Arkadiah does not see carbon as something negative, but as a resource to combat deforestation

A few hours before the photo shoot of Arkadiah CEO and co-founder Reuben Lai, a WhatsApp message arrived from the marketing head. She asked if the session could be shortened. My answer: “how do you say no to someone who protects nature?” – elicited a laugh, but I wasn’t kidding. Not really, considering how we have exploited our most precious asset.

For decades, our demand for goods and services from nature has exceeded our ability to supply them sustainably. Burning fossil fuels, farming, fishing, logging, mining: you name it, we do it. So predatory, in fact, that wildlife populations worldwide are in freefall.

As if tackling CO2 emissions wasn’t enough, humanity is now grappling with another set of environmental risks: nature and biodiversity.

Here Arkadiah intervenes. While many wildlife engineers focus on reducing CO2 emissions or sucking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, 10-month-old Arkadiah sees carbon as a resource with the power to create significant change.

“For us, carbon is not the enemy. Removing carbon in itself is not the end goal,” he says. Instead, he focuses on land regeneration using technology to improve traceability, transparency and trust.

Today we face environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, and the consequences extend to food security. But paradoxically, undervalued, low-productive and degraded land, often overlooked, has the potential to combat climate change and boost food production to meet the needs of our planet’s growing population, he explains . “By working with nature’s regenerative design, we can turn this crisis into a tremendous opportunity.”

Photo: Clement Goh

Choosing nature restoration becomes intuitive when you understand the consequences of soil degradation. Up to 40 percent of global soil has already been degraded, meaning a potential loss of $23 trillion in food, ecosystem services and income globally by 2050. And let’s not forget that the humble soil contains a tremendous amount of water. of carbon, second only to the ocean.

Arkadiah addresses climate crises, food security and livelihoods by transforming degraded lands into productive assets. Land renewal can therefore become a powerful force that positively impacts the community and society. “This is powerful for our planet and inspires our work to scale up land restoration through technology,” Lai says gravely.

Nature and technology go together

The former senior managing director of Grab Financial Group added: “From day one, we knew a science-based approach was critical to raising capital and building buyer confidence in the carbon credit market.” Following an iterative process involving experienced land restoration developers on pilot projects, Arkadiah’s proprietary artificial intelligence (AI)-based platform today integrates ground truth data, satellite imagery and advanced AI models to provide projects with key quality indicators.

These include analyzing ecological features, identifying threats such as fire risk or drought susceptibility, and providing recommendations and estimates for carbon potential.

“Our AI platform acts as an all-seeing eye from room to ground, and we can monitor progress remotely instead of constant site visits. This gives projects unparalleled insights to carry out restoration faster, better and more cost-effectively than ever.”

Armed with the right technological arsenal, Lai is confident that unlocking the necessary funding to bring land restoration to the level needed to protect our region’s ecosystem is within reach. “If we can harness nature’s technology to feed our people and regenerate our planet for future generations, the opportunities are only limited by our imagination,” he says.

From past pessimism to future optimism

His words are hopeful, but Lai reveals that he actually started out as a pessimist because “the climate crisis is so big.” In fact, Lai’s appreciation for nature only developed when he immersed himself in outdoor sports. Over time, nature and environmental issues became increasingly important in his mind – not only as global problems, but also as existential risks for future generations.

Referring to a popular quote, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children” – he says: “I borrowed a degraded planet, and it weighed heavily on me.”

Coincidentally, his previous roles in business and technology highlighted the ability of innovative solutions to tackle complex challenges such as financial inclusion. Using technology, he turned his attention to developing a sustainable business model to tackle climate change and revive the planet.

“I am optimistic that we will innovate ourselves out of this crisis. When investment dollars and talent come together, we can truly solve problems on a planetary scale,” he promises.

The prevailing sense of perspective does not overshadow Lai’s pragmatic recognition that finance is crucial in environmental conservation efforts. Idealism can be heartwarming, but after all, reality has a way of grounding you.

His unique blend of romance and practicality is reinforced when he says: “Rather than chasing personal lofty ambitions, (I want to) build a repeatable business model to convert degraded lands into nature-positive productive assets that generate healthy returns for investors. I believe that by healing nature we heal and uplift humanity itself.”