The intention of the new American executive branch is of course laudable. The Biden-Harris campaign claimed to want to undo the leaderships engaged under the Trump administration and thus repair four years of chaotic environmental policies. In his program, candidate Biden emphasized the reality of climate challenges, and multiplied the promises. It therefore contains a series of measures intended to reorient the world’s largest economy towards more sustainable development. Unsurprisingly, the emphasis is on renewable energies and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. It also focuses on evidence such as the renovation of buildings, modernization of infrastructure and means of transport, taxation of polluting industries and diplomatic initiatives of all kinds to curb high carbon impact projects. Positive point: the creation of ARPA-C (Advanced Research Projects Agency for Climate), a new research organization that will be able to benefit from a massive envelope of 400 billion dollars for ecological innovation. “This is more than double the investment made for the Apollo program“, can we read there.
But we can not help but notice a big absence: biodiversity. Embarrassing.
Admittedly, the program of the new president mentions it twice. But we can regret that this is only to highlight the consequences of climate change, rather than to propose new specific policies in this area. It is symptomatic: once again, biodiversity is reduced to its role of victim, rather than presenting it as an unavoidable solution. And the distinction is fundamental.
A relegated biodiversity
As Shahid Naeem, professor of environmental biology at Columbia University, points out, biodiversity is at the heart of the problem. The scientific consensus is clear: the interdependence between major climate disruption and ecosystem stability is obvious. Droughts, heatwaves, excess GHGs, floods, infectious diseases … everything is directly or indirectly linked to the state of the living world. A single edifying example should be mentioned to realize this: according to a recent IMF study, by restoring the world whale population to its pre-mass hunting level, that is to say 4 to 5 million individuals, we could hope that they alone participate in the sequestration of 1.7 billion tons of CO2 per year, by promoting the growth of phytoplankton in the oceans. This is the equivalent of nearly 5 times the emissions of the whole of France! And if it should be remembered, it is still our dysfunctional relationship with biodiversity that is at the very origin of the Covid pandemic and its health, political and economic consequences.
All too often, biodiversity is relegated to the bottom of the hierarchy of priorities. However, the new Biden administration will have no choice: resolving environmental issues may certainly mean investing in new green technologies, solar panels or electric vehicles, but in reality, it is above all defining a plan for limpid action to reconnect with the rest of living beings. And this cannot be limited to putting nature under cover. Because if we can indeed rejoice in the promise of an envelope of 9.5 billion dollars to restore and protect national parks, as well as an annual investment of 900 million dollars for the Land and Water Conservation Fund , these policies are unfortunately insufficient and too modest in relation to the seriousness of the issue. Moreover, this gap is not unique to the United States.
To take an example, in the context of the 2017 presidential election, biodiversity was only mentioned 3 times in total in Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s program (compared to 28 occurrences for the word economy). Ditto across the Rhine: in the 50 pages of the structuring program of the German CDU party, the word biodiversity appears only 3 times, for only 10 lines in total.
“Nature by design”
The question then needs to be asked: what could we hope to see appear in future political programs? More generally, what could we expect from government actions on biodiversity? Part of the answer may lie in a new approach called “nature-based solutions”, understanding “nature-based solutions”. Defined in 2016 by the IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, it designates actions aimed at protecting, and above all at managing in a sustainable manner, natural ecosystems to meet social challenges and ensure human well-being. and produce benefits for biodiversity.
We could cite the example of a solution developed by Suez in China: in order to complement the action of wastewater treatment plants and treat wastewater from the Shanghai industrial park, the company designed an artificial wetland, called Zone Dragonfly. It relies on the ingenuity of the mechanisms and faculties of nature to purify water. Thus, this area recreates a real ecosystem: plankton, diatoms, micro or macrophytes and other aquatic plants come to absorb, filter, regulate and biodegrade. In addition to providing additional habitat for many species, the Libellule Zone eliminates micropollutants present in wastewater.
We should also mention the oyster reef restoration project led by environmental economist Timm Kroeger in the Gulf of Mexico: in addition to creating around 100 jobs and ensuring regular economic benefits for local communities, these reefs have helped reduce wave height by 90% to protect the coastline, as well as reduce local nitrogen emissions by several thousand kilograms per year, thanks to the purifying action of oysters. A project soon to be resumed in the port of New York.
Biomimicry, an innovative approach that draws inspiration from the sophistication of techniques and mechanisms found in nature, to design smarter technologies, is one of these nature-based solutions. Note that in this area, there is a real boom in scientific publications in China, Germany and the United States. Bio-inspiration could weigh up to $ 425 billion in US GDP by 2030.
Hopefully these edifying numbers don’t fall on deaf ears in the White House.