Nature at the Centre of Decision making: Setting Priorities for achieving Sustainable Development Goals – Part 2

The first part of the blog has discussed the SDGs in general and in relation to the International Biodiversity Governance regime. The second part focusses on the Indian experience in achieving the SDGs in relation to the set Biodiversity Targets.

SDGs and Biodiversity Targets - The Indian Experience:

With India identified as one of the mega-diverse countries of the world, and being categorised in red i.e., the significant challenges category, with respect to Life on Land is extremely worrying. In the five indicators mentioned under SDG 15, two are stagnant, major challenges remain for one, and data is unavailable for the other two. Further, we will have a look at India's experience in implementing The Biological Diversity Act (BD Act, 2002), National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, NBAP (2008) prepared under the said Act and achieving National Biodiversity Targets (NBTs) , in line with the SDGs. The NBAP provides the framework for actions by the multitude of stakeholders in biodiversity, for achieving CBD objectives. This has been prepared through a series of consultations and in accordance with the National Environment Policy, 2006. The NBTs represent a set of 10 targets which was prepared to satisfy the NBAP and envisioned to achieve in a period from 2012 to 2020. The targets include a spectrum of actions from planning, governance and the implementation of tasks to bring biodiversity as an integral part of national development.

The report presented by India at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (2017) describes the country’s efforts towards achieving the SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 19, 14 & 17. If we look at the biodiversity-explicit Goal 14 (Life Below Water), the updates were on the steps taken for protecting and enhancing the coastal and marine ecosystems of the country under three titles 1) Mangroves and Coral Reefs, 2) Ensuring Sustainability of Fisheries, and 3) Protection of Coastal Ecosystems. It was reported that there was a net increase of 112 square km in the mangrove cover at Sundarbans and more than 15,000 ha in the state of Gujarat. Four major coral reefs have also been identified in the country for intensive conservation and management. India has a total of 25 Marine Protected Areas in the peninsular region and 106 in islands, collectively covering approximately 10,000 square km of the country’s geographical areas.

In order to ensure sustainable development of the fisheries sector, a number of measures have been taken by the government, according to the report. This includes the establishment of a Potential Fishing Zone Advisory programme , modernization and upgradation of fishing centres as well as banning of mechanized fishing in certain areas. Integrated National plans were also formulated for a potential ‘Blue Revolution’. Further, the government has emphasized maintenance of the ecological integrity of the marine environment, in order to ensure that there are no adverse effects on endangered marine species. Under the title, protection of coastal ecosystems, the report mentions various national and sub-national legislations in place for the management and protection of the coastal and marine environment. This includes the Online Oil Spill Advisory System, Coastal Ocean Monitoring and Prediction System and a Holistic Development programme for Islands and Coastal Areas. More information and updates are available from Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services ( INCOIS ), an autonomous body under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Govt of India.

A 2019 report describes the country’s journey in implementing the NBAP, the NBTs’ specific linkages to SDGs. It reads that all the 10 NBTs are linked to at least 14 SDGs in one way or the other. The report further discusses the NBTs links to the SDGs citing examples across the country. As a special case here, from the report, let’s look closely into a single case of Forest Ecosystems and Sustainable Management of Forests which is one of the explicit components of SDGs 15, 12 & 2.

NBTs 3, 5, 6 and 7 are aiming at reducing the rate of degradation of forests, enabling sustainable management of forests, and promoting area-based conservation of forest ecosystems and minimizing genetic erosion respectively. The related SDGs are Goal 15: Life on land (in terms of halting deforestation and restoring degraded forests); Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production (in terms of sustainable management and efficient use of forests); Goal 2: Zero Hunger (in terms of maintaining the genetic diversity in crop wild relatives).

The country has a well-structured administrative system for the governance and management of forests. While the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change provides overall leadership, there are many subject-specific technical and administrative divisions and units. States/UT Administrations have their own departments in this regard. The number of associated technical and scientific institutions is 7 which nurtures not only research in forest management but also ensures the standards, quality and effectiveness of forest officers and other stakeholders. We have a number of Acts and Policies, Rules and Regulations aiming the sustainable management of forest ecosystems , right from the Indian Forest Act, 1927 to the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.

The progress and achievements in forest management have been given under 8 titles in the said report which can be summarized as follows.

  1. Rehabilitation of Degraded Areas: Implementation of Joint Forest Management (JFM) as a participatory co-management system on the philosophy of “care and share” in 1990, as a follow up to the National Forest Policy of 1988.
  2. National Afforestation Programme which was started in 2000 and with Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) as a major strategy.
  3. Restoration of Difficult Areas through Eco Task Forces (ETFs) with a twin-objective, i) ecological restoration in difficult areas, and ii) meaningful employment to ex-servicemen.
  4. Reclamation of Abandoned Areas: 115.70 million saplings have been planted over 57,996 ha of mined-out areas as reported by the Ministry of Mines in 2018.
  5. Enhancing Forest and Tree Cover under Green India Mission (GIM) , launched in 2014 with a mandate to protect, restore and enhance forest cover and respond to climate change. It was reported that the GIM has met India’s commitment under Bonn Challenge initiative by covering a total of 9.8 million ha under afforestation. All the states have also prepared comprehensive action plans to meet India’s commitment of expanding tree cover with multi-objects including climate change issues, and REDD+ Strategy.
  6. Area Based Conservation of Natural Habitats: Total Forest area protected under different National Acts amounts to 7,67,419 km2 which adds up to 23.39% of the total geographical area of the country.
  7. Area Based Conservation through Other Measures includes
    1. Biodiversity Heritage Sites declared under The Biological Diversity Act of 2002
    2. Ecologically Sensitive Zones under The Environmental Protection Act
    3. Wetlands declared as Ramsar sites
    4. Biosphere reserves are sites under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme
    5. Sacred Groves and Community Conserved Areas.
  8. Other major initiatives: The country has also devised programs for Reducing Pressure on Forests which include
    1. providing free LPG connections and subsidized refills as an alternative to fuelwood
    2. identifying Medicinal Plants in Conservation and Development Areas
    3. Rehabilitation of non-forest, wasteland/ rangeland/grassland/non-arable land through Feed and Fodder scheme
    4. promotion of agroforestry
    5. different Eco-development projects and employment generation under MGNREGA.


The India Voluntary National Review 2020 by NITI Aayog has come up with a comprehensive report on the progress made with respect to each SDGs in detail. The report mentions the country’s efforts in Policy-making and creating an enabling environment, approaches to localizing, business integration, with regard to achieving SDGs including the voices from the community. The report ends with a note that the country has identified the key challenges in the way of fully achieving the SDGs and has charted the way forward to address the roadblocks and achieve the goals and targets on time.

There are some important Global reviews that have discussed the trends in biodiversity management with regard to the SDGs. One of the important ones, the IPBES assessment. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) had come up with a Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the trends in achieving SDGs. Considering that the Sustainable Development Goals are integrated, indivisible, and nationally implemented, current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80 per cent (35 out of 44) of the assessed targets of Goals related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land, the report finds.

A 2020 research report by the Stockholm Resilience Centre views that biodiversity remains largely invisible or chronically undervalued in the Sustainable Development Goals. It also provides suggestions to better capture the role of biodiversity for sustainable development, the prime one being moving from separate social and ecological targets to social–ecological targets.

Coming back to the Indian scenario, though there are some contrasting views on the implementation of the BD Act ( Kohli and Bhutani, 2012; Mridhu Tandon, 2020 ), the UNEP observes that India is a leading country in having established a comprehensive legal and institutional system to realize the objectives of the CBD . The National Biodiversity Authority has been recognized globally for its pioneering work to implement the Convention and fully operationalize its provisions through its State Boards and Biodiversity Management Committees. Referring to the case of issuing the very first Internationally Recognized Certificate of Compliance (IRCC) under the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, P. Prajeesh (2016) had also observed that India has taken a giant leap and left a mark in the history of biodiversity governance demonstrating to the rest of the world, the manner in which access to biodiversity can be regulated with assured monitoring for equitable sharing of benefits.

UNEP adds that in some ways, India could be considered a test case for the rest of the world, as it works out how to feed its population of 1.3 billion people in a sustainable way. Provided, the big challenge is to achieve this feat without degrading the land, soil, water resources, and rich biodiversity. The links to SDGs are important at this point as we are in the first year of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration with the theme ‘Preventing, halting and reversing the degradation of ecosystems worldwide. As the government of India rightly observes , it is time to reimagine our relationship with nature and put nature at the guts of our decision-making. In such a case, setting priorities is important and each of us should also think about what will I restore and in what ways can we contribute to the Sustainable Development targets set? Re-imagining relationships, and reorienting decision-making processes, are Noble goals and every possible effort should be made to realize them, however the lag in implementing the Biodiversity Act from its enactment to proper implementation, which some would argue has not taken place even today, is not something that we can afford any longer. Pressing challenges of meeting sustainable development goals and overall, the threats of the climate crisis, demand decisive, immediate, and broad-ranged actions. Efforts must be made to usher in further behavioural, policy and institutional changes to transfer noble words and intentions into impactful and farsighted action.

About Authors

Prajeesh Parameswaran

Ishan Chauhan