For the Director of the AFD Ecological Transition and Natural Resources Department, there is an urgent need for all development stakeholders to understand and explain that the diversity of living things is imperative to our existence. And to scale up the solutions that have proved effective.
In what way is achieving the SDGs intrinsically linked to the conservation of biodiversity?
Every single SDG is linked to biodiversity. Health, food, the economy, regulating our environment, our oceans—everything relates to living things. If living things cease to exist, so does everything else. Biodiversity is our life insurance. It is the foundation for the life and development of all humanity—especially the poorest individuals who depend directly on the forest, prairie, agricultural soil, etc. Their existence is directly connected to nature.
For the past few years, defending this living foundation has become a key issue for development. Goals were established, but have been partially achieved…
Biodiversity has long been a conservation goal without being viewed as the foundation of our existence and condition for our well-being. However, this is a true emergency, as confirmed in the latest report by the Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (IPBES). The research, conducted by over 150 scientific teams, mapped out and quantified the collapse of over 60% of biodiversity and over 70% of vertebrate populations. It confirms that with this level of degradation, protecting biodiversity is not a heritage issue, it is truly a development issue. We are dealing with central issues that affect all of humanity and its future, as for climate issues, which are directly related.
Does conserving ecosystems work towards achieving all the SDGs?
Absolutely, and this change in approach must happen quickly. 30 years ago, there were only a dozen of us in France looking into these connections as we measured the extent to which the ecosystem had been degraded. Now, numerous researchers are tackling the subject of biodiversity, “green finance”, industry, the economy and regional policies in order to better integrate biodiversity. And yet there is a long way to go, as witnessed in the increased erosion trends of the ecosystems and our natural capital. As for climate issues, we have not been able to reduce the patterns of degradation.
Could the new convergence of agendas reverse this trend? If so, what would this mean for those pursuing development?
The convergence of the biodiversity agenda with that of each SDG is crucial. This means that for each project, the solutions must have a triple impact: social, environmental and economic. First social, in other words inclusive and fair, with projects that provide decent jobs for all and strengthen social ties. Then environmental, by selecting low-carbon measures that promote natural capital. Finally, the projects supported must be economically viable and must sufficiently compensate project leaders by offering them well-distributed material security in the region. This same logic must be used for all SDGs. In terms of food, for example, the convergence of the 2030 agendas will require each project to have solutions that meet these three basic goals. This is also true for innovation and industry. Our current model, founded on globalized capitalism, does not sufficiently take social and environmental objectives into account. This is no longer possible. We must work towards more inclusive corporate governance in which companies integrate the idea of social benefits and environmental performance in their strategy. In addition to a company’s economic performance, there must be an assessment of its results in terms of fairness, well-being, social cohesion, jobs, and its positive contribution to the planet. We still have a long way to go.
Why is that?
The economy has been primarily designed to reward financial rather than social and environmental results. Public frameworks have enabled a certain degree of regulation. However, in many countries with low and poorly enforced social and environmental standards, globalization often leads to disaster. We have seen this in Bangladesh, among workers in the textile sector, a true example of globalization slavery, and in Central Africa, in terms of access to natural resources. The framework and logic behind companies’ economic models for generating profits and ensuring financial viability do not yet incorporate enough of other objectives for human activity, including social ties and caring for the planet and the region of the world where we live. SDGs provide a crucial framework for progress, but we must move much faster.
How can the international community be mobilized to a greater extent, beyond the circle of donors?
Greater mobilization will require us to explain the links between living things and our own existence. Humanity cannot survive today without an ocean that is relatively healthy, fertile agricultural soil, clean waterways and rich and productive forests. We must prioritize education and demonstration and also prepare to undertake far-reaching reforms to tackle well-protected vested interests. This is all directly linked to the fight against climate change. We will not be able to solve the climate crisis without solving the crisis of living things. Moreover, we must highlight economic, social and local solutions and show how changes can be made. In this respect, development agencies and public authorities bear a special responsibility for inventing solutions, in cooperation with local partners. They must work with all the wealth of the private sector, civil society and innovative public institutions involved in the rapid and inevitable transition. For now, the action that is working has not reached a large enough scale. It likely amounts to only a small percentage of what is needed. Each year, $20,000 billion are invested in the world economy, primarily by the private sector. Yet only 5% of this amount is earmarked for “green” projects involving the climate or environment. Out of this small volume, only a small portion is considered truly effective.
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