By Besigye Samuel. Partnerships Coordinator
The current efforts to conserve biodiversity are overwhelmed by the adverse impacts of growing human economies. Spending on protected areas remains deficient and undervalued ecosystem services are being eroded.
Therefore, it is important to harness the very market forces that are often blamed for biodiversity loss. The challenge is to re-orient the economic incentives that drive private investment, production and consumption, and to make biodiversity conservation a viable business proposition in its own right. Underfunding and undervaluing of protected areas is adequate justification for UWA to participate in tourism directly. As stakeholders encourage UWA to abandon tourism; UWA's ambition is to do biodiversity business beyond tourism.
Biodiversity business is a commercial enterprise that generates profits via activities which conserve biodiversity, use biological resources sustainably, and share the benefits arising from this use equitably. This reflects the three over-arching goals of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which also calls for increased efforts to enlist the private sector in biodiversity conservation, sustainable use and equitable benefit sharing. In both the environmental and business communities, there is growing recognition of the potential to conserve biodiversity on a commercial basis.
From a conservation perspective, a major attraction of biodiversity business is the potential to generate new and additional investment in conservation activities. At the same time, some people remain sceptical of the motives of the private sector; while others worry that market-based approaches may distort conservation priorities. From a business perspective, the reasons to invest in biodiversity business are increasingly compelling. They are most obvious in cases where private profitability depends directly on the health of ecosystems – ecotourism ventures, for instance. Similarly, it is now recognised that greater variability in genes, species and ecosystems is associated with increased resilience and biological productivity in agriculture, ranching, forestry and marine fisheries.
New biodiversity business models will help to reduce rural poverty. While employment and skills development are a normal part of every business, biodiversity business has the added benefit that it often stimulates a flow of funds from relatively wealthy urban centres to the countryside, as well as from industrialised to developing nations. Growing markets for ecosystem services and for biodiversity-friendly energy, food, fibre and recreation will provide ample opportunities for rural entrepreneurship and employment.
Businesses that provide a range of ecosystem services in emerging markets such as water quality and watershed protection are a valuable opportunity for UWA. One major area of growth is the demand for climate mitigation services through ‘biocarbon’ – i.e. biomass-based carbon sequestration in forests and wetlands and through soil conservation. Another biodiversity business is based on the search for new compounds, genes and organisms in the wild, known as bio prospecting, an industry that could be worth US$500 million by 2050.
Less conventional markets will include biodiversity offsets, wetland mitigation, conservation easements and biodiversity banking. Such businesses will be based on either legislation or voluntary commitments that oblige companies to minimise the biodiversity loss resulting from their activities and to offset (compensate) for residual losses by restoring or enhancing comparable sites. Emerging experience in Australia, Brazil, South Africa and the United States has shown that such approaches can make a significant contribution to conservation efforts and generate substantial business opportunities for offset providers. Experience in some countries shows that biodiversity assets, in the form of endangered species or natural habitat, can be registered, tracked and even traded under appropriate regulatory frameworks. Nevertheless, the world still lacks agreed standards, methods and indicators for valuing ecological assets and ecosystem services.
The development of biodiversity business also depends on a conducive enabling environment, namely the framework of laws, regulations, taxes, subsidies, social norms and voluntary agreements within which companies operate. For businesses to value biodiversity, it must ultimately become more profitable to conserve biodiversity than to ignore or destroy it. A combination of increased rewards for conservation, increased penalties for biodiversity loss and increased information on the biodiversity performance of business will help to create a biodiversity-friendly economy.
The enabling environment will be required to enable biodiversity business to grow, particularly where existing policies are predicated on conservation of biodiversity by governments and charities, where the role of business in conservation is limited by law, or where policy incentives are causing continued harm to ecosystems. Another constraint on biodiversity business is the lack of understanding between the worlds of business and nature conservation. Priorities, time scales and jargon all differ.
Natural scientists often lack the financial acumen and consumer orientation of the private sector; conservationists typically lack business planning and management skills. At the same time, most business people lack understanding of how their companies’ operations affect and are affected by biodiversity and ecosystem services, or how to manage biodiversity in their operations.