Ecology and economy need to go hand in hand
The challenges posed by Global Biodiversity Framework will go a long way in re-imagining the world we live in, and at the same time bring in necessary course correction in economic thinking
With 196 countries in agreement, the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) biodiversity negotiations at Montreal, in Canada, approved a ground-breaking Global Biodiversity Framework. After four years of deliberations, an agreement has been arrived at – with 23 global targets to be achieved by 2030 – which is expected to take the world towards a shared vision of living in harmony with nature by 2050.
The aim is to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. This assumes importance given the fact that the world is passing through an environmentally-critical phase that is leading to the sixth mass extinction. This gigantic biodiversity collapse or what the US National Academy of Sciences had earlier referred to it as 'biological annihilation', is this time human-induced and will lead to over a million species to disappear, some in the next few decades.
The landmark biodiversity deal, by laying out a clear cut timeline to achieve the ambitious targets, will also strengthen the global efforts to keep temperature rise under control. After all, biodiversity and climate change are deeply co-related. Any international effort to combat the worsening climate crisis needs a vibrant biodiversity resource as its ally. That is why I think the historic biodiversity agreement can be rightly viewed as the 'Paris moment' – with both, the Montreal framework and the Paris agreement, proceeding ahead in tandem.
The transformation that the Global Biodiversity Framework outlines is aimed at protecting 30 per cent of the planet by 2030, which means protecting the land resources by 30 per cent against the dismal degradation that has taken place over the decades allowing only 17 per cent to remain protected at present; and to enhance protection of highly polluted oceans to also 30 per cent. Besides, restoring degraded eco-systems by 30 per cent, reducing harmful subsidies by $500 billion per year, cutting down on pesticides use by 50 per cent by 2030, restricting alien invasion species introduction by 50 per cent, and providing for benefit-sharing lays out a blueprint for sustainable development. The deal also talks of the rights of the indigenous people and forest dwellers to be maintained.
With the Montreal framework spelling out the need to raise $200 billion of financial support every year from governments, private sector and charities, a tight monitoring mechanism has to be put in place to ensure that funds are properly utilised and at the same time to keep a close watch on how member countries are implementing the framework provisions.
What makes the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework starkly different from the Aichi Biodiversity targets set in 2010, which remained largely unaddressed, is the monitoring system that has been incorporated. Although the targets are global, and is not specific to any country, but realising the goals will be in the national interest of developing economies. Even though Brazil, Argentina and India are uncomfortable when it comes to achieving the goal of halving pesticides use by 2030, increasing public pressure will hopefully enforce policy makers to suitably implement policies that move towards a transition as per the underlying principles.
Considering that the industrial farming system is responsible for 80 per cent global deforestation, has led to 52 per cent of land resources getting degraded, and poses threat to 86 per cent of the 28,000 threatened species, reversing the loss is not possible without reforming the food systems. However, with increasing digitalisation and the application of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation being brought in, the industrial food value chains are being further strengthened. It will therefore be interesting to see how the biodiversity framework is able to tide over this conflict in approach.
While a lot of international groups and agencies have time and again sounded an alarm, the global framework will come in handy for the member countries to make efforts to reframe agricultural policies. But still it is not as easy as it is generally thought to be. The agri-business industry yields tremendous power to thwart such efforts, as past experience has shown. Reducing harmful subsidies for instance would mean increasingly limiting the use of industrial inputs in agriculture, which have led to soil and environmental destruction.
Although ample evidence is now available for transforming the food systems towards agro-ecology, still the march towards nature-based solutions that protect and reverse biodiversity loss will come in for strong hurdles.
While the European Union has embarked upon an Euro 249 billion of EU funding support under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) programme aimed at transition towards a sustainable and resilient agriculture, beginning 2023, the agri-business lobbies have raised fears about the threat it poses to food security. It is believed that food security threat is being used to ensure that business as usual continues. Whether the EU is able to slash pesticides use by 50 per cent by 2030 without numerical targets for reduction being imposed, will be a test for the rest of the world.
In India, past experience has shown how difficult it is to phase out harmful pesticides. The case of easing out the use and abuse of the persistent organic pollutant, Endosulfan, which had done enough damage to human life in the cashew plantation in the Kasargod district on Kerala, is a classic example. The biodiversity framework's goal of slashing pesticides use by 50 per cent therefore is likely to be critical for India, where every move to reduce pesticides will be met by powerful lobbies.
In addition, restoring 30 per cent ecosystems and stopping the loss of biodiversity in classified biodiversity hotspots will bring the framework in confrontation with the industrial development policies, and also infrastructure development. In the case of Hasdeo Arand coalfields in Chhattisgarh, where the tribal communities have long protested against the mining activities being undertaken, the biodiversity assessment undertaken by the Wildlife Institute of India is itself eye-opening. Being a rich-repository of biological wealth, preserving the ecosystem should be a priority. Similarly, the mega strategic project in the biodiversity rich Andaman and Nicobar islands, where more than 800,000 trees are likely to be felled, is already home to two national parks and a biosphere reserve. To compensate, afforestation is being planned in Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. This has been questioned by environmentalists.
The char-dham road project in the Himalayas is another example. Even the concerns raised by the Supreme Court appointed committee were over looked.
The need I think is to ascribe economic value to the eco-system services being provided by nature. Once this is done, and there are numerous examples of how such valuation have been successfully completed, will tell us that the economic loss from biodiversity destruction is much greater than economic gains being projected from infrastructure development projects. Ecosystems services evaluation therefore is crucial to ascertain the economic wealth nature provides.
Nevertheless, the challenges posed by the Global Biodiversity Framework will go a long way in re-imagining the world we live in, and at the same time bring in the necessary course correction in economic thinking and approaches. There can be no economics without ecology.
(The author is a noted food policy analyst and an expert on issues related to the agriculture sector. He writes on food, agriculture and hunger)