At COP15 in Montreal, countries are negotiating this decade’s UN biodiversity targets under the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). At the same time, discussions are already taking place on how to meet those proposed GBF targets. And how biodiversity friendly infrastructure and nature-based solutions can play a critical part.
“Green” solutions—which includes making use of natural features, such as water systems and coastal wetlands— are now seen as delivering and/or protecting a vast range of ecosystem services, including water purification, air quality improvement, food security, increased livelihood, and better health and wellbeing.
The Asian Development Bank has supported several innovations for integrating infrastructure with the natural environment, that protect, sustainably manage, and even regenerate nature, while reaping benefits from its use. These nature-based solutions help reduce dependence on “grey’ infrastructure, which can be more expensive to build and maintain, and can also harm the environment.
Last month’s COP27 helped to mark a new appreciation of the irreplaceable role of ecosystems in combating climate change, sequestering and storing CO2, removing pollutants from the atmosphere, and serving as a buffer against climate-related disasters.1
Climate change and biodiversity loss are among the top three existential threats facing the planet. These are two closely linked challenges that must be addressed together. Cost-benefit analysis rarely considers negative and positive impacts of projects on nature. Ecosystem services and the use of natural features are still often undervalued and need to be more precisely assessed.
Multifunctional, hybrid transport infrastructure—combining grey and green features—can contribute to ecosystem services for the management of drought, water supply, water quality, and floods. Nature-based solutions can be embedded in transport corridors in urban landscapes at a range of different scales, from regional road and rail corridors to local streets and pedestrian/cycling pathways.2
Highways are considered one of the world’s most significant forces altering natural ecosystems. But there are ways of minimizing their impacts on biodiversity in cases where the avoidance of certain impacts, including on wildlife habitat, is not possible. Mitigation measures for new projects as well as the retrofitting of measures in existing roads and railways can serve to jointly promote climate change resiliency and protect biodiversity. These measures include wildlife crossing structures (underpasses and overpasses) together with fencing to limit animal access to transport infrastructure and funnel animal passage to the crossing structures. The oversizing of drainage culverts can often serve as wildlife underpasses.3
Environmental and social costs should be incorporated from the beginning of the planning process to help prioritize road infrastructure investments, and road projects that generate more costs than benefits for society should be avoided.4
Improved modelling approaches for assessing the biodiversity impacts of various infrastructure development scenarios are important for helping decision-makers to better assess and design infrastructure project plans. These approaches consider the impacts of multiple activities over time and across space, on threatened species, protected areas, and areas of biodiversity importance. BILBI (Biogeographic modelling Infrastructure for Large-scale Biodiversity Indicators) is one such modelling and prediction tool for biodiversity, which has a database covering more than 400,000 species across the planet. The tool has the ability to combine the species data base with layers of other environmental data5, generate models of species assemblages and predict project impacts on changes in land use and habitat, and quantify the biodiversity consequences. The tool can also help to identify priority areas for protection within a particular development footprint.6
Renewable energy is key for achieving the 1.5-degree climate change target of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.7 This requires scaling up electricity generation using renewable energy (RE), and to increase the share of RE sources, including biofuels, wind, and solar power. Parts of Asia and the Pacific have biomass potential, with bioenergy having the potential to become the largest energy source in the Southeast Asia region.
Energy transition could bring about major socio-economic benefits, including an additional 85 million energy transition-related jobs. However, in the transition process there will be a correspondingly huge increase in need for rare materials such as copper, lithium, cobalt, and others. The impacts related to the extraction of these materials will need to be considered and minimized.8 However, there are various challenges in assessing these impacts; for example, power purchase agreements are often required to start commercial operations in 2-3 years, leaving little time for robust environment assessments.
Renewable energy projects can have negative effects on migratory species, particularly birds, causing habitat fragmentation and degradation as well as wildlife collision with power lines and wind turbines; they can also serve as obstacles to migration. Efforts to counter power line-related impacts include legislation, improved monitoring, and the promotion of national guidelines on RE implementation.9
There are opportunities for multilateral and national development institutions in the use of landscape-scale approaches during country programming, and in the development of e-mapping tools such as the Avian Sensitivity Tool for Energy Planning (AVISTEP).10 With the help of such tools, wind and solar facilities can be integrated into landscapes of low social and ecological value, such as agricultural and industrial sites, instead of more vulnerable areas with sensitive ecosystems.
Sustainable hydropower requires working with rivers, both at the basin and project levels, as changes in river flow regimes and sediment supplies influence the whole river system. Basin-wide assessments include the cause-and-effect of physical, chemical, and biological processes, as well as ecosystem services. Functional river links are used to identify and rank hydropower development options according to the potential severity of local and basin-wide impacts on ecosystems. Engagement with stakeholders helps in identifying allowable alterations to river systems. Steps should be taken as well to minimize the impact of the resulting flow of water and sediment, as well as the “flow” of plants and animals.11
Greening coastal developments
Coastal ecosystems are degrading rapidly due to human and natural causes, even as millions of people in Asia and the Pacific, especially the poor and vulnerable, depend on coastal resources such as coral reefs and mangroves for their existence. These ecosystems also protect coastal communities against increasingly common and extreme weather events. Only 15 percent of the world’s coastal areas remain intact, according to researchers, led by a team from Queensland University, Australia.12
Coastal development planners are working on multiple fronts to arrest this damage and regenerate coastal resources. This includes developing climate-resilient blue/green and hybrid infrastructure, expanding the rate and scale of ecological restoration, and empowering marginalized coastal communities.13
The Asia-Pacific Climate Finance Fund (ACliFF), a multi-donor trust fund established with initial support from the Government of Germany, is developing coral reef finance and insurance solutions in countries hard-hit by natural disasters. Coral reef ecosystems alone reduce the annual expected damages from storms by more than $4 billion, while mangroves provide $65 billion in flood protection and prevent flooding from affecting 15 million people annually.14
The development of “green ports” can meet the current and future needs of port stakeholders while protecting and sustaining human and natural resources. This requires proactive development, execution, and monitoring practices targeted at reducing environmental effects beyond compliance.15
Port developments are also being assessed for their role in the illegal wildlife trade, which is a key factor driving the extinction of many species. Seaport infrastructure and tools are being developed to efficiently detect smuggled goods and deter criminals from using these ports as points of entry and exit. Baselines assessments are required to identify the challenges specific ports are facing, before improving their infrastructure accordingly.16
1 COP27: Day 9
2 Development Asia: Embedding Nature-based Solutions in Transport Corridors
3 Development Asia: Mitigations to Minimize Transport Infrastructure Impacts on Biodiversity
4 Development Asia: Avoidance of Ecological Damage: Cost/Benefit Analysis of Road Projects
5 BILBI: Assessing the consequences of change for biodiversity at fine spatial resolution globally
6 Development Asia: Modelling Biodiversity Impacts of Development Infrastructures and Identification of Potential Project Alternatives and Offset Areas
7 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Global Warming of 1.5 ºC
8 Development Asia: The energy transition and renewables: the 1.5°C challenge
9 Development Asia: Promoting nature-sensitive renewable energy while protecting migratory species
10 Development Asia: Promoting nature-sensitive renewable energy while protecting migratory species
11 Development Asia: River Link – benefits of assessing the whole river basin for hydro dams
12 The University of Queensland: Only 15 per cent of global coastal regions remain intact
13 Development Asia: Taking the Blue Road: Resilience, Restoration and Regeneration in Coastal Development
14 Development Asia: Insurance Tools to Support Nature-Based Solutions
15 Development Asia: Green Port Standards – A Regional Approach
16 Development Asia: Tools and Techniques to Detect Illegal Wildlife Trade in Ports and Airports