Mainstreaming Biodiversity: the only potent tool to reach synergy between conservation and development

Dr. Atul Kumar Gupta, IFS (Retd.)

Each year, the 22nd May is observed as the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. This year's theme is 'Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health', aiming at spreading awareness of the dependency of our food systems, nutrition and health on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. This theme also celebrates the diversity provided by our natural systems for human existence and well-being on Earth. However, very little is understood on this aspect by the masses thus leading to adverse effects on mainstreaming biodiversity. 

Mainstreaming means 'integrating, as far as possible and as appropriate, the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity into relevant sectoral or cross-sectoral plans, programmes and policies', which is mandatory as per Article 6b of Convention to Biological Diversity (CBD) of which India is also one of the signatories. The Global Environmental Facility Scientific and Advisory Panel has defined mainstreaming biodiversity as "the process of embedding biodiversity considerations into policies, strategies, and practices of key public and private actors that impact or rely on biodiversity, so that it is conserved and sustainable and equitably used both locally and globally." Mainstreaming refers to the inclusion of various conservation and sustainable activities in strategies relating to production sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, tourism, mining, etc. It can also refer to including biodiversity conservation in poverty reduction plans and national sustainable development plans. Biodiversity conservation has been earlier considered the domain of only environment sector along with its practice in certain areas. However, with the ever-increasing threat to the environment due to the practices in other production sectors, mainstreaming biodiversity into sectoral strategies, plan and programmes is but mandatory for conserving biodiversity. 

The history of mainstreaming of biodiversity dates back since the days of the Earth Summit (UNCED 1992) and Agenda 21, when the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) launched the Environment Action Programme in 1993 aiming at improving the environmental services in India and facilitating integration of environmental considerations in developmental programmes across different sectors. The ethos of conservation, sustainable use, and fair and equitable use of biological diversity are rooted in India's age-old nature-based-living and rich spiritual and cultural traditions. This concept was later institutionalized in India during the period between the Stockholm Conference (June 1972) and the Earth Summit (June 1992), through various legal and policy frameworks [Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; Forest Conservation Act, 1980; National Forest Policy, 1988; Joint Forest Management Resolution, 1991] for ensuring protection of environment, wildlife, and all other natural resources in the country and also simultaneously addressing the issues of poverty alleviation. This followed enactment of the Biological Diversity Act in 2002 with three-tiered institutional structure, namely, National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) at the national level, State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) at the state level, and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at the local level. This is one excellent example of attempting conservation through the provisions of decentralized governance as contained in the Constitution. 

The Biological Diversity Act is a path-breaking and progressive legislation, which has the potential to positively impact biodiversity conservation in the country and mainstream through National Biodiversity and Strategic Action Plan (NBSAP). The first such Plan was developed as National Policy and Macro Level Action Strategy in 1999, which got revised in 2008 as NBAP following enactment of the National Environment Policy (NEP) in 2006. In line with the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets (2011-2020) adopted by the CBD in 2010, and 17 Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2015-2030, India too developed 12 National Biodiversity Targets (NBTs) in 2014 and published as Addendum 2014 to NBAP 2008. At the state level, State Biodiversity and Strategy Action Plans (SBSAP) help mainstream biodiversity with other sectoral programs and policies. The State Governments need to prepare or revise SBSAPs in line with the NBAP and 12 National Biodiversity Targets and also develop a 'Resource Mobilization Strategy' for its implementation. 

For mainstreaming, it is important to have an understanding of the relationship of a specific sector (for example, agriculture, horticulture, fisheries, water resources, urban development, animal husbandry, tribal welfare, etc.) to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity as well as mechanisms, how that sector impacts biodiversity; provides ecosystem services and can help reach NBSAP/SBSAP goals through sector-specific tools. Further, there is a need and ability to identify situations that benefit both biodiversity and the sustainability of the specific sector. 

Is it true that certain public and private sectors are, by default, already engaged in mainstreaming biodiversity by making expenditures through their varied schemes and programs and thus indirectly helping achieve goals of biodiversity conservation? If so, then, could this current 'by default' status be changed to 'by design' status by ensuring better utilization of such funds helping in biodiversity conservation on one hand and meeting sector specific goals as well without substitution and conflict? Such questions can be answered only if we have a precise estimate of the amounts being currently spent on conserving biodiversity in India across the sectors. A general understanding is that all expenditures on biodiversity conservation are done only through the environment sector and associated ministry and institutions. This understanding is based on the premise that biodiversity conservation is a mandate only of environment sector and it is not mainstreamed within the activities of other sectors. But, is it true? The answer is 'NO'. This is evident from the result of a project report of the UNDP initiated Global Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) Project in 2012, of which India became a party in 2015, where it is found that a total of 125 schemes belonging to 26 Ministries and 31 Departments of the Government of India have biodiversity conservation relevance and such ministries and departments have already spent a total of 95,339.35 crores in the year 2014-15 alone (Ansari, N.A., et al., 2018. Biodiversity Expenditure Review (BER) at Central Government Level, India. Final Report, WII-UNDP Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) Project, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun). This proves that many more departments and agencies both at the Center and State levels and many private sectors are already engaged in biodiversity conservation (unmindful though) and this is what is all about mainstreaming. However, the only need is to make this process more inclusive by transforming its current 'by default' status to 'by choice' status. 

This year's theme of Biological Diversity Day 'Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health' is a call for mainstreaming biodiversity conservation in all our day-to-day activities we perform on both personal and official fronts. Sustainablity need be ensured in all those acts to whichever sector we belong or deal with by way of extracting only as per need and recoupe with double the amount extracted. We have glaring examples of such communities, especially in the northeastern India, who inhabit wilderness areas and have mainstreamed all their acts in complete sync - neither adversely impacting nor getting adversely impacted - with the Nature/biodiversity, which is the ONLY source of life for them. More importantly, proactive mainstreaming biodiversity into relevant sectoral or cross-sectoral plans, programmes and policies will enrich those with enabling mitigation and adaptation measures to counter looming threats of climate change. Let's observe this day while also remembering a quote from the Father of the Nation Mahatama Gandhi “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed".

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