Nature has a message for us and it is increasingly urgent that we pay heed to it: human health depends on the health of the planet. Human activity has reduced the wealth of terrestrial and marine habitats by 30%, which is the main cause of loss of biodiversity. Global warming is exacerbating the situation. Life depends on our capacity to join forces and care for our environment, in the same way as thousands of microorganisms all around the globe cooperate and participate in a perfect symbiosis in which all are winners.
Protection of biodiversity is necessary to preserve the health of the planet and, consequently, the health of humans and all the species that inhabit it. World Environment Day, calls on us to be aware of the correlation between climate change, biodiversity and health. The current pandemic and recent extreme weather episodes are clear examples of the fact that it is time to act.
Healthy ecosystems with great diversity foster a balance amongst species, preventing a predominance of one species and hindering the propagation of pathogenic agents such as viruses. Around one million of the eight million animal and vegetable species on the planet are in danger of disappearing in the next ten years, according to the United Nations. Spain is the European country with the highest number of endangered species.
Ecological exit from the health crisis
Water, a vital, indispensable element for life, is of key importance in achieving this goal. The SUEZ Group has signed (along with over 150 corporations) a joint declaration aimed at governments and political leaders worldwide, requesting that the economic reconstruction to recover from the current crisis be based on sustainable ecological plans. Relaunching a zero-carbon economy and limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.51ºC by 2030 form part of a plan to guarantee the transition from a grey economy to a green economy.
The commitment of SUEZ España to biodiversity is underlined by its 2019 Sustainable Development Report (SDR) “2019 en un Zoom”. Last year, the group carried out 60 biodiversity diagnoses, 45 of which were located in protected spaces. In addition, 17 action plans were established in water treatment plants (11 of them in protected areas).
At the Palau Saverdera WWTP (Girona), located alongside the protected natural space of dels Aiguamolls de l’Empordà, the group converted the area into a refuge for the reproduction and reintroduction of endangered amphibians, such as the spadefoot toad and the marbled newt. In the lakes of Cabezo Beaza, which store the reclaimed water from a treatment plant, 30 species of aquatic birds have been housed (14 of which feature in conservation catalogues) and the white-headed duck has been repopulated. This is a diving duck with a very small and localised population. At the Olot and Sant Joan de les Fonts WWTPs, in the Girona district of La Garrotxa, two butterfly gardens and a grassland habitat have been created to promote these species and improve the biodiversity of the area.
Greener Infrastructures and cities
The group has turned urban water cycle facilities into “green infrastructures” so that they can provide support to the ecosystem in which they are located and embellish the services offered to us by nature. Doing away with the use of phytosanitary products (currently, 58.6% of the group’s facilities are free of these chemical products) and the control of invasive exotic species also form part of the action plan.
For the purpose of controlling alien species that colonise ecosystems, efforts have focused on the invasive exotic flora in the company’s facilities. The BiObserva STOP-invasoras programme, which has a proprietary methodology and tools (a web platform and a mobile app), provides the information necessary to train staff at water treatment plants how to identify species, report observations and execute control plans.
The employees also cooperate in the monitoring of birds living in the vicinity of treatment plants. The BiObserva Voluntariado programme, implemented at 95 facilities, enjoys the voluntary participation of over 270 workers. Avifauna sightings at the work centre are recorded on a mobile app and open-access web platforms. The nigh on 60,000 sightings registered have been used internally by the group to draw up specific action plans and have also been placed at the disposal of scientists at the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), which is sponsored by the Ministry of Science and Innovation, and managed by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). SUEZ has the most registered sightings of any private company in Spain.
SUEZ España is also promoting nature-based solutions. Firstly, the company is promoting the naturalisation of cities, with more green areas in urban centres, in order to improve conditions and make these areas more resilient to climate change. For example, the La Marjal park in the city of Alicante is a benchmark urban green infrastructure in Spain. Not only is it capable of collecting 45 million litres of storm water, but it also plays a social role because it is a municipal space for citizens and environmental use that acts as a green lung and a shelter for vegetative species and avifauna from the area. Secondly, SUEZ is also promoting solutions in vulnerable natural spaces of great ecological interest in order to improve biodiversity. This is the case of the Ebro Delta wetlands, which naturally purify the residual water from rice cultivation.
It is vital to preserve biodiversity and combat climate change in order to ensure a better future.