Placing biodiversity at the centre of economic decision-making

True monetary value can’t be attributed to the biodiversity of a country. But such calculations can highlight the importance of biodiversity in all aspects of a nation’s economy
The services provided by healthy ecosystems influence complex global phenomena such as regulating climate patterns, mitigating the effects of soil erosion, and natural calamities(HT Archive) PREMIUM
The services provided by healthy ecosystems influence complex global phenomena such as regulating climate patterns, mitigating the effects of soil erosion, and natural calamities(HT Archive)
Updated on Jan 04, 2022 08:35 PM IST
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ByRuturaj Gowaikar

The Biodiversity Act (BDA) of 2002 was a product of India signing the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). Many industrial and a few research entities have been facing problems related to compliance issues of the access and benefit sharing (ABS) aspect of the Act.

This is reflected in legal disputes related to BDA in courts, ranging from lower courts, national green tribunals, and the Supreme Court. Certain amendments to BDA were introduced in the winter session of Parliament. The aim of these amendments seems to be to streamline compliance issues. However, by introducing blanket exemptions to only one group of industry, the Act may drift away from its true spirit — of the conservation of biodiversity. A thorough overhaul of the part of the Act that deals with compliance is required. It must be accomplished by addressing the issues that are leading to a myriad of litigation against the Act.

A comparative study of the state-level rules and regulations might also yield useful pointers to improve the biodiversity Act. But what is truly required is to radically rethink the BDA by placing biodiversity at the core of all economic decision-making.

Incidentally, the amendments in question were introduced two months after the 15th Conference of the Parties (CoP15) of CBD, and a month after COP26 of the United Nations Framework on Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Both these parties of conferences were follow-up meetings of CBD and UNFCCC. Both were finalised at the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The aim of the Earth Summit was to help nations develop in a sustainable manner while ensuring that the climate crisis is eventually reversed. Subsequently, the important role of conserving biodiversity was recognised.

However, UNFCCC became the more glamorous of the treaties due to the involvement of financing mechanisms from the initial meetings, and the inclusion of the global business community in the discourse surrounding the climate crisis. The CBD couldn’t achieve this. As a result, UNFCCC has a better track record when it comes to global compliance, while CBD’s record is poor.

ABS — part of the Indian BDA — is one of the few mechanisms that can generate funds for conservation. ABS ideally allows these funds to be channelised to the area from which bioresource was utilised. ABS also has mechanisms to involve the custodians of traditional knowledge if their knowledge was used for commercial gain. This system in India is not perfect and warrants a thorough overhaul, as the amendments seem ad-hoc.

At COP15, India announced that it set aside 17.41% of its geographical area to reach its biodiversity conservation targets. India also supports the 30x30 movement — which aims to conserve 30% of the earth’s total area by 2030, for which India will need funds to achieve its targets.

Perhaps what is required on a national scale is a radical relook of biodiversity on the economics of India. And then recalculate the monetary value of endemic biodiversity and integrate this into an overhauled Biodiversity Act. A leaf out of the 600-page Dasgupta review on The Economics of Biodiversity can be useful. This review was commissioned by the treasury department of the United Kingdom (UK) employing the expertise of an independent economist. Though restricted to the UK’s bioresources, it provides a framework to place bioresources at the centre of financial decision-making. The review also suggests including the concept of “Natural Capital” into GDP calculations to highlight the contribution of ecosystem services in a country’s economy.

True monetary value can’t be attributed to the biodiversity of a country, as the services provided by healthy ecosystems influence complex global phenomena such as regulating climate patterns, mitigating the effects of soil erosion, and natural calamities. But such calculations can highlight the importance of biodiversity in all aspects of a nation’s economy and promote policy decisions accordingly. Such calculations might serve to generate tradable instruments of finance, on the lines of carbon credits to fund efforts related to the conservation of biodiversity.

Ruturaj Gowaikar is a research analyst, Takshashila Institution

The views expressed are personal

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Friday, January 28, 2022