In October and November last year, the climate was in focus when UN members gathered during COP26 and COP27 to agree on a common course for handling the climate challenges we face. Norway's main priorities are to stick to the 1,5-degree target stated after the Paris Agreement and support increased funding for climate measures in development countries.
Past years have shown that we are increasingly experiencing dramatic effects of climate change either in the form of large amounts of rainfall over a short period of time which can result in floods, but also longer periods of drought. This naturally affects us humans, but also our surroundings, for example food production and biodiversity. This is a known issue. It is therefore a positive sign that the members of the UN have gathered again. This time to discuss the protection of nature and biodiversity. On the 19th of December last year, the UN Nature Conference in Montreal, Canada was finalised. Here, a new international agreement for the protection of nature and biodiversity was adopted by a majority of the representatives (188 of 193 member states). The results are in many ways the biodiversity equivalent of the Paris Agreement. By 2030, if the objective is achieved, 30 % of the world's land and sea areas must be protected and restored. The objective is to be achieved through 23 specific interim goals, and an annual investment of 200 billion dollars. This is a solid joint venture but, what is it that makes so many countries willing to invest so heavily in nature?
|COP stands for «Conference of the parties» and is a conference series for the UN members.|
Status of the worlds and Norway’s biodiversity
More than half of the world's GDP ($44 trillion of all goods and services produced during a year) is more or less dependent on what nature serves us. Given how dependent we humans are on biodiversity, its development over the past century is quite alarming. Biodiversity provides raw materials, medicine, clean water, clean air, as well as being our dinner plate. Since the 1970s, the wild animal population in the world has been reduced by 69 %, and it is estimated that approx. one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction by 2025. This is approximately 25 % of all species on earth. The skewed distribution is well illustrated by looking at the distribution of the biomass from mammals in the world. A research group from The State University of New Jersey estimated in 2018 that 96 % of all mammals in the world are either humans (36 %) or domesticated animals (60 %, mostly cattle and pigs). Wild animals make up only 4 %.
In Norway, 30 % of the species registered in the species database, are assessed as threatened. Today the protected landscapes compose for 17,6 % (approx. 68,000 km2) of our Norwegian land area, where national parks make up the majority of the areas. This is not a bad figure seen in light of the target of 30 %. To achieve this objective, approx. 48,000 km2 must be protected over the next 8 years.
So how is it that such a large proportion of the species that are present in Norway are threatened?
According to miljostatus.no, only 11,5 % of the area in Norway is in the “wilderness area category”, and the protected areas we have in this country are mostly linked to mountain landscapes with lower biodiversity. Biodiversity (habitats and niches) is strongly linked to temperature, solar conditions, rainfall and growing season. The closer we get to the poles, and the higher we go, the fewer habitats and niches there are in general. This leaves room for fewer species. Not very unlike the way we humans settle.
The impact on the construction industry
The measures required to achieve the goals that have been set will be demanding. Not only in the form of costly measures, but also leaving tempting development opportunities. It is reasonable to believe that there will be stricter guidelines for new constructions, and the process of it. For the construction industry, this means, among other things, that there will be a tighter set of regulations, where it will be more difficult to get permission to build in untouched nature. In addition, greater expectations will presumably be placed on design and adaptation to the surrounding environment.
Overall, I have envisioned that focus must be directed on the following themes in order to stop the loss of biological diversity - and on the long term strengthen it:
- Regulatory plans from the government must in a greater extent protect areas with great biological diversity and facilitate better utilization and development of the areas that have already been used, with reference to the target of 30%
- Constructors and developers must to a greater extent make demands for safeguarding inherent biological diversity in the area they are developing.
- Project engineers must plan and adapt projects in interaction with the surroundings and not the other way around.
- Contractors must adapt to stricter requirements to secure that development projects will take place in a gentle manner and restore green surfaces to help increase the biodiversity in the areas they work on.
It will be interesting to follow future development of biodiversity, seen in the light of the transition to renewable energy which, after all, is quite landscape-intensive in the form of hydropower in waterways, wind farms (either at sea or on land), or solar farms. The green transition will largely be a "built transition", so how we handle these conflicts of interest will be quite decisive for how we will be able to achieve our own and the UN's targets for climate and biodiversity.
List of sources:
Sustainability and social responsibility, NRC Group Norway