This week I was fortunate enough to be invited to talk at the Serena Hotel in Kampala, as part of a series of lectures hosted by the Aga Khan Development Network.
The lecture was on “How government, business and civil society can work together to revolutionise biodiversity conservation”. The quality of the debate, the level of engagement from the audience and the wide range of sectors represented (including parliamentarians, diplomats, business leaders and civil society groups) clearly demonstrated the high level of interest people in Uganda have in nature and its conservation.
The news about the state of nature is often gloomy. We hear of rapid loss of species, of degraded and destroyed forests and wetlands. Internationally, governments have recognised that nature is both hugely valuable for humans and threatened, and agreed ambitious goals and targets for its conservation, under the UN Convention on Biodiversity. But the signs are that we are way behind in meeting our goals. So how do we turn the situation around?
Governments and NGOs are traditional partners in conservation, but more and more the potential role of businesses is being recognised. Many businesses are starting to recognise that they rely on natural capital for their long-term viability, and that there are profit and public relations opportunities to be had for industry leaders. For example, Coca-Cola relies on forested watersheds for high quality, ongoing water supplies to their bottling plants, and has invested to conserve them.
Large multinationals such as this have the reach and capacity to make a huge reduction in environmental damage by changing their behaviour. But smaller businesses also have a role to play.
For example in the UK, the Body Shop cosmetics firm is raising money to connect forest fragments in Vietnam to conserve the endangered red-shanked douc monkey.
Uganda is taking a lead in innovative partnerships for conservation. In 2016, the Uganda Biodiversity Fund was launched, aiming to catalyse long-term, large-scale strategic funding for conservation and development from a range of sources.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Total are partnering to make sure that Total’s oil infrastructure in Murchison Falls National Park is as environmentally sensitive as possible.
They are following the international best practice standard of the mitigation hierarchy, starting by avoiding environmental damage as much as possible in initial siting of the development, then minimising the damage, for example by burying cabling, restoring damaged areas, and then offsetting any residual damage by improving biodiversity elsewhere.
National guidelines for following this hierarchy are being developed by the National Environment Management Authority.
The future for nature sometimes seems overwhelmingly gloomy. However, by forming partnerships across sectors, learning from our mistakes and successes, and focussing on the positive change that can be achieved, there is still cause for optimism that our planet’s future will be good both for people and nature.
In order to achieve this future, we all have to play our part.
EJ Milner Gulland is a professor from Oxford University.