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How public sector leaders are promoting biodiversity

Saving one piece of the world: 
How public sector leaders are promoting biodiversity

Hinrich Thölken
Dec 11, 2023

The diversity of life around us adds immeasurably to our well-being. Unfortunately, the importance of biodiversity often gets overshadowed.  

With the battle against climate change demanding so much attention, many other environmental issues have landed on the back burner. This includes biodiversity and the drive to protect natural environments. Here’s the good news: compared to the complex, systemic problems governments often deal with, preserving biodiversity is often relatively straightforward. Through strategic, collaborative, and innovative initiatives, public sector organizations have a chance to achieve impressive successes. The benefits are visible every time we step outside, and they last for generations.

The spirit is willing; the strategy is weak 

A recent report by the Capgemini Research Institute revealed a striking disconnect between awareness and action. They surveyed 1,812 executives employed at organizations across North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific, in the public and private sectors. 91% of government leaders are aware of the importance of biodiversity to the planet. But only 21% of public sector organizations have a biodiversity strategy. This gap opens the door to five categories of risk: 

  • Operational – a lack of biodiversity can bring tangible losses, such as through a lack of pollinators 
  • Reputational – consumers today put a premium on ethical behavior 
  • Legal – including future legal risks, as standards and regulations progress 
  • Financial – all of the above have a material impact on the bottom line 
  • Societal – none of these risks are felt in isolation 

So how do we move beyond discussion, into the world of action?

Actionable steps for preserving biodiversity 

Leaders in the private and public sector will approach biodiversity differently, but their goals are ultimately the same. In each case, it pays to have a general strategy in place, which will serve as a launchpad for specific projects. The strategy should focus both on preserving native species and habitats, and on promoting sustainable resource utilization. This is also the time to consider collaborative allies – communities, scientists, business leaders and different levels of government who will help exchange knowledge, resources, and innovative solutions. 

Also crucial is a clear data and analysis plan. An effective biodiversity strategy will be quantifiable. Keep in mind that mitigation projects (ie, minimizing the negative impact of a venture), will require different metrics than improvement projects (creating new spaces, bringing back a lost species.) Data ecosystems are immensely valuable here, as they enable leaders to compare similar projects across regions and enable better predictions. 

Four ways the public sector can help 

Government can drive biodiversity goals in several ways. Regulation is the most obvious, but it’s only one tool. Procurement is another – government can selectively do business with companies that hold themselves to higher standards. Public sector workers can also be supportive in collaborative efforts, bringing together the many individuals and groups that help a project succeed. Finally, governments can provide tools that support biodiversity goals. The UK’s Biodiversity Net Gain Calculator helps developers, businesses and citizens understand how a proposed action will affect the local biodiversity. Other organizations such as The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) provide resources to help public sector leaders better understand and preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services. 

When governments take the initiative, the results are striking. Let’s look at a few governments that have developed a biodiversity strategy, and at the transformative impact of their biodiversity policies. 

The return of beavers in Scotland 

400 years ago, the last Scottish beavers were hunted to extinction. The Scottish Beaver Trial changed that, and became a sterling example of local biodiversity conservation. This project – a collaboration between the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland – has successfully established a population of beavers in the Knapdale Forest in Argyll.  

In addition to the growth of the beaver population and wetlands, collaboration among the government and community has also grown. What began small has blossomed into a network of over 50 stakeholder organizations, who together have worked out a plan to support beavers for the next 20 years.  

The Green Roof Initiative in Switzerland

The biodiversity strategy in Basel, Switzerland, is on a different level. The city now mandates the installation of green roofs on all new flat-roofed buildings, providing unique habitats for various flora and fauna and contributing to the creation of an ecological network across the city. This initiative also combats rising temperatures by reducing heat island effects, while simultaneously managing stormwater and improving air quality. In the last fifteen years more than 1 million square meters of rooftops have gone green, in this unique illustration of biodiversity and urban planning coming together. 

A detailed view of the desert 

Last, but far from least, a project we’re proud to have collaborated on. Just last year, the Nevada Chapter of The Nature Conservancy collaborated with Capgemini to conserve the Mojave using AI. 

Recently the Mojave has been under threat due to illegal off-road vehicle use. One solution – barriers – would appear simple at first glance, but with almost 47,000 square miles to cover, knowing where to place these barriers is essential. (Aside from the cost, barriers themselves pose a threat to many animals’ natural movements.) We solved this challenge with a specially developed tool employing computer vision, AI and machine learning to analyze satellite images, pinpointing off-road vehicle trails. This data is juxtaposed with the nesting zones of protected species, such as the Mojave desert tortoise. Through this initiative, The Nature Conservancy can now detect and quantify land degradation, strategically allocate resources based on location-specific needs, and implement safeguarding actions to conserve the territory. 

Bridging the strategy gap 

Biodiversity is integral to our health, happiness, and the health of our planet, and local governments and public sector organizations hold the power to bring about transformative change. By emulating successful models, adopting innovative strategies, fostering collaboration, and enhancing transparency, we can weave biodiversity preservation into the fabric of our organizational and societal ethos. Let’s bridge the biodiversity strategy gap, creating a resilient, sustainable future for all.

Visit the biodiversity CRI report page to access more insights.

Author

Dr. Hinrich Thölken

Sustainability Lead, Global Public Sector
I support public sector organizations globally in designing and implementing sustainability policies. My particular focus is on United Nations organizations. My mission is to harness the potential of technology to make the multilateral system more effective, enabling the UN to successfully implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and master the double crises of climate change and loss of biodiversity. I am a former Climate and Energy Ambassador and also a former Digital Ambassador. As a qualified medical doctor, I enjoy working on a sound scientific basis and taking evidence-based decisions.