Billions needed to deliver COP15 nature deal but funds to biodiversity miniscule

By Virginia Furness and Isla Binnie

LONDON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Climate conscious investors have channeled billions of dollars into clean energy but investment flows into protecting and better managing the world's ecosystems remain minute by comparison.

This could change after negotiators at the U.N. nature summit in Montreal secured long-awaited formal support on Monday for a Global Biodiversity Framework to protect nature. But plans have yet to be fleshed out on how to channel the huge amounts of capital from private and public sector sources that scientists say are necessary for conservation.

A growing crowd of investors aiming to manage their money with environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations in mind are looking to the deal for indications of the future shape of new financial instruments and rules to protect forests, marshes, waters, and everything in between.

Some managers have already pressed ahead. Around 74.3 billion euros ($78.8 billion) are already invested in funds aimed at protecting ecologically sound environments on land, air and water, according to data from Morningstar.

Morningstar lists 175 funds that run investment strategies that are intended to invest in companies, or securities, that are involved in industries that positively impact the environment. It groups these funds together under a theme it calls healthy ecosystems.

The five largest equity healthy ecosystem funds are managed by Pictet, BNP Paribas Asset Management and Amundi and account for 21.6 billion euros, or nearly a third of the entire group.

These funds are largely concentrated in the industrials and utilities sectors: six out of 10 largest funds are overweight the benchmark weighting of industrials in the MSCI ACWI Index (USD) while half of the funds are overweight utilities.

BIODIVERSITY FUNDS Investment strategies targeting biodiversity specifically are an even more nascent product. Just 907.6 million euros are invested in Morningstar’s top 10 equity funds with biodiversity in their name.

Limited data collection and reporting and the difficulty of measuring a company's impact on biodiversity are all seen as major barriers for investment to money managers.

"We know the global economy and every company in it is negatively impacting biodiversity," said Tom Atkinson, portfolio manager at AXA Investment Managers, which has a 117 million euro Article 9 biodiversity impact fund.

"At the moment we can only assess the negative impact (on biodiversity) of the companies in our portfolio, this is why more biodiversity funds don't exist and why regulation is arguably dragging."

Like the broader healthy ecosystems group of funds, biodiversity-named funds are largely concentrated in industrials like agricultural equipment manufacturer Deere & Co DE.N and U.S. water technology provider Xylem XYL.N with 30% of individual holdings from a universe of 60 stocks directed to this sector.

Consumer comes a close second however, with 27% of holdings invested in companies like Nestle NESN.S , L'Oreal OREP.PA and Darling Ingredients DAR.N , a company that turns edible by-products and food waste into sustainable products and renewable energy.

Three of the six largest biodiversity-named funds assessed by Reuters are overweight industrials versus the MSCI ACWI Index (USD).

With a global biodiversity framework in place and efforts well underway to create a nature reporting framework for companies -- the Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures -- as well as a new tool to measure positive impact on biodiversity due early 2023, managers like Atkinson are predicting investment flows will increase next year. ($1 = 0.9431 euros)

COP15 reaches deal to halt decline in nature by 2030

GRAPHIC-Just €907.6m is invested in Morningstar's biggest biodiversity funds Link GRAPHIC-Biodiversity funds largely invested in industrials Link GRAPHIC-€74.3 bln is invested in Morningstar funds aimed at protecting the environment Link GRAPHIC-Funds targeting ecological outcomes invest heavily in industrials Link

Reporting by Virginia Furness and Isla Binnie; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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