Snow Leopard-Friendly Development
As the Asian economy grows, its infrastructure will expand manifold. This expansion will put severe pressure on habitats and wildlife. Such pressures are endangering several species, many of which are being pushed towards extinction.
There is recognition within industry circles that industrial growth and expansion will continue to require natural resources (water, fuel, food, fiber and other raw materials). Often this requirement is met in unsustainable ways which is subjecting natural capital and biodiversity to stress, as evidenced by reducing natural habitats, loss of species, pollution of rivers etc. Inadequate natural resources and limited access to these is counterproductive to industrialization.
Industry’s footprint on natural assets and biodiversity makes it an important stakeholder. There is an urgency and a need for industry to enter this space through a formal and structured engagement in the form of partnerships or coalitions that can bring mutual win-wins for all. This coalition or partnerships will pave the way for a new beginning in which conservation does not oppose development and that development can happen without impairing conservation.
Role of Country level Wildlife Business Councils
So-called Wildlife Business Councils (WBCs) can be tasked to strategize, recognize and catalyze implementation of a series of deliverables with “Wildlife in general and Snow Leopard in particular” as the focus.
The following guides the WBC approach:
- To raise awareness of corporate leaders of the importance of biodiversity conservation for the longterm survival of businesses
- To champion with national and global policy-makers, biodiversity inclusive and friendly business policies.
- Enhance conservation financing through contemporary methods, such as CSRs and trust funds, as well as develop market-oriented models, such as green/climate bonds.
- Identify mechanisms for collaboration between the industry and conservationists resulting in the launch of an organized and more structured partnership with them. This could include creating working groups to define and scope the win-win potential of this partnership.
- For the conservationists, facilitate access to technical, managerial and planning skills available within the industrial sector. For the industry, create sustainable business practices and approaches (e.g. greening the supply chain), improved coordination for locating industries (zoning issues), defining the nature and scope of industrial support for conservation including livelihood/job opportunities and improving the corporate image.
Within each country, the WBC can be institutionalized within or as a consortium, consisting of industry, heads, conservation agencies, and international financial institutions (IFIs). The WBCs can lead and support actions across several themes, including:
Conservation leadership and Advocacy
Business and industry, having a significant stake in economy, can undertake both internal and external advocacy. Internally, it can evolve standards on the lines on reducing ecological footprints, such as infrastructure companies aligning their practices towards smart green infrastructure and minimizing impacts on eco-sensitive habitats. Extractive industries can come together, and implement green operating standards.
Externally, industry champions can initiate a dialogue with government for adopting principles of smart green infrastructure, in state and country level public policies. A similar dialogue needs to be conducted with IFIs to prioritize SGI in their lending programmes.
Some suggested wildlife friendly infrastructure options, under SGI include:
- Avoidance – Completely avoid impacts on biodiversity, careful temporal and spatial placement for infrastructure, i.e. critical wildlife corridors, endemic hotspots.
- Minimization – Reduce the duration, intensity or extent of impacts.
- Rehabilitation/Restoration – Rehabilitate degraded landscapes or restoration of cleared ecosystems following unavoidable impacts.
- Offsets – compensate for residual significant impacts that cannot be avoided, can take place as positive management interventions such as restoration of degraded habitat, protecting sensitive ecological zones.
The Government on the other hand, should provide financial and tax incentives for private sector investment in green growth, climate adaptation and biodiversity conservation.
A report published in 2014 by Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, in collaboration with the GroundTruth Project, estimated that around US$50 billion was spent on habitat and nature conservation, around the globe, with about 80% resources coming from government budgets and philanthropy. “Even if public and philanthropic investment levels were to more than double to $100 million per year, the level of investment by the private sector would still have to increase by a factor of 20-30 in order to meet the estimated total annual need of $300 billion to $400 billion”
The private sector will have a major role to play in order to achieve holistic conservation goals. There is an urgent need to develop an innovative financial architecture, on the lines of existing market models. The investments for wildlife conservation under CSR need to be enhanced, and this can be achieved by targeting landscapes, instead of specific habitats, in order to address varying land use dynamics, societal development and conservation of natural resources.
A private sector trust fund for conservation of snow leopard and its habitat, can provide sustenance to national, regional and global conservation efforts. The Conservation Finance Alliance in 2008 defined conservation trust funds as “private, legally independent grant-making institutions that provide sustainable financing for biodiversity conservation and often finance part of the long-term management costs of a country‘s protected area (PA) system. They can serve as an effective means for mobilizing large amounts of additional funding for biodiversity conservation from international donors, national governments and the private sector.” The formation of WBCs, consisting of like-minded business groups, should establish conservation trust funds, that support conservation in fragile ecosystems, as instruments for strengthening civil society and for improving transparency, accountability and effectiveness of national level conservation efforts.
Apart from trust funds and CSR, there is a need to align conservation financing to market based instruments, such as green equity and green/climate bonds. Green bonds, as described by the World Bank, “are fixed income, liquid financial instruments that are used to raise funds dedicated to climate-mitigation, adaptation, and other environment-friendly projects.” The Climate Bonds initiative in 2016 estimated an investment of $694 billion in climate aligned bonds globally. Although a majority of the bonds are invested in energy, sustainable transport and infrastructure, there is ample scope for diversifying the market to involve biodiversity conservation, habitat protection and carbon sequestration. Revenue flow from snow leopard landscapes, as in the case of tourism can create a public private sector model to float green bonds.
This may involve state/provincial government guarantee, as well as tax exemption for investments in these bonds. Certain conservation projects suit well to bond funding. If implemented with a marketable vision, green bonds can produce steady cash flows. This can be readily achieved by income contracts for the sale of sustainably harvested forest produce, and payments for ecosystem services through economic valuation and monetization of resources.
Landscape conservation needs professionalization and multi-dimensional knowledge to address various challenges, in terms of management, protection and land use planning. The private sector, with its state of the art research and development facilities can support technical enhancement of the frontline staff as well as other stakeholders.
Business groups can improve and accelerate training programmes through their specialized country level and global institutions. Technology, although being used by the forest officials and conservationists, is still not been adequately integrated. Research and Development (R&D) in technological solutions for various management objectives are increasingly in place, but it is not optimally utilized. There are many advantages of integrating advanced technologies in wildlife management. Of the many, (1) it significantly enhances the quality of management by bringing in professionals who are techno-savvy, (2) it off-sets the lack of manpower in many countries equipping the small pool of officials, (3) it enables detection and early warning of crime occurrence, (4) it helps in preventive strategies and help early response actions, (5) it presents options for human-wildlife conflict resolution strategies, (6) it can improve the intelligence network and communication strategy both within and outside the protected area systems and also transboundaries, and (7) it can overhaul the current strategy with modernization in the decision-making process and field functions. The knowledge sharing and exchange between conservation and development sectors can lead to evolution of cost effective technology to support various facets of ecological conservation and habitat/wildlife protection.
Connecting corporate and communities
It is well known, that long term conservation of species, including snow leopard and its habitat, is only possible through participatory and sustainable economic models for primary human stakeholders, i.e. local communities. Through the platform of the WBCs, industries can prioritize their investments to support inclusive livelihood programmes. Snow Leopard/Wildlife habitats are also a repository of non-timber forest produce (NTFP), that have been utilized since time immemorial.
Corporate houses can accentuate business models, that increase profitability, provide quality assurance and create an effective marketing mechanism for products derived from sustainable forestry practices. There are many advantages of a corporate-community model:
- Provides access to jobs and livelihood – Promoting self-reliance and alternative sources of income
- Enhances community living and environment quality – clean and sustainable tourism practices, increasing energy efficiency, and improving quality of life, in terms of health and education
- Increased focus and investments on infrastructure and facilities to fulfill local needs