Interview with Mr. Will McGoldrick, Asia Pacific Managing Director, The Nature Conservancy

APAC BUSINESS: Mr. McGoldrick, could you start by sharing a little more about The Nature Conservancy and its work in Asia-Pacific?

As the Regional Managing Director of The Nature Conservancy, I am proud to represent our global conservation organisation, which was established in the US during the 1950s. Over the past five decades, our reach has expanded significantly, and today, we operate in over 70 countries worldwide. Within this expansive network, Asia Pacific (APAC) stands as one of our largest global regions, home to some of the most important ecosystems affected by the climate and biodiversity crises.

Here in the APAC region, there are an estimated 4.3 billion people who depend on the region’s natural resources for livelihood and sustenance, from traditional herding families of the Mongolian grasslands to coastal fishing communities of Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape. With a presence in these countries across the region, TNC aims to work with governments, policymakers, and businesses to see more cross-sector collaboration that drives meaningful, long-term impact.

One example is in Southern Australia, where we partnered with government, businesses, and the community to lead the country’s largest marine restoration initiative. Through our Reef Builder project, we are currently establishing new reefs in 13 locations along the Australian coastline—projects that can create more jobs than traditional infrastructure investments across a diverse group of industries, from maritime construction and aquaculture to natural resource management. These reefs enrich marine life, provide cleaner waters, plentiful fish, and erosion protection for the benefit of people and nature. Today, Australia is one of the first nations in the world to recover a critically endangered marine ecosystem.

Our conservation efforts extend beyond sustainable management and encompass social justice, equity, and inclusivity. The challenges we face are not just environmental but also deeply intertwined with human dynamics and socio-economic factors. By championing diversity, equity, and inclusion principles, particularly in regions like APAC where diverse communities depend heavily on natural resources, TNC is not only safeguarding ecosystems but also empowering communities and fostering resilience in the face of global challenges.

APAC BUSINESS: Please tell us about your journey through the years and the top highlights from these experiences, we’d love to know more about your role at The Nature Conservancy too!

Joining The Nature Conservancy in 2015 marked a pivotal moment in my career – it afforded me the opportunity to step into a new world of possibilities and impact.

Over more than a 20-year conservation career, I have developed deep experience in corporate practices, international negotiations, philanthropy, and government policies and programs. Prior to joining TNC, I served in roles at WWF-Australia focused on climate and sustainable development. I have also spent time living and working in a number of Pacific island nations, including four years in Samoa where I advised the Samoan Government on climate change policy.

At TNC, our mission revolves around safeguarding our planet for the prosperity of future generations. This mission extends to actively involving local communities linked to the natural systems we seek to protect, ensuring that their visions and voices are at the heart of our efforts. And there’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing the tangible impact of our efforts on the ground. Over the years, I have had the privilege to support some truly memorable projects—from expanding protected areas in the vast Mongolian grasslands to reviving shellfish reefs in the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong and preserving the lush forest landscapes of Indonesia—and each initiative has been an adventure.

While next year will mark a decade for me at TNC, I am privileged that my journey feels like it has only just begun. There is more to be done, including our commitment to advancing TNC’s 30×30 goals, which emphasise the urgent need to protect 30% of the world’s terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas by the year 2030. I am thrilled to be part of a team that’s driving real change through our programmes and partnerships that push boundaries to solve our dual crises of the climate emergency and biodiversity loss.

Big Fish at Wheeler Reef, Great Barrier Reef. September 2018 Copyright © Christopher Brunner/TNC Photo Contest 2019

APAC BUSINESS: What are nature-based solutions (NbS)? And what’s the importance of nature-based solutions (NbS) to address climate change and biodiversity loss?

Nature-based solutions (NbS) are fundamental to addressing climate change and biodiversity loss. They leverage the planet’s oldest technology for mitigating global warming: nature itself. Healthy forests, wetlands, grasslands, and peatlands store and absorb massive amounts of carbon, serving as a natural buffer against climate change.

Combined with cutting fossil-fuel use and accelerating renewable energy, NbS can help us avoid the worst impacts of climate change, forming a critical part of a comprehensive response to the climate and biodiversity crises.

We cannot have a sustainable planet without a healthy Asia Pacific region. It is estimated that Asia has lost 55% of its natural capital in the past 50 years. Southeast Asia, endowed with diverse species and habitats, including tropical forests, coral reefs, and peatlands, serves as a prime setting for implementing NbS. However, despite this potential, cities in the Asia-Pacific region allocate less than 0.3% of their infrastructure spending to NbS.

Recognising the significance of NbS, the Southeast Asia Climate & Nature-based Solutions (SCeNe) Coalition was set up in 2023 – a collaboration between leading NGOs with an established presence in southeast Asia, including TNC, Conservation International, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), Birdlife International, Wildlife Conservation Society, Mandai Nature, World Resources Institute Indonesia, and WWF Singapore. It aims to support the delivery of and investment in high-quality, NbS projects in southeast Asia that benefit the climate as well as local communities and biodiversity.

 

APAC BUSINESS: When it comes to climate financing: what do you feel is the biggest challenge in this region?

APAC is faced with urgent calls for action on the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. We need investment in solutions that are available right now, and we need to see a much larger investment in nature-based solutions. One way to achieve that is through the carbon market, which allows businesses to pay for activities that restore, protect and sustainably manage natural systems, like forests.

However, we have to ensure the carbon market supports high quality carbon projects, underpinned by robust rules. TNC is at the forefront of developing high-integrity carbon projects across the APAC region, ranging from forest carbon sequestration projects in China to coastal wetland restoration projects in Australia. By prioritising rigorous standards and social safeguards, high integrity carbon markets can effectively benefit projects, people, and nature.

 

APAC BUSINESS: Nowadays, almost all the companies are talking about ESG/biodiversity protection, but what are some of the factors that you’re watching that could affect CEO confidence in taking real actions? How can businesses balance short-term business priorities and long-term sustainable development goals?

In today’s business landscape, ESG and biodiversity protection are not just buzzwords but critical considerations for companies looking to thrive in the long term.

While concerns about regulatory uncertainty and resource commitments persist, it is essential to recognise the immense opportunities for businesses that prioritise sustainability. Companies that integrate sustainability into their core strategies can unlock new markets, enhance brand reputation, and attract top talent.

Moreover, addressing the climate crisis is not a short-term endeavour but a journey towards long-term resilience and profitability. By aligning with climate action, companies signal their commitment to investors and consumers, demonstrating that sustainability isn’t just a moral imperative but a pathway to enduring success.