Human progress or biodiversity – A question of either…or?

  • Article type Insights
  • Publication date 03 Mar 2023

For this year’s World Wildlife Day, with the theme ‘partnerships for wildlife conservation’, Green Climate Fund (GCF) Water Resources Management Senior Specialist Dr. Bapon Fakhruddin sat down with Communications Intern Rasmus Nissen for a chat about how GCF ensures its climate investments are working for both vulnerable communities and ecosystems. In short, how do we make sure that the development co-benefits of climate action also protect ecosystems? Below is a truncated version of the interview.

Q: Could you start off by introducing yourself, and what it is that you do here at the Green Climate Fund?

A: Yes, of course. I joined GCF in November 2022 as the Fund’s ‘water expert’. Coming from an academic background of engineering where I earned my Ph.D. in flood induced impact on natural environment, I have about 22 years of experience working on climate resilience projects all around the world, although I have leaned towards projects within the Asia-Pacific region.

At GCF, I oversee our investments in water resources and help make sure that the financing flows towards water-related climate risk projects that have the biggest impact and the most potential of bringing about catalytic change. Basically, I make sure that the funds are spent in the most efficient way leveraging other finance so that we can create the most impact from the limited resources we have at our disposal.

Q: Before we dive into the more specific topic of ensuring that climate adaptation meant for humans does not further the destruction of wildlife habitats, I think it would be useful to understand, why climate adaptation is needed in the first place, especially seeing that extreme weather is becoming more and more frequent around the globe.

A: There is quite a lot of data available recording the increasing frequency of extreme weather/climate related hazards occurrences. Most of the predictions vary a lot based on local context and how regional and local data are integrated into the model. Some places you might see floods on a scale that was once recorded about every 100 years now occurring, on average, every 20th year. Other places are hardly hit directly.

A good example is how landslides in China have increased 22 per cent from the past and is predicted to increase another 12 per cent in the future. In the US, the hurricane season that just passed had a frequency of incidence six times the usual annual average. New Zealand, a place where I have worked closely with the government and private sector as an advisor on climate, just recorded the first ever direct hit by a cyclone and the damage has been devastating.

You can see how the increased probability and severity of extreme weather must be considered by all people across all regions of the world, as we are all likely to be impacted by it, directly or indirectly. Critical infrastructure that was previously built to last maybe one extreme weather event must, in the future, withstand several more severe events; and all previously built infrastructure must be reinforced to withstand this change. It’s important that climate adaptation projects meant to address these impacts do not, in turn, compromise the ecosystems that they are implemented in.

Q: Now we are closing in on the real subject of this interview. GCF’s mandate is to provide funding to help developing countries succeed in reaching their climate goals, especially in countries that would otherwise struggle to secure such investments. How does GCF ensure that projects which are meant to help people adapt to the impacts of climate change do not result in biodiversity losses?

A: GCF is a partnership-driven fund, meaning that we do not actually design any of the projects ourselves – we rely on our partners with boots on the ground to come up with the idea and implementation of the projects. However, we still guide partners towards considering inclusiveness such as eco-system, biodiversity or nature-based solutions into their project planning through GCF’s investment criteria. 

One of the criteria is sustainable development which wildlife habitats fall under. We look at wildlife and ecosystem protection in three ways. Firstly, it is about maintaining current ecosystems by securing a strong and effective network of protected areas that serve as habitats for wildlife. It also concerns the adaptive management of these habitats, so that wildlife can have opportunities to relocate due to climate change. Lastly, we work with projects that restore ecosystems vital to mitigate climate change, such as mangroves and wetlands.

Q: Could you give an example of such a project that is funded by GCF? Maybe one that deals with aquatic biodiversity seeing that World Wildlife Day this year focuses on marine life.

A: First, I want to point out that projects like the ones you are talking about here suffer from chronic underinvestment. Only about 0.01 per cent of global development funds are invested in seas and coastal areas towards meeting the 14th sustainable development goal concerning life under water. There are many reasons as to why that is, but one major issue is that it is hard to convince private investors to take the risk of investing in it.

Acknowledging that issue, I think one of GCF’s most innovative projects is on coral reefs, which we all know is a habitat of thousands and thousands of wildlife species. Together with Pegasus Capital Advisors, GCF launched the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR), that is aimed at crowding in private sector investments in the blue economy. The GFCR will invest in projects that address issues such as overfishing, ecotourism, and better waste management in local communities and promote sustainable agriculture to protect reefs from destruction. GCF’s role in this sort of project is de-risking the blue economy by going in with the first investment and thereby leading the way for others, hopefully private investors, to follow up.

So, to answer your question from the beginning. No, I don’t think climate adaptation and biodiversity is necessarily an either, or situation. In fact, if planned correctly, human adaptation can be complimentary to biodiversity and the habitats of the world’s wildlife.