Intelligent management of ecosystems can help to turn local economies around and give destitute households a chance to increase their incomes

Protecting biodiversity is humanity’s insurance policy against the unprecedented biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation which has occurred in recent decades, undermining the very foundations of life on earth.

This is why this week’s 11th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad, which India is hosting, is so important. The thousands of experts and officials representing nearly 200 countries attending the conference carry the enormous responsibility of facing the difficult trade-offs that lay at the heart of biodiversity management.

In the race to increase national income, countries around the world are over-exploiting biodiversity by failing to integrate environmental measures in fisheries, agriculture, infrastructure and mining. This approach is understandable when governments are trying to quickly raise living standards but the risk of mismanaging biodiversity far outweighs short-term gains, reducing the ability of the environment to sustain the present generation, let alone meet the needs of future generations.

A key theme of the conference is the impact of biodiversity loss on the poor. Dependent directly on nature for food, clean water, fuel, medicine and shelter, poor households are hit hardest by ecosystem degradation.

Community-based models

In India, where ecosystem services account for 57 per cent of a poor household’s income and nearly a quarter of the country’s population depends on non-timber forest produce for their livelihood, important community-based models for managing diversity are showing impressive results.

An example of this is the village of Gundlaba in Odisha where the 1999 super cyclone destroyed habitats and livelihoods, mangroves and forests belonging to coastal villages. Fearing that their community may not recover, the village women formed a Forest Protection Women’s Committee. During the past 12 years, the committee has worked together to regenerate mangroves and other forests. Forest cover has gone up by 63 per cent and fish catch has increased from one to five kilograms per family.

The story of Gundlaba shows that the weight of ecosystems in the lives of the poor represents an important opportunity for achieving broader social and economic goals. Proper and intelligent management of ecosystems at the local level can help to turn local economies around and give destitute households a chance to increase their incomes. This is an important lesson to share with the world.

Investing in the protection of biodiversity is another important lesson. A government of India initiative to increase coral reef cover in the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve on the Tamil Nadu coast, which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Global Environmental Facility are proud to have supported, has resulted in diversified livelihoods at the local level and increased income. As a result of this programme, more than 24,000 women now have access to more credit from microenterprises and thousands of young people have taken up new vocations after receiving technical training.

Recognising our shared responsibility to promote proper management of biodiversity, the UNDP at the global level has worked closely with partners in 146 countries to develop a Biodiversity and Ecosystems Global Framework to accelerate international efforts to reverse biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. The framework represents an important shift in focus towards harnessing the positive opportunities provided by biodiversity and natural ecosystems, as a driver for sustainable development.

The framework takes into account the real value of biodiversity and ecosystems to society—in relation to secure livelihoods, food, water and health, enhanced resilience, preservation of threatened species and their habitats, and increased carbon storage and sequestration—and calls for innovation to achieve multiple development dividends.

The officials and experts attending this week’s conference will have the chance to debate important issues related to biodiversity management. With so much at stake, we hope that participants are able to establish an effective governance system for making and implementing decisions on matters affecting biodiversity and ecosystems and discuss candidly the capacity of markets to reflect the real value of ecosystem goods and services and the true costs of losing them. Agreeing on ways that governments and markets can increase the flow of ecosystem services for the poor is equally important.

(Lise Grande is U.N. Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in India.)

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