and indicating changes in biosphere integrity over time. Overall, it stresses the importance of controlling greenhouse gas emissions to maintain safe atmospheric conditions, as current levels exceed these safe boundaries and pose major risks to the Earth system's health. 

Table 1. Current status for the planetary boundaries - biosphere integrity. 

Earth system process 

Control variable(s) 

Planetary boundary 

Preindustrial Holocene base value 

Upper end of zone of increasing risk

Current value of  control variable

Change in biosphere integrity

Genetic diversity: E/MSY

<10 E/MSY but with an aspirational goal of ca. 1 E/MSY (assumed background rate of extinction loss)

1 E/MSY 

100 E/MSY 

>100 E/MSY (24–26)

Functional integrity: measured as energy available to ecosystems (NPP) (% HANPP)

HANPP (in billion tonnes of C year) <10% of preindustrial Holocene NPP, i.e., >90% remaining for supporting biosphere function

1.9% (2σ variability of preindustrial Holocene century-mean NPP)

20% HANPP 

30% HANPP (see the Supplementary Materials)

Responsible Alpha's Approach 

Against this bleak backdrop, Responsible Alpha stands as a beacon of hope, guiding institutions toward biodiversity preservation through tailored transition strategies in a few capacities:

  • Integration of Biodiversity Considerations: We collaborate with institutions to embed biodiversity considerations into their operations, supply chains, and investment decisions. By minimizing their ecological footprint, institutions can contribute to global conservation efforts and minimize their long-term risk. 

  • Engagement and Collaboration: We foster partnerships and dialogue between institutions to leverage collective expertise and resources for biodiversity preservation. 

  • Innovative Solutions: Responsible Alpha empowers institutions to develop solutions that marry economic growth with biodiversity conservation. Our analysis and advisory services champion approaches that benefit institutions and the planet. 

  • Metrics and Reporting: We support organizations in measuring and reporting their biodiversity performance using robust frameworks. Transparent communication of efforts and progress fosters accountability and builds trust with stakeholders, leading to increased revenue and investor engagement over time. 

Our team of experts analyzed the dependency of U.S. exports on pollinators and highlighted the interconnectedness of pollination risk with multiple planetary boundaries. Our study, shared in a keynote speaking engagement with the CFA Society of Boston, underscores the economic and equity implications of pollinator-dependent exports, emphasizing the need for biodiversity protection within global trade strategies.

We also examined the growing recognition of biodiversity and ecosystem collapse as a major global risk and discussed emerging frameworks and agreements aimed at addressing this challenge in our article titled Biodiversity is Trending, But is Protection? Our analysis navigates companies through the evolving regulatory landscape, integrating financial risk expertise with ecological considerations to promote responsible investing and biodiversity conservation.

Responsible Alpha recognizes the urgency of addressing biodiversity loss and is committed to guiding institutions through tailored transition strategies that prioritize the protection of our planet's rich ecosystems. We foster engagement and collaboration among institutions to leverage collective expertise and resources for biodiversity preservation. Our innovative solutions champion approaches that marry economic growth with biodiversity conservation, empowering institutions to develop sustainable practices without sacrificing economic success. 


Preserving biodiversity isn't just an ethical imperative - it's a strategic imperative for institutions operating in an era of heightened environmental awareness. By partnering with Responsible Alpha, institutions can navigate transitions toward sustainability while safeguarding biodiversity within planetary boundaries. Together, we can forge a path toward a sustainable future where biodiversity thrives, ensuring the well-being of present and future generations. 


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