Team Spotlight:
Dr Deepthi Chimalakonda,
Head of Carbon & Biodiversity

8 Questions with Dr Deepthi

Get to know her & interesting facts on birding

Arkadiah’s Head of Carbon & Biodiversity

On her recent three-week birdwatching trip to South Africa, Dr Deepthi has seen close to 500 species of birds and 50 mammals cross diverse habitats.

Connect with me here

1. Tell us what you do at Arkadiah and how would you explain your job to someone outside the industry?

My role as Arkadiah’s Head of Carbon & Biodiversity involves guiding carbon projects from inception to fruition. From evaluating project viability to quantifying carbon dioxide removal, I oversee the development and implementation of nature restoration projects to regenerate ecosystems and facilitate resilient communities.

Arkadiah’s Head of Carbon & Biodiversity

On her recent three-week birdwatching trip to South Africa, Deepthi has seen close to 500 species of birds and 50 mammals cross diverse habitats.

Connect with me here

1. Tell us what you do at Arkadiah and how would you explain your job to someone outside the industry?

My role as Arkadiah’s Head of Carbon & Biodiversity involves guiding carbon projects from inception to fruition. From evaluating project viability to quantifying carbon dioxide removal, I oversee the development and implementation of nature restoration projects to regenerate ecosystems and facilitate resilient communities.

2. You have built a career in Quantitative Ecology – can you tell us what that is and how did you get started in the field of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) removals? 

Quantitative ecology is a sub-field that utilises statistical and mathematical tools to understand environmental patterns, such as population dynamics of wildlife and more. It usually involves developing theories and simulation models to make robust inferences about such ecological processes, giving insights into how biodiversity and ecosystems function.

Through my time in the field, I’ve realised that robust GHG reduction and removal estimations are vital for assessing carbon project effectiveness and ensuring integrity in offset initiatives. Accurate estimations measure actual impact, bolstering credibility for our stakeholders and investors. Achieving this requires rigorous methodologies, reliable data sources, and quality assurance to minimise uncertainties and ensure transparency.

3. In simple terms, can you explain what truly makes a high integrity carbon project? 

A combination of many factors, really! A carbon project is not just about planting some trees or making empty promises – its about using credible data and methodologies to ensure the emissions reductions are legitimate and would not have happened otherwise without the project.

A few key things to consider:

⋅ Reliable and robust emissions reduction or removal potential, backed by credible data and methodologies

⋅ Permanence, ensuring that the carbon reductions or removals are long-lasting and not easily reversible

⋅ Additionality, meaning that the project’s activities lead to real, measurable carbon reductions or removals beyond and ensures the project isn’t just taking credit for business-as-usual activities

⋅ Avoidance of leakage, where emissions are simply displaced to another area, negating the intended benefits

⋅ Meaningful engagement with local communities and stakeholders. Their buy-in, voices, support and any potential impacts must be critically considered throughout the process

⋅ Third-party verification and validation by reputable standards or bodies, such as Gold Standard or Verra (VCS), which have rigorous procedures in place to ensure the integrity of carbon credits

This list is by no means exhaustive! And despite criticisms from a few parties and prevalent greenwashing by some players, organisations are continually improving their methodologies and procedures. Rome was not built in a day – it is incredibly hard to establish a global standard for carbon credit schemes across ecosystems, demographics and jurisdictional regions etc., but I am optimistic and curious about the continual evolution of this field of work.

4. Why are nature-based carbon dioxide removal projects so complex and take a long time?

Precisely because of all the factors mentioned above. Ecosystems have evolved over thousands or even millions of years. When crucial ecological processes are disrupted, it can take a considerable amount of time for ecosystems to revert to their previous state, if at all. 

As such, a carbon project’s life cycle requires rigorous efforts to ensure permanent positive impact. From initial identification and feasibility assessments to comprehensive field surveys, choosing the  appropriate personnel, due diligence in technical, financial, and legal aspects whilst ensuring land tenure and regulatory compliance – there are many factors to take care of. 

Monitoring is essential in the long term sustainability and viability of a project, to manage natural or human-induced risks. Project financing, often a bottleneck, remains crucial for project initiation and continuity as well. 

To see substantial reductions in emissions takes time. Nature runs its own course at its own pace. A lot of us hold patience and derive immense joy from seeing our children grow, our pets and house plants grow, our money grow (haha) but we may not hold the same amount of patience for nature (getting a little philosophical here)! 

5. Currently, biodiversity credits are still in a very early stage. Why is that and what are some key innovations you hope to see that can support their growth? 

Unlike carbon projects where the key metric is tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) removed, different perspectives exist for biodiversity metrics. Metrics like species diversity or the number of endangered species are a good start but they are too basic to capture the complexities of biodiversity. For example, 20 bird species in a tropical area may seem low, but it could point towards significant diversity in arid alpine regions. 

Biodiversity also does not scale linearly – increasing forest patch size may not proportionally increase species diversity. Moreover, mobilising market incentives is crucial and currently lacking in our region. 

However, I’m optimistic that technological innovations such as eDNA analysis and remote sensing technologies are revolutionising biodiversity baselining and monitoring. They provide new insights into species distributions, habitat conditions, and ecosystem dynamics, empowering conservation efforts with more accurate assessments and targeted interventions. 

As an ecologist, I frequently ponder the most effective methods to encapsulate both ecological processes and patterns within robust, standardized metrics that enable measurable outcomes and transparent verification methodologies. I am warmly welcoming any suggestions or discussions on this! 

At Arkadiah, we recognize the immense potential of biodiversity credits and are actively working to leverage these emerging technologies to develop credible biodiversity metrics and projects. We’re poised to enter this space soon, so stay tuned for exciting developments!

6. When you are evaluating projects (whether on-site or desktop), tell us one example of what is the most challenging and what gives you the most satisfaction? 

Evaluating projects can be very challenging as we need to navigate and balance the interplay of factors – diverse ecosystems, legal complexities, multi-stakeholder dynamics, and regulatory frameworks. Ensuring the project’s environmental and social integrity while understanding and complying with all these nuances is a demanding undertaking.

At the same time, it gives me immense satisfaction to witness a tangible positive impact. Seeing how these initiatives benefit local communities, contribute positively to the planet, and align with climate adaptation goals can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. The satisfaction lies in knowing that each diligent effort brings meaningful change and supports a more sustainable future.

7. As an avid birder, can you advise how birds show us the health of forests/ecosystems? 

Birds provide a range of ecosystem services such as pollination, seed dispersal, pest control, nutrient cycling, and serve as excellent bioindicators of ecosystem health. Here are a few examples that illustrate how birds can unveil the secrets of an ecosystem’s well-being and habitat variety:

  • If I am walking the forests in Southeast Asia and encounter various species of hornbills, that tells us there are big trees in the surroundings that provide shelter for these cavity nesters as well as fruit supply for food. 

  • If I am sailing on a boat in the waters of Galapagos, the presence of large colonies of penguins tells us about the healthy populations of fish and crustaceans and the occurrence of nutrient cycling to marine environments. 

  • Closer home, the presence of straw-headed bulbuls, birds with beautiful calls, tells us that there is no hunting. While thriving in Singapore, they have been exterminated across Indonesia for the songbird trade. 

  • Birds such as sparrows and finches tell me that there is agricultural land around since they mainly feed on grains.  

8. What is your favourite dessert? 

Mysore Pak, Bobbatlu, and Pootharekulu (Google them!)— quintessential South Indian sweets that are laden with sugar and perhaps offer no nutritional value, but oh, the nostalgia they evoke! 

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