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Mainstreaming starts at home

by Èric Belvaux, Linda Ghanimé, Mathieu Régnier
Development agencies face many challenges when trying to integrate biodiversity considerations into their day-to-day practice. So far, efforts remain low-key and insufficient. Nonetheless, there are interesting lessons to be learned from early success stories. One is that biodiversity mainstreaming starts at home. Once biodiversity permeates a socio-political culture, its full integration in development cooperation becomes natural. [ By Éric Belvaux, Linda Ghanimé and Mathieu Régnier ]

Important action to protect biodiversity has been taken worldwide, but it is still insufficient to reduce the loss of biodiversity. In many developing countries, where most of the planet’s biodiversity is located, efforts have been implemented at various levels. National efforts abound, and the success stories are just beginning to inspire decision-makers and development planers to move forward with policies and investments.

The development community must do more to protect biodiversity. The erosion of species and varieties of species is something they must help to prevent. It is not enough for development agencies to do environmental mainstreaming. They have to focus on biodiversity properly. Not all biodiversity-relevant issues are addressed through generic environmental responses. Environment and biodiversity are not interchangeable terms. The distinction becomes particularly important in a context in which the term "environment" is increasingly equated with "climate protection". More is at stake.

Biodiversity and development are intimately linked since human well-being depends on ecosystem services. Such services rest on biodiversity. This is of particular relevance in countries where entire communities depend on biodiversity for subsistence. Not only these people, however, use free services of nature. In any case, loss of biodiversity makes it more difficult to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce poverty, hunger and disease. Efforts towards progress on the MDGs and efforts towards objectives relating to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) must therefore be coordinated better than has been the case so far. For the same reasons, national poverty-reduction strategy papers (PRSPs) should factor in biodiversity.

In this context, Benin is among the countries that are setting a good example. The country’s legislation highlights the links between poverty and environmental degradation and calls for appropriate action. Officials from Benin point out that environmental protection is not only about addressing pollution but that it should also stress the wise use of resources. The country’s current Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy integrates biodiversity considerations into a good number of its components. In a similar vein, Tanzania’s national development planning provides space for biodiversity mainstreaming while addressing other environmental concerns.

Sadly, however, this is not the case everywhere. In the past, poverty reduction tended to be seen exclusively through an economics lens. That approach is no longer acceptable. National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans (NBSAPs) have to be integrated into development planning and implementation as an urgent priority. (See box).

Challenges on two fronts

Challenges appear on two fronts. The first is at the level of developing countries, where there is a need for champions to drive change within institutions and enhance institutional capacity. Strengthening links between ministries of planning and finance and those responsible for the Convention is also important.

The second challenge lies within donors’ institutional processes. Biodiversity mainstreaming involves benefits and tradeoffs between development paths. It is true that staff from agencies as well as their partners in developing countries are already complaining about mainstreaming overload and the rising costs of studies and assessments. An integrated multi-objective approach to mainstreaming would help to meet such worries. One can easily understand that considerations for gender, governance, HIV, conflict resolution and other key development dimensions may seem burdensome add-ons if they all have to be addressed independently.

Insufficient funding is not the only obstacle. Other challenges include a lack of political and corporate commitments, time constraints, resistance to change and the absence of universal indicators to assess the state of biodiversity.

Another challenging obstacle is that biodiversity and development projects are often funded in the short term. A two- to five-year period is hardly an adequate timeframe for sustained biodiversity protection. Biophysical processes such as soil formation, forest (re-)growth, climatic changes and evolutionary processes operate on far longer time scales. Moreover, decisions at the national level are often based on short-term returns, and the institutional and technical capacity for the long-term implementation of mainstreaming measures is limited.

The many roads to biodiversity mainstreaming

There are various tools for mainstreaming and integrating biodiversity into national policies. Such tools include the CBD’s Ecosystem Approach and the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The Convention’s 2006 “Voluntary guidelines on biodiversity-inclusive impact assessment” provide a framework for incorporating biodiversity-related concerns into the environmental impact assessment of projects and the SEA of policies, plans and programmes. A tailored SEA will recognise the ecosystem services to which biodiversity contributes and the means to maintain them. These services represent ecological, social, cultural and economic capital for society.

At the country level, donors and recipient governments can use Joint Assistance Strategies (JAS) to integrate biodiversity considerations into policy reforms, National Development Plans (NDP) and Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRS). Doing so would serve both the goal of the environment and the development communities. It makes sense to use the instruments of aid effectiveness as spelled out in the Paris Declaration of 2005. Donor coordination, alignment to national policies et cetera lead to better results, and that is also true where development and biodiversity are inter-linked.

Institutional ripple down effect

The agencies that integrate biodiversity most systematically and rigorously in their activities tend to be from countries where the understanding of biodiversity is deeply embedded in the national culture. Fortunately, biodiversity is increasingly understood to be fundamental to sustainable development. Education and public awareness campaigns are having an effect.

For some agencies biodiversity is a key part of environmental mainstreaming. Others are just warming up to the idea. It would be wise to ensure that all parties involved use the same conceptual framework and share a level playing field. We must therefore expand our reflection to see if there is a need to develop international guidance.