The theme for this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity, ‘From Agreement to Action: Build Back Biodiversity,’ is a call to action for signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to transform pledges into movements and tangible outcomes that will improve and strengthen biodiversity. It follows closely on the heels of the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework at the 15th Conference of the Parties in December 2022.
As India revises its National Biodiversity Targets (NBTs) to align with the Kunming-Montreal GBF, local bodies in the country will have a significant role to play in achieving them.
It is already well established that local governments are fundamental to implementing international agreements. Cities are engines of growth, and their governance, planning, design and priorities shape the course of their environment and biodiversity. Cities have direct stakes in the management of green infrastructure ( municipal parks, urban forests and green cover in avenues, verges and institutional spaces) and blue infrastructure (wetlands, rivers and canals). Indirectly, other core functions of a city government like waste management, water supply and drainage, building permissions have significant impacts on local biodiversity.
The City Biodiversity Index (CBI) has been developed and maintained by the Singapore National Parks Department (NParks), with support from ICLEI, the CBD and others. The CBI is the only biodiversity index designed specifically for monitoring and evaluating biodiversity in cities. Fifteen cities in India have developed this index, of which 11 have been developed by ICLEI South Asia. These cities have identified gaps in biodiversity governance through this index, and are taking steps to address the same.
One of the indicators that the CBI evaluates is the presence of a Local Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (LBSAP), a guiding strategy complemented by specific actions to ensure optimal and realistic management of a local authority’s biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services. Several Indian cities (Jammu, Srinagar, Hyderabad, Rajkot, Siliguri, Kochi and Gangtok) identified the absence of the LBSAP through the CBI, and have taken to steps to develop or initiate development of the same. Five of these cities have been supported by ICLEI South Asia in this endeavour.
Kochi, for example, was the first city to develop a scientifically informed and participatory LBSAP through the Integrated subnational action for biodiversity: Supporting implementation of National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans through the mainstreaming of biodiversity objectives across city regions (INTERACT-Bio) project. The city identified nine critical ecosystems in the LBSAP and is regularly allocating funds through the municipal budget to implement actions on these ecosystems, as stated in the LBSAP. Canals, identified by the city as a critical ecosystem, are being restored through several green- grey infrastructure solutions. In order to augment the pollinator base that will in turn support agriculture — which has been identified as another critical ecosystem — the city has developed a pilot pollinator garden, with support from ICLEI South Asia. The city also initiated a project called HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture and Livelihood), spearheaded by the Hon’ble Mayor, to improve the liveability and resilience of Kochi; it will have a significant bearing on biodiversity and ecosystem health.
People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBRs) are locally developed documents that contain comprehensive information on locally available bio-resources, including landscapes, traditional ecological knowledge, and current utilisation patterns of biodiversity in the area under the jurisdiction of a local body. They offer an innovative decentralised approach to know, use and safeguard local biodiversity and traditional knowledge. In Goa, India’s smallest state, ICLEI South Asia has supported more than 73 local bodies in the development of their PBRs in collaboration with the Goa State Biodiversity Board. Beyond cataloguing knowledge about biodiversity through the PBRs, local bodies like Agarwada, Mandrem and Neura have identified areas of action within important local ecosystems. Agarwada and Neura, for example, have recognised the significance of agricultural heritage ecosystems, such as their salt pans and Khazans, respectively, and have begun the task of reviving the structural components imperative to their long-term sustainability. The local body of Mandrem, together with local community members and NGOs, has built collaborations to protect local turtle nesting sites on their beaches.
Building back biodiversity has already begun at the local level through local action leveraged with planning and knowledge instruments like the CBIs, LBSAPs and PBRs. Recognizing the value of these instruments and increasing their uptake will support India in its journey to achieve the revised National Biodiversity Targets and contribute to the Kunming- Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.