Public finance mainstay for India’s biodiversity conservation – but more innovation and private sector involvement needed

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While India’s biodiversity management and conservation are primarily supported through public finance, new and innovative efforts involving the corporate sector through Corporate Social Responsibility finds (CSR), mainstreaming of biodiversity in the agriculture sector and Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) of bio-genetic resources, identified through the country’s Biodiversity Finance Plan, can make headway to achieving the country’s biodiversity targets.

One of the 17 mega-diversity countries of the world, India is ranked 8th in species richness. Making up 2.4% of the world's land area, India harbours 7-8% of all recorded species, including over 47,000 species of plants and over 96,000 species of animals.

For India, conservation of biodiversity is crucial not only because it provides several goods and services necessary for human survival, it is directly linked with providing livelihoods and improving socio-economic conditions for millions of people.

“Resource mobilisation strategies need to be adopted in innovative and effective ways to conserve biodiversity, contrary to some people’s opinion that biodiversity should not be priced,” said Prof. A Damodaran, Chair, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, IIM Bangalore. “The effort, is to see that biodiversity doesn’t suffer from financialisation”.

The scope of India’s National Biodiversity Action Plan is testament to biodiversity being an inter-sectoral issue, requiring coordination and complementation across schemes and programmes of relevant ministries.

BIOFIN India developed the country’s Biodiversity Finance Plan to help achieve India’s vision of conserving biodiversity and promoting its sustainable use through mobilising resources and integrating national biodiversity targets with other sustainable development targets such poverty alleviation, food security and elimination of hunger, sustainable livelihoods, women’s empowerment, health and nutrition, mitigating and adapting to climate change and others.

Three finance solutions are being piloted with the support of BIOFIN. “All the three finance solutions are scalable and could potentially leverage large resources, both from government and private sector, and help significantly in bridging the gap in resources for biodiversity conservation,” Dr. V Rajagopalan, Senior Technical Consultant for BIOFIN India and Ex Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

The first finance solution is to enhance agricultural related conservation by increasing fund flow in biodiversity relevant schemes by the Ministry of Agriculture. With the agricultural sector having a large impact on natural resources and biodiversity, homing in on this sector to ensure finance for biodiversity friendly policies and activities can lay the foundation for better conservation while improving agricultural sustainability and food security.

This shall be accomplished by analysing biodiversity-relevant schemes of the Ministry of Agriculture, identifying States with a good track record of implementation, documenting this knowledge, and preparing specific suggestions to re-orient schemes and programmes to enhance biodiversity relevance and scale up implementation across all States.

The second finance solution taps the enormous potential of CSR funds in India. Only 2-3% of all India’s CSR funding goes towards biodiversity related activities. CSR was only made mandatory for companies in 2014. High earning companies must pay 2% of three-year average annual profits. CSR funds are already likely to cross USD 6.9 billion in 2019.

BIOFIN is working towards policy reform to ensure companies must earmark more CSR funds for biodiversity conservation while advocating for using them for key areas of the country’s action plan such as conservation and restoration of wetlands and endangered plant species.

Some of the activities mapped out include a corporate conclave to gather key industry players, development of proposals to support identified priority conservation areas, organising exposure trips for CSR leads, and developing a knowledge exchange platform among corporate partners.

The third finance solution involves enhancing resources for benefit sharing from access and use of bio-resources in India. India can unlock large amounts of finance through curbing the illegal use of bio-resources ensuring profits from India’s bio-genetic resources are equitably shared and channeled back into conservation projects. Key activities include maintaining a database of applications on usage of bio-resources to collect upfront fees and appropriate assessment of ABS fees for those involved in commercial scale operations.

As BIOFIN, together with the broad stakeholder base in government, private sector and civil society, moves into the implementation phase of these finance solutions – continued strengthening of capacities in biodiversity finance within key institutions, as well as BIOFIN India’s success in institutionalising biodiversity finance directly into the relevant ministries and agencies will ensure the country moves towards a more sustainable future with healthy and thriving biodiversity and ecosystems.