We often ask ourselves, what do ecosystem services have to do with transportation? At the IDB, when we hear that the Environment, Rural Development, Disaster Risk Management Division (RND) has a program to mainstream biodiversity and ecosystem services into productive sector and infrastructure (BIO Program), we might well ask: “Is this another futile initiative?” That’s why I think the topic deserves some explanation.
We can’t deny that we are all part of a massive ecosystem, one that humans have been modifying to suit their purposes for millions of years, and especially over the past two centuries. As human beings we need our environment to be healthy in order to survive, and this is where ecosystem services come into play. Man can live for a couple of weeks without food, a few days without water and only a few minutes without oxygen. We are dependent on these services that nature provides.
Our transportation projects can affect the environment and, at the same time, they can be affected by natural phenomena along these two lines:
1. The geological and geotechnical characteristics of the terrain under our highways has an impact on engineering designs. Building roads through mountainous areas can create phenomena such as instability and landslides, which limit the lifespan of these projects and increase maintenance costs. Deforestation, the misuse of clear-cutting practices, and other activities associated with the construction projects that we finance can contribute to increasing the negative geotechnical impacts.
2. Run-off water that is inadequately managed will be a constant issue in any civil works project that we undertake, even on relatively level terrains. This problem can also be exacerbated by predictable changes that stem from climate change.
Why reflect on this? Because ecosystems provide us with important services: hillside stability, run-off filtration, air quality and water purification, and the vital resources that we need to live.
For all of these reasons, one of the objectives of the collaboration between the transportation and RND divisions is to have the necessary tools, such as the publication Carreteras and Capital Natural (soon to be released in English) for valuing the ecosystem services that we receive and evaluating the costs incurred by degrading these benefits. In this way, BES’ strategy becomes an added element that contributes to the socioeconomic feasibility of our projects.
Stay tuned to future posts for more details and references on this topic.
* BES: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Photo: by Nathan Hoyt ©CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Rafael M. Acevedo Daunas is a leading specialist in the Bank’s Transportation Division, where he was a coordinator of the Sustainable Infrastructure Action Plan and now works at the Paraguay country office. He joined the IDB in 2001 and since then has participated in the preparation of loans for infrastructure, energy, and transportation projects in the majority of Latin American countries. His combined experience in the areas of the environment and climate change, in addition to transportation, energy, and other fields has involved him in different initiatives related to climate change and the new Emerging and Sustainable Cities initiative. Before joining the IDB, he worked for over twenty years as an environmental energy consultant in Colombia, Canada, Panama, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, and other countries, both independently and as a partner in two prestigious consulting firms in Colombia and Canada. He has also worked as a civil servant in the Colombian Healthy Ministry, where he worked on preparing the country’s environmental regulations and as a part-time professor at the Universidad del los Andes in Bogota.