By Marcela Torres
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force 25 years ago, in December 1993. While we celebrate the International Day for Biodiversity today, it seems appropriate to highlight global achievements and pending tasks in such an important topic for sustainable development as well as the contributions tourism can make.
The achievements have been significant. As mentioned in the message by the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, Dr. Cristiana Paşca Palmer: “Biodiversity and its ecosystem services are at the heart of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The Paris Climate Agreement includes biodiversity. The World Economic Forum recognizes biodiversity loss as a critical risk. The Food and Agriculture Organization has organized focal work on Biodiversity. Paris has declared itself the capital of biodiversity, and all the way around the world, countries, local governments and civil society are stepping up their actions to safeguard biodiversity.”
However, the challenges are also great and biodiversity continues to decline in every region of the world at alarming rates. So much so that at least 17 species have become extinct during the 21st century, including the Pinta Island Tortoise in Ecuador, the Eastern Cougar in the Americas, the Formosan Clouded Leopard in Taiwan, and the Baiji Dolphin, in China, among many others.
How can tourism help conserve biodiversity?
Sustainable tourism can contribute to biodiversity conservation in several ways. As I have mentioned before in this blog, tourism can have both positive and negative environmental impacts.
Many types of tourism rely directly on ecosystem services and biodiversity (ecotourism, agri-tourism, wellness tourism, adventure tourism, etc.) to provide tourists with experiences of cultural and environmental authenticity, contact with local communities and education about flora, fauna, ecosystems and their conservation. On the other hand, too many tourists can also have a negative, degrading effect on biodiversity and ecosystems. Hence, careful planning and management are required to avoid negative impacts on biodiversity.
In that context, the European Union Business and Biodiversity Platform has identified the following seven best practices for tourism businesses:
- Identify the impacts and dependencies of your business on biodiversity and ecosystem services (BES).
- Assess the business risks and opportunities associated with these impacts and dependencies to educate employees, owners, suppliers and customers.
- Develop BES information systems, set SMART targets, measure and value performance, and report results. This is a key step for building trust among external stakeholders, while creating peer pressure within the industry.
- Take action to avoid, minimize and mitigate BES risks, including in-kind compensation (‘offsets’) where feasible. BES targets may build on the concepts of ‘No Net Loss’, ‘Ecological Neutrality’ or ‘Net Positive Impact’ and include support for biodiversity offsets where appropriate.
- Grasp emerging BES business opportunities, such as cost-efficiencies, new products and new markets. Business can support the growth of green markets and can help design efficient enabling conditions for biodiversity and ecosystem service markets, which may lead to the diversification of tourism product and complements the efforts to fight seasonality of the tourism offer.
- Integrate business strategy and actions on BES within wider corporate social responsibility initiatives.
- Engage with business peers and stakeholders in government, NGOs and civil society to improve BES guidance and policy. Businesses can bring significant capacity to conservation efforts and have a key role to play in halting biodiversity loss.
Likewise, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have developed guidelines on how to plan tourism development within the frameworks of: the ecosystem approach; Akwé: Kon voluntary guidelines for the conduct of cultural, environmental and social impact assessments regarding developments proposed to take place on, or which are likely to impact on, sacred sites and on lands and waters traditionally occupied or used by indigenous and local communities; and the voluntary guidelines for incorporating biodiversity-related issues into environmental impact assessment legislation and/or process, and the draft guidelines for incorporating biodiversity-related issues into strategic environmental assessment.