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::EXCLUSIVE:: Bending the curve with nature positive recovery


The colossal damages to nature and enhanced biodiversity loss accentuated particularly by different activities of so-said human ‘progress’ – extractive industries, mining, commercial plantations, urbanization, infrastructure building in nature reserves – have escalated problems in multiple dimensions, such as the current pandemic that is ravaging the entire world

By Salam Rajesh

The nature of the current SARS-CoV-2 virus induced pandemic has thrown open a range of debates on how the world has to review existing policies and strategic action plans on the recovery of economy that has been hit hard by the crisis. The world’s economic crisis is not only about the losses suffered by major industrial companies, whereas, it is also about re-adjusting the lives and livelihoods of those in the marginalized sectors. The report ‘Nature-Positive Recovery: For People, Economy & Climate’ published by the lobby group Nature4Climate (July, 2020) has suggestions to pick up the threads on economy recovery based on nature-based solutions.

The basic analysis is based on three broad principles outlined to address the strategy towards enabling economy recovery after the lull of the pandemic, as much as it were at the end of the two Great World Wars. The first principle is of course to respect nature in the best sense of the word. The second principle is to ‘properly value the full range of benefits that natural ecosystems offer, and the role they play in building sustainable economies and communities’. This reflects on the need to understand the intrinsic ecosystem services value rendered by forests, peatlands, mangroves, wetlands and other natural landscapes.

The third principle outlined in the report is to appreciate the direct economic contribution of nature-based solutions. As national governments grapple with the repercussions of Covid-19, stretching over 2020 and into 2021, and perhaps beyond, many governments are considering policies that would have positive impacts on human populations in the years to come. The contention as being expounded in the report is that nature-positive recovery is both possible and sensible to achieve the sustainable development goals – creating jobs, ensuring humanity’s future health and economic well-being, stabilizing the climate and protecting biodiversity amongst others.

It is estimated that a large chunk of the world’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of at least 44 trillion USD worth of economic value generation is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services. This calculation is in the backdrop of the estimation that forest resources support the livelihoods of more than 1.5 billion people around the world. In this assumption, it is therefore calculated that the investment of up to 350 billion USD annually in sustainable food and land use systems can create more than 120 million new jobs, and 4.5 trillion USD worth of new business opportunities within the year 2030.

The cost benefit analysis on ecosystem services rendered by forests, mangroves and wetlands, for instance, has been discussed at length in the report. The reference on green infrastructure, namely, investments in forests, peatlands, wetlands and mangroves as performing better and at lower cost than ‘grey infrastructure’ for services like flood management, water purification and storage, and irrigation has been particularly emphasized.

The report outlines that ‘investments in nature-based infrastructure have proven, multiple benefits; for example, reforestation projects in upper catchments sequester carbon, support nature, reduce flood risk, improve soil quality and improve local water supplies’. Other examples are cited, too, such as coastal habitat restoration to enhance protection from floods and storms whilst increasing the quality of local fisheries; wetlands systems that provide sustainable urban drainage; and peatland restoration programs that reduce carbon emissions, restore biodiversity and reduce the speed of run-off to local rivers.

Case studies proven over time and tested procedures are cited. For instance, in the Upper Yangtze River Basin in western China, flood mitigation provided by forests reportedly saves on the average up to 1 billion USD annually from avoided storm and flood damage. South Korea restored more than 6 million hectares of degraded, sloping lands in recent years, and the resulting erosion control and prevention of landslides is valued at 11.23 billion USD and 3.95 billion USD respectively. In the Philippines, mangroves reduce annual flooding to people by 24 percent, providing direct benefits to more than 6 lakh people every year, many of whom currently live in poverty. In India, mangroves protect 3.3 million people from flooding and 9 billion USD worth of property from flood damage.

The colossal damages to nature and enhanced biodiversity loss accentuated particularly by different activities of so-said human ‘progress’ – extractive industries, mining, commercial plantations, urbanization, infrastructure building in nature reserves – have escalated problems in multiple dimensions, such as the current pandemic that is ravaging the entire world, or the increased instances of unprecedented climate related catastrophes. The formation of cyclonic storms in rapid succession in recent times, for instance, is being attributed to changing climatic conditions induced by increasing temperature rise, ocean warming and other phenomena.

The focus of discourses currently at the global platform understandably is on finding solutions based on nature related activities. This is what is being described as nature-based solutions, fundamentally searching for answers that deviate from destructive policies of the past wherein nature was not considered as part of the scheme of things. Crude oil exploitation, for example, has seen vital rainforests being totally cleared, similarly as is happening now with the highly commercialized oil palm plantations. Cattle rearing on massive scale are also another reason for large scale depletion of forests and peatlands.

In post-pandemic economy recovery, a major focus is on the sustainable use of land and water resources to serve multiple end benefits, including restoring nature landscapes to their pristine state while ensuring these support livelihoods for those who depend directly on resources extracted from forests, grasslands, peatlands and wetlands. Another major focus is on taping the traditional knowledge and wisdom of Indigenous peoples and local communities towards achieving goals in forest and other natural landscape restoration and conservation.

Many countries in Latin America and in South Asia, like Sri Lanka, have announced total ban on import of edible palm oil and further plantation of this highly commercialized crop. The reason is based on different aspects of social and environmental concerns. Oil palm plantation is being linked to mass deforestation which subsequently is being related to inducement of zoonotic and vector borne diseases. It again is linked to cases of human rights violation including discrimination of marginalized societies, rape and murder, and land grab issues by powerful companies.

The United Nations’ subsidiary bodies like the International Union for Conservation of Nature has particularly emphasized on the restoration of nature to resolve many issues including curbing the bend on increased instances of zoonotic and vector borne diseases, climate change and rising temperature, increased phenomena of natural calamities, livelihood crises, and many others. The solution as is being proposed is primarily on focusing in involving grassroots communities in actual and realized objectives. The UN’s theme “We are part of the solution” hints at the active participation of IPLCs in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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