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It's an asset, invest in it

The loss of biodiversity is not a boutique green issue. It can hurt the economy. Nik Sekhran writes.

india Updated: Oct 07, 2012 21:48 IST

The 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) begins in Hyderabad on Monday. The CBD was born two decades ago at the 1992 Earth Summit where leaders promised to conserve biological resources, ensure their sustainable utilisation and share equitably the benefits derived from these resources. Twenty years on, the CBD is more relevant than ever because the world is facing unprecedented levels of biodiversity loss and most indicators of the state of biodiversity (including species extinction risk, habitat condition and ecosystem services) show negative trends, while most pressure indicators (including human population growth, resource consumption, and climate change impacts) are on the rise. This loss of biodiversity has serious implications for the poor who depend on natural resources, and more broadly for economic development.

Two years ago in Nagoya, Japan, nations agreed on a Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, setting five new goals and 20 targets to stem biodiversity loss, and emphasising the importance of integrating this work into national development processes. A binding agreement was reached for the first time on Access and Benefit Sharing, known as the Nagoya Protocol (NP), and a roadmap was agreed for mobilising increased financial resources to implement the Convention.

In Hyderabad, parties will come together to review the progress they are making towards realising these targets. The agenda includes financing: how much it will cost to achieve the targets, and how these costs are to be underwritten; mainstreaming: how to change the trajectory of development in order to reduce pressures on biodiversity; the NP: how to accelerate progress towards ensuring its ratification by parties to the CBD; biodiversity for livelihoods and poverty reduction: how sustainable use and restoration of ecosystems can contribute towards sustainable development; and the conservation of coastal and marine biodiversity.

Biodiversity is vital for India. The Western Ghats, where I grew up, is one of the world's 34 'biodiversity hotspots', harbouring threatened species. Importantly, the water from the mountains is critical to sustaining high economic growth in south India. The same can be said of the Himalayas. The Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins are inhabited by 400 million Indians. The two major rivers alone contribute almost 60% of the total water resources in India. While levees, dams and other structural solutions can deal with floods in this basin, a key solution lies in the natural defences afforded by healthy watersheds and wetlands that regulate stream flows.

All these and many other examples highlight the urgent need for countries to work together to develop the capacity and provide the technological and financial wherewithal required to reduce biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. Efforts to address these challenges need to be strengthened by reversing detrimental policies, fully integrating biodiversity into broad-scale land-use planning, incorporating its economic value adequately into decision making, and implementing well-targeted and funded conservation programmes.

Biodiversity loss is not a boutique environmental issue. It should not only be viewed through the optic of conservation vs loss, but also as a natural asset that can be harnessed for economic development and poverty reduction. Biodiversity is often the only significant natural asset to which poor communities have access. If managed sustainably, it can provide a capital base for them to move beyond subsistence towards wealth creation.

Nik Sekhran is head, UNDP's Ecosystems and Biodiversity Programme

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Oct 07, 2012 21:44 IST