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Making Gains From Biodiversity

By Theuns Kotze July 03, 2023

Biodiversity is fundamental to industry and society, with direct or indirect benefits ranging from providing resources to building critical infrastructure, to improving asset resilience to climate change or creating attractive environments for people to live in

Making Gains From Biodiversity
With biodiversity in India and around the world declining at an alarming rate, we now have the opportunity to turn ambition into action.
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Biodiversity has never had greater prominence globally. The COP15 UN Biodiversity Summit in December 2022 launched a new global framework for biodiversity. Biodiversity refers to the diversity of life in all its dimensions – from species of plants to animals, their genetic diversity and the communities and ecosystems they form.

It has its own intrinsic value while also providing innumerable services and benefits to society. For example, biodiversity helps to provide clean water and air, healthy soils, medicines, protection from disease, pollination of food crops and supplies natural resources needed to build and maintain infrastructure.

A biodiverse ecosystem also underpins the resilience of land and property from extreme weather events, secures water supplies during prolonged heat waves, and takes away carbon which can help us meet net zero targets and tackle climate change. Furthermore, biodiversity contributes to scientific research and innovation. Many modern medicines, including life-saving drugs, are derived from natural compounds found in plants and animals.

Protecting biodiversity is not just an ethical imperative but also a practical necessity for the well-being and progress of society. However, the benefits of biodiversity are not always obvious and may also be difficult to quantify accurately.

With its vast and diverse geographical landscapes, India is blessed with remarkable biodiversity. From the mighty Himalayas in the north to the vast coastal plains in the south, and from the dense rainforests in the east to the arid deserts in the west, India's biodiversity is truly awe-inspiring. The coastal and marine habitats of India include near shore coastal dunes and marshes. The nation's rich natural heritage encompasses a wide range of ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity. The IUCN notes that the country is home to nearly 7 per cent of the world's recorded species, making it one of the most biologically diverse nations on the planet.

India's biodiversity is not only a matter of pride either; it plays an important role in the ecological balance and sustenance of life. It also supports the livelihoods and health of millions of people who depend on natural resources for food, medicine and traditional practices.

Despite its significance, India's biodiversity faces numerous threats. Unchecked habitat destruction, primarily due to deforestation, infrastructure development, and urbanization, potentially poses a severe risk to countless species. Climate change exacerbates these challenges, leading to shifts in habitats and disrupting ecological processes.

Overexploitation of natural resources, illegal wildlife trade, and pollution also contribute to the degradation of ecosystems. Invasive species introduced through human activities further disrupt native flora and fauna, potentially causing irreparable damage.

Biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate globally. Unless we start to value it more, this decline could have ever more severe consequences for sustainable development, the health of the economy and society.

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) can be part of the solution. BNG is the term used to mean that biodiversity is, measurably, better off as a result of a development project compared to the pre-development state, both in terms of species and habitats.

In practice, this means that BNG builds on existing policies and legislation to protect nature. BNG is best achieved by avoiding impacts on biodiversity as much as possible. This is because biodiversity can be difficult to restore or create, and because land and space is limited. Early planning for BNG can be critical to avoid and minimise losses from the outset and reduce unnecessary risks and costs associated with achieving BNG. It requires a long-term commitment to maintenance and monitoring, especially because habitats take time to establish and develop to the point where they can support wildlife populations.

Prioritising biodiversity for sustainable development has the potential to be transformative. Biodiversity is fundamental to industry and society, with direct or indirect benefits ranging from providing resources to building critical infrastructure, to improving asset resilience to climate change or creating attractive environments for people to live in. These benefits are not always obvious, but with biodiversity in India and around the world declining at an alarming rate, we now have the opportunity to turn ambition into action, and begin to restore biodiversity and ultimately accelerate progress towards a sustainable world.

(The author is Managing Director, Assurance, BSI India, Middle East, Turkey and Africa.)

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