Protecting biodiversity for economic survival | Sunday Observer

Protecting biodiversity for economic survival

18 October, 2020

In the past decades, there has been intense dialogue about the moral and ecological consequences of biodiversity loss the world over. However, until recently, much attention was not paid to the impact of the loss of biodiversity and the economic implications. The world now realises that the economy and biodiversity are not only inter-related but also dependent on each other. The ecological network is the source of raw-material and energy. They also provide the means to absorb and process the pollution and waste generated by humans apart from playing a fundamental role in human welfare.

The global leaders, in unison, declared at the United Nations biodiversity summit held recently that the world should either save nature or risk economic disaster. Addressing the summit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said the Government is committed to protect and sustainably manage the natural resources of the country. Addressing a digital audience, the President said there is a critical need for change in the relationship between nature and the people.

Highest biodiversity density

Sri Lanka, relatively small in size, is considered one of the twenty-five biodiversity hotspots in the world and carries the highest biodiversity density in Asia.

The protection of this unusually high and rich natural wealth is an important task of the citizenry as a whole. There are strong and compelling economic motives attached to the diversity of plants and animals in the country.

The rich natural resources carry great economic value in several spheres through direct and indirect values. Biodiversity losses can create adverse effects on the economic system as well as human society. The magnitude of the issue was evident at the recent UN summit as the leaders of powerful countries attempted to find solutions as early as possible.

People throughout the world rely on various plants, animals, and other natural resources for food, raw material, medicine, and other requirements.

The weakening of biodiversity directly threatens food security, in the long term. Also, this phenomenon would have adverse effects on aesthetics that have a direct link to Sri Lanka’s rich tourism industry that is expected to be at the helm in the near future.

Ecosystem services directly and indirectly contribute to human welfare by supplying tangible goods such as food, raw material, soil formation, pest control, and water purification. It also contributes by way of intangible benefits such as tourism, environmental education, and so forth.

However, unlike the physically visible goods, benefits brought in by cultural and environmental benefits tend to be neglected or overlooked in the markets.

Deforestation is one of the most pressing issues and a major challenge at present. Full or partial deliberate removal of trees systematically destroys the forest, creating immense economic and social harm and also damage biological existence. Loss of land cover in the country stands at an alarming 27%, a decrease from approximately 80% that existed in the 1950s.

Forest cover

It is no secret that poor coordination and inferior management of the authorities together with illicit felling of trees by nefarious groups, often with help from corrupt regional politicians present a crucial threat to the health of the forest cover.

Realising the importance of the inter-relation of the economy and biodiversity, in his manifesto, ‘Vistas of Prosperity’, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has dedicated an important segment promising proactive action to protect the ecological resources.

He has pledged to increase forest cover, develop urban vegetation and the incorporation of biodiversity into tourism and education.

Although public awareness prevails on protecting biodiversity, the economic impact is not discussed adequately by the authorities. Several programs sponsored by the Government, the private sector, and the media creditably contribute to protect and manage the ecosystems. However, the drastic economic loss due to the loss of diverseness has not been brought into focus yet by the authorities or the media.

Biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation, two major challenges to Sri Lanka are intricately related.

While biological diversity is mainly focused on public welfare, its economic value is often under-valued. Generally, the ecosystem is a means of subsistence and income for the poor.

Circular economy

Therefore, the conservation of every natural resource is linked to poverty alleviation addressed by the Government at the highest level.

A circular economy is a system of closed loops in which raw material, components, and products lose their value as little as possible.

This is one definition among hundreds of others. However, the importance of the circular economy is to understand how it can boost biodiversity. Waste including plastics, textiles, food, electronics, and more, have an immense toll on the environment. We often witness chaotic and careless disposal of waste by a section of irresponsible people, as highlighted in the media.

The circular economy that promotes the elimination of waste and the use of safe natural resources offer an alternative that can save millions of public funds.

Circular economy, regenerative model, cradle to cradle manufacturing, or whatever the name that the experts call recycling, it is not necessary that waste elimination processes be laminated onto nature.

Biodiversity conservation

Related values of biodiversity in Sri Lanka can be under three different categories.

First, productive use is assigned to the products that contain commercial significance related to individual and national income.

Secondly, the consumptive use that is related to natural products which are consumed directly, and thirdly, the non-consumptive indirect use connected with the functions of the ecosystem.

However, the indirect use of biodiversity such as ecological balance, conservation of related resources, prevention of soil erosion, and so forth is considered significant.

Biodiversity conservation is the protection, strength, and management of the ecosystem to obtain sustainable benefits for the future generation.

Considering the significance of the subject, none other the President of China, arguably the highest-polluting nation, has openly said, “The loss of biodiversity and the degradation of the ecosystem pose a major risk to human survival and development”.

Therefore, it is time for every citizen of Sri Lanka to honestly concentrate on preventing the cutting down of trees, hunting animals, efficient utilisation of natural resources, and developing the protected areas. Biodiversity, besides its ecological importance, provides a strong socio-economic asset to the country. Ecosystems provide essential goods and services often with monetary values. Human societies depend on these resources and their diversity.