Today is International Day for Biological Diversity. Denis Popov, Mondi's Group Natural Resources Manager discusses Mondi's long-term experience in the conservation of biodiversity.
This year was meant to be a ‘super year’ for nature and biodiversity around the world. In January, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report placed biodiversity loss in the top five global risks for the first time on record. While the Covid-19 pandemic has understandably dominated so far, it is still important to recognise the role of biodiversity in addressing global environmental challenges.
Biodiversity is fundamental and invaluable
Biodiversity underpins the resilience of ecosystems and a sustainable flow of ecosystem services that we all depend on. According to the World Conservation Union, the monetary value of goods and services provided by ecosystems amounts to approximately US$33 trillion every year. Therefore, as global citizens as we use more resources than the planet can sustain, not only do we put the natural world at risk, we put ourselves, our well-being and livelihoods under pressure as well.
Nature is declining at unprecedented rates. WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Index indicated that current rates of species extinctions are 100 to 1,000 times higher than the rate before human pressure became a prominent factor. IPBES’s 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, claimed 1 million species are threatened with extinction. The message is clear, urgent action is needed to reverse loss of biodiversity.
At Mondi, our most significant biodiversity impacts and dependencies occur in forestry, given wood fibre is our primary raw material. The world’s forests are home to up to 80% of the world’s land-based animal and plant species – and they will continue to play a central role in maintaining and enhancing biodiversity and ecosystems.
Ecological networks are essential
Effective nature conservation networks are an essential element of our Sustainable Working Forest model. We need to make sure that we secure ecological networks and high conservation value areas to protect local biodiversity and maintain ecosystems resilience to counter the adverse effects of severe weather events and the climate crisis.
Mondi manages around 2.1 million hectares of slow-growing natural boreal forests in Russia and 254,000 hectares of fast-growing forests plantations in South Africa, with an average of 24% of our total landholdings set aside or managed for conservation, along with the conservation efforts beyond our own forestry boundaries.
In Russia our main priority is to protect the last remaining large intact forests that have not been altered by human development, providing a unique opportunity for large-scale biodiversity conservation and carbon sinks of planetary significance.
For more than a decade we have been working closely with WWF and Silver Taiga Foundation to enable their protection. In 2018 we signed a precedent-setting landscape-level agreement defining boundaries for the strict protection of 1.25 million hectares of these precious forests; and following a 15 year collaboration with multiple stakeholders, in 2019 the long-awaited Koigorodsky National Park was established. While our focus as a Group is to protect ecosystems, in 2019, we also joined an ongoing recovery programme to protect the endangered wild reindeer population with WWF Russia.
Our South African plantation forestry landholdings also contain significant biodiversity. Both directly, and through our partnership with the WWF-Mondi Wetlands Programme (now known as the WWF-Mondi Water Stewardship Partnership), Mondi has been investing in managing important wetlands for over 20 years. WWF and Mondi continue to collaborate on broader water stewardship issues at the landscape scale, with a focus on water security through multi-stakeholder collaboration at the catchment scale. Since 2000, Mondi has managed the plantations on the western shores of the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park World Heritage Site, which has included working with the park authority, government, and environmental NGOs to determine which areas are suitable for commercial plantations, and which should be returned to their natural state. In 2019, we marked a decade of a research partnership with the University of Stellenbosch – the Mondi Ecological Networks Programme. We are using this knowledge in Mondi’s forestry lands in South Africa for the design and management of ecological networks.
Managing biodiversity across the value chain
In addition to our long-term efforts in forestry, we have been exploring the potential impacts and dependencies of our pulp and paper mills for several years and in 2019 we started developing status reports on biodiversity, with the aim of producing site-specific plans where action was needed. The Biodiversity Action Plans go beyond the operational boundaries to a water-catchment level.
An example of such a landscape-level proactive initiative is the WWF’s riparian forests restoration project in Bulgaria, which Mondi has been supporting for over 5 years in the catchment of the Maritsa river, where one of our mills is located.
Assessing the specific impacts from manufactured products can be more challenging, but equally important to inform consumers to make sustainable choices. For example, forest certification schemes like PEFC and FSC ensure products are produced using wood fibre from sustainably managed forests.
The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s Natural Capital Impact Group, of which Mondi is a member, has recently developed a Biodiversity Impact Metric that aims to inform decision-making in complex supply chains and we are exploring its use for forest products value chains.
These are all positive steps that we believe can make a real difference, but to address the planet’s biodiversity crisis, action will be needed at scale by companies across the globe. As we think about the world that we will be returning to once we start to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s important to keep the biological diversity of the planet at the top of everybody’s mind.
 WWF, Living Planet Report, 2018, https://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/all_publications/living_planet_report_2018/
 FAO, Eleventh World Forestry Congress, ‘Protective and environmental functions of forests’
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Saturday 21st March 2020 marks the International Day of Forests and, while the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means that initiatives to raise awareness are likely not to be at the forefront of people's minds, it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge the vital role of forests across the globe, particularly in tackling the climate crisis.