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How can sustainable infrastructure contribute to Protection and Enhancement of Biodiversity & the Natural Environment?

How can sustainable infrastructure contribute to Protection and Enhancement of Biodiversity & the Natural Environment?

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Sustainable infrastructure development plays a pivotal role in safeguarding biodiversity and the natural environment. Impact of infrastructure development is extremely project and site specific. The expansion of linear transport infrastructure, such as roads and railways, has far-reaching consequences for biodiversity and the natural environment. It leads to landscape fragmentation, disrupting ecological connectivity—the unimpeded movement of species and natural processes.  

"Disruption results in habitat degradation, fragmentation, and loss, while also creating physical barriers that impede wildlife movement and ecological flows. Moreover, infrastructure development contributes to pollution, the spread of invasive species and changes in hydrology, affecting endemic species. Even sustainability oriented initiatives such as wind-turbines may kill airborne animals like birds and bats, including many protected species. This in turn has consequences across the food chain and can wreak lasting damage on ecosystems."

Juanita Olano Marín

As stated in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), governments, civil society and the private sector must aim to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss” if we are to end poverty, protect the planet and create peaceful societies. 

This technical report by the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, emphasises the urgency of this issue, pointing out that the rapid expansion of linear transport infrastructure globally is a major driver of biodiversity decline. It provides a roadmap for practitioners to mitigate the impacts of linear transport infrastructure on connectivity.  Beyond mitigation, hybrid infrastructure, also referred to as grey-green infrastructure,can provide solutions that increase both the financial and the physical resilience of communities. Combining engineered and nature-based solutions, natural ecosystems that can be conserved, rehabilitated, and maintained in a productive state to deliver a range of ecosystem services and improve resilience against extreme weather.  Through a combination of eco-conscious design principles, conservation-focused practices, and responsible construction and management strategies, sustainable infrastructure projects are capable of exerting a profoundly positive influence on the environment. They excel in the preservation and rejuvenation of natural habitats, often conducting rigorous environmental impact assessments to identify and protect critical ecosystems. Such projects frequently incorporate green infrastructure elements like green roofs, permeable pavements, and urban parks, which mitigate the urban heat island effect, manage stormwater runoff, and create green spaces conducive to local wildlife. 

"Avoiding actions that harm biodiversity is crucial. If such actions are unavoidable, aim to reduce their impact and offset any residual effects with the help of local biodiversity experts. By prioritising a net gain in the natural environment and enlisting independent third parties to audit the process, you can ensure credibility and authenticity."

Juanita Olano Marín

The FAST-Infra Label stipulates rigorous standards for the Protection and Enhancement of Biodiversity & the Natural Environment in infrastructure projects and strictly prohibits adverse impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. To abide by the FAST-Infra Label Framework, projects operating in or near critical habitats must adhere to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Key Biodiversity Area Business Guidelines, and conduct a IFC standard Critical Habitat Assessment for projects in internationally and nationally recognized biodiversity-rich areas. Furthermore, project site selection and design must prioritise ecological connectivity to ensure a positive contribution to biodiversity and the natural environment. 

Singapore's Park Connector Network is one such a positive example. Singapore is a densely populated urban environment with limited space for nature. However, the city-state has made significant efforts to integrate green infrastructure into its urban landscape. The Park Connector Network is a system of walking and cycling paths that connect parks, nature reserves, and green spaces throughout Singapore. These connectors often incorporate wildlife-friendly features such as bird hides and wetland restoration. This network enhances biodiversity by creating green corridors that allow wildlife to move freely between fragmented habitats. It also provides recreational opportunities for residents and reduces urban heat island effects. Singapore's green initiatives have resulted in a more sustainable and liveable city. 

Similarly, the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysia, is home to rich biodiversity, including orangutans, pygmy elephants, and proboscis monkeys. However, agricultural expansion and logging threatened the wildlife habitat.  The Sabah government, along with conservation organisations, established the Kinabatangan Corridor of Life Initiative. This project involved reforesting and connecting fragmented habitats to create a continuous wildlife corridor. By restoring and preserving vital wildlife corridors, the initiative has allowed species to move freely between isolated forest patches, increasing genetic diversity and ensuring the long-term survival of endangered species. Additionally, it has promoted eco-tourism, benefiting local communities economically. 

"We are in a moment where the construction and development sector is beginning to be conscious of the multifaceted impact of infrastructure projects. The FAST-Infra label hopes to provide confidence in the impact of assets on the natural environment by providing a simple, practical framework to communicate credentials. It is a landmark initiative to build a bridge between the private infrastructure development sector and experts in conservation and biodiversity.  By doing so, we can build a sustainable future where infrastructure harmonizes with nature rather than disrupts it."

Juanita Olano Marín

Sustainable infrastructure development is a global imperative. Decision-makers, planners and infrastructure developers must strike a delicate balance between the socio-economic benefits of infrastructure and the vital need to not only preserve healthy ecosystems, ecological connectivity, and biodiversity but also achieve both financial and the physical resilience around infrastructure assets. 

Find the FAST-Infra Label framework here.

With Inputs from
Juanita Olano Marín
Consultant for biodiversity for infrastructure 
Global Infrastructure Basel (GIB) Foundation

Further Reading