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SaveGREEN - A call to action: incorporating Nature in Infrastructure Development

Jan. 12, 2022

The impacts of infrastructure development on ecosystems and biodiversity are vividly evident today. Roads represent the first tendrils of human expansion, driving deforestation and degradation, opening thousands of hectares of previously intact habitat to land-use change, agricultural expansion, human settlement, wildlife exploitation and trade, and increasing zoonotic disease risk. In this context, 24 public and private sector organizations joined together in 2020 to create the Infrastructure and Nature Coalition to organize a series of webinar discussions with the aim to bolster countries’ efforts to meet previous targets and make stronger commitments for mitigating climate change and biodiversity loss during the 2021 “Super Year” for nature, including meetings of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15), and the Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 26th Conference of the Parties (COP 26). The interests of SaveGREEN were advocated by representatives of WWF-CEE.

Infrastructure development is a significant driver of biodiversity loss. To date, roads have already carved terrestrial ecosystems around the world into over 600,000 individual patches, the majority less than a square kilometre in size, and only 7% larger than 100km2. Animal-vehicle collisions around the world cause billions of euros in damages every year and are a leading cause of wildlife mortality in many countries. This infrastructure development and associated land use change contributes to profound impacts on the planet: aquatic biodiversity has declined by more than 80% and terrestrial biodiversity by at least 70% since the 1970s, according to the Living Planet Index.

The world is facing multiple simultaneous crises: the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic devastation, biodiversity loss, and climate change. Over the past year, it became evident that the place of infrastructure development in economic rescue and stimulus is central to whether countries can effectively meet national and global sustainability targets. The incoming tidal wave of investment demonstrates the opportunity to change course: according to the Global Infrastructure Outlook published by Oxford Economics, an estimated USD 95 trillion in new infrastructure is needed by 2040 to meet global demand for growth, double what existed in 2012. A paradigm shift is necessary toward policies that support comprehensive planning, rapid decarbonization, and ecosystem conservation to ensure investment in resilient infrastructure that taps the powerful potential of nature-based solutions. This shift has to take place across all spectrums of society, including the private, financial and public sectors.

In order to raise awareness among and provide recommendations for policy makers and the private, financial, and public sectors and other key actors on the impact of infrastructure development on biodiversity, the Infrastructure and Nature Coalition organised a series of 6 webinars addressing biodiversity, natural capital and ecosystem services, and climate change at all stages of the infrastructure lifecycle. The common themes, including barriers, opportunities and solutions, and recommendations for key actors in upcoming policy discussions were summarized in an openly available white paper.

In the White Paper, the coalition members have identified four main cross-cutting themes that emerged from the six sessions:

  1. Data and standards;
  2. Awareness, technical capacity, and know-how;
  3. Collaboration and participatory approaches;
  4. Policy and regulatory incentives.

These four areas present clear and strategic opportunities for targeted solutions and investment from the international community. These were captured in a series of recommendations (for more details on the individual recommendations, please refer to the full document):

Data and standards:

  1. Invest in country-based data development;
  2. Foster collaboration;
  3. Advance, harmonize, and rapidly scale standards for measuring biodiversity.

Awareness, Capacity Building, and Technical Knowhow:

  1. Increase investment in gold standard pilot projects;
  2. Establish new, and update existing, engineering and architecture advanced certification programmes;
  3. Expand and increase funding for existing knowledge-transfer, exchange, and capacity building programmes.

Collaboration and Participatory Development:

  1. Scale and replicate current successful examples of private-public collaboration;
  2. Standardize norms for active participation of all affected stakeholders;
  3. Establish coordinating mechanisms across government departments that currently have multiple, often conflicting mandates for infrastructure oversight.

Policy and Regulatory Incentives:

  1. Use the European Taxonomy or similar standards as models;
  2. Update engineering codes and manuals to incorporate performance metrics for ecological connectivity and large-scale delivery of nature-based solutions into infrastructure planning and design;
  3. Change publicly and domestically funded project screening and procurement policies to require full-cost accounting;
  4. Support all countries to evaluate and spatially plan enhanced conservation and NbS commitments as part of sustainable infrastructure development;
  5. Significantly increase portions of green recovery stimulus packages dedicated to decarbonized, resilient, and nature-positive infrastructure development.

It is crucial that the willingness and ability to change be carried into all segments of society. The challenges of global biodiversity loss and climate change cannot be tackled by one sector or geographic region on its own. Collaboration across national borders, economic sectors, between public and private institutions and among members of the general public is key. For this reason, the webinar series sought to address a broad range of actors from different regions of the world. While there is still a way to go to achieve proportional representation, many regions and sectors were nonetheless well represented among the roughly 2000 participants, as can be seen in the figure below:

The SaveGREEN project directly contributes to the aims identified by the Infrastructure and Nature Coalition, by fostering cross-sectoral collaboration, building capacity through workshops and the creation of dedicated tools for the replication of pilots and upscaling results through improved policy frameworks in the Carpathian region. As we are directly dependent on global developments, however, we are also with much apprehension looking to the COP 15 meeting of the CBD in Kunming that will take place in the upcoming months, to see whether and how the recommendations of the Infrastructure and Nature Coalition will be reflected in the new post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

Christophe Janz, WWF-CEE
Contributed by Hildegard Meyer, WWF-CEE

The article is a replication of: SaveGREEN - A call to action: incorporating Nature in Infrastructure Development, created as part of the SaveGREEN project activities. 

The SaveGREEN project is financed under the ‘Danube’ 2014-2020 Transnational Cooperation Programme and is set to work on the critical theme of ecological corridors in the Carpathian and further mountain ranges of the Danube region.

For more information, visit the official project page, BBF website or follow #SaveGREEN on social media.