Accounting for natural capital

By TheHindu on 26 Feb 2017 | read
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In a ‘Mann Ki Baat’ broadcast recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his environmental concerns clear when he asked people to use Ganesha and Durga idols made of clay instead of plaster of Paris. His appeal is bound to stimulate our environmental consciousness and encourage the preservation of precious natural resources. We need to build on this appeal and follow an eco-friendly approach in every socio-economic activity of ours.

Biodiversity is a unique and a critical asset which is under pressure due to anthropogenic reasons, and there is a need for its mainstreaming. Biodiversity once lost is lost forever.

Biodiversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems. The diversity includes variability within species (genetic diversity) as well as between species (species diversity) and ecosystems (ecosystem diversity). It provides services such as water purification and supply, waste assimilation and the cleaning of air and water, regulation of pests and diseases, and soil nutrient cycling and fertility. Biodiversity helps mitigate unpredictable global changes and natural disasters. A rich biodiversity is the basis for good health, food security, economic growth, livelihood security and moderation of climatic conditions. The annual contribution of biodiversity to the world is put at $33 trillion.

Many ecosystem or biodiversity goods and services act as a safety net to indigenous peoples, poor and vulnerable groups, women and children. More than 70 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas and are directly dependent on the ecosystem/biodiversity goods and services for their survival.

 

India, one of the 17 mega-diverse countries, is rich in biodiversity and its associated traditional knowledge systems which have been gathered from times immemorial. Due to its sheer size, range of topography, altitude and climate, India exhibits a rich variety of ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, deserts, wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs. These provide basic needs such as food, fibre, medicine, fodder, fuel wood and timber. Around 1.2 billion people coexist with 8 per cent of recorded species, which includes over 45,000 species of plants and 91,000 species of animals. India’s tribal population is also dependent on forests and natural resources to a significant extent.

India possesses around 18 per cent of the world’s population, but only 2.4 per cent of land and 4.2 per cent of water resources. To achieve a high GDP growth rate, rapid development that pertains to industry and infrastructure is required. But our developmental activities are greatly affecting biodiversity. Natural resources such as water, forests, fisheries and marine resources are being overexploited, which in turn affects their renewability. A recent study shows that India will become water scarce by 2025. Emissions from industry and the transport sectors are at a high level. There is also indiscriminate discharge of solid wastes, industrial effluents and domestic sewage with considerable impact. Therefore, proactive efforts in ecosystem management that involve government and community are needed.

Economic sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, health, nutrition, water supply, energy, trade, industry, transport and tourism depend on biodiversity and impact biodiversity.

Biodiversity conservation has traditionally been the responsibility of the environment sector, and undertaken through measures such as the enforcement of legal decisions, ‘polluters pay principles’ as well as the incorporation of protected areas. As the developmental sector generally ignores its responsibility towards biodiversity conservation, a more responsible approach towards biodiversity management, by mainstreaming, is needed.

Mainstreaming or inclusion means integrating/including actions related to conservation and promoting the sustainable use of biodiversity in strategies relating to production sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, tourism, and mining. It also refers to including biodiversity considerations in poverty reduction and national sustainable development plans. Mainstreaming helps to reduce the negative impacts on biodiversity. For example, in agriculture, strategies to minimise the use of and optimise the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides reduce negative impacts on soil, groundwater, surrounding habitats and wildlife.

Small-scale farming or aquaculture activities undertaken in a sustainable manner might prove to be a relief to wild species. Positive biodiversity impacts might also be optimised through promoting people’s access to benefits derived from the use of biological resources. Community-based joint forest management, promotion of traditional multi-species and multi-variety agricultural practices, securing access to medicinal resources for local use, strengthening traditional and cultural practices, and governing the use of wild resources are examples.

Further, the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the use of biological resources and the knowledge associated thereto (one of the objectives of the Convention of Biological diversity, or CBD, and the Biological Diversity Act of India) by users (industries) to the providers (communities) act as incentives to local communities in the conservation and sustainable use of bio-resources.

It is clear that to achieve many national and international biodiversity goals such as the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as well as meet CBD objectives, biodiversity integration into developmental sectors is a prerequisite. After understanding its relationship with biodiversity, each sector should come up with appropriate mechanisms for conservation and sustainable biodiversity use.

The active involvement of Central/State Ministries and Departments is needed. Further, research institutions need to chip in and come up with appropriate management strategies, with budget options. Public and private entrepreneurs and entities as well as the public need to come forward to mainstream biodiversity. (The statistical references mentioned in this article are from various published reports.)

 

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