Celebrating World Biodiversity Day
Biodiversity is everybody’s concern, not to be left for academics only
PROF. (DR.) G. H. DAR
May 22nd is celebrated as the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) every year. It is a United Nations sanctioned international day for the promotion of biodiversity issues. This day was first designated by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly as 29th December 1993 – the date the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) came into effect. In December 2000, however, this date was shifted to commemorate the adoption of the CBD on May 22, 1992, and partly to avoid many Christmas and other holidays occurring in late December.
The main aim of celebrating this day is to make people aware about the vital importance of biodiversity on one hand and its unprecedented loss on the other hand, so as to refocus our attention and reaffirm the endeavor to promote its conservation and sustainable use. Each year a specific theme related to biodiversity is chosen by the United Nations to lay focus on. The theme for 2011 was Biodiversity and Forests, while for 2012 it is “Marine Biodiversity”. This year’s theme is pertinent because it is estimated that 1-2 million species live in the sea alone. In fact, the present decade (2011-2020) has also been declared by the UN General Assembly as United Nations Decade on Biodiversity (Resolution 65/161), ‘to support and promote implementation of the objectives of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010, with the goal of significantly reducing biodiversity loss’. To properly celebrate the IDB, it is imperative to understand what biodiversity is and why is it to be saved and conserved.
Biodiversity and its importance: Biological diversity (shortened as biodiversity) refers to the variety and variability of living organisms at all levels of biological organization and the ecological complexes they are part of. In simple terms, it refers to diversity in the world’s biota, i.e. all forms of life on the planet Earth, and distinguishes the latter from other planets of this universe. It is a multi-faceted concept that embraces all the dimensions of human life, be that economic, social, political, cultural, ecological and much more. It provides the life-support systems and fulfills all other requirements vital for the existence and sustenance of life on Earth, including continuation and survival of supreme creature, the human being. Ever since the humans gained foothold on this planet, the diverse kinds of biological organisms - plants, animals, microbes etc. - have made their survival possible. Humans have and are benefited from the biodiversity, directly as well as indirectly. From the fulfillment of basic livelihood needs of the poorest of poor such as food, fodder, fibre and fuel to the luxurious needs of richest of rich such as game sports, aesthetics, entertainment, strikingly diverse forms of species have fittingly met every human need. Agriculture, Forestry, host of other bioresource-based industries, tourism, and name any human endeavor, all are directly or indirectly dependent upon the health of biodiversity. Without biodiversity, the planet Earth would be a monotonous mass of water, land and air; with no source of attraction, scenery, beauty and aesthetics.
Extent of biodiversity: Biodiversity of a region is usually recognized as the number of living species it supports. Although estimates of species at the global level range from 10 - 100 million, their conservative figure is about 12.5 million. Out of these, however, only 1.75 million species stand scientifically known till now. This clearly indicates that our knowledge of global biodiversity is poor and that majority of biota remains still to be discovered, particularly in the developing world. It is said that “…scientists have a better understanding of how many stars there are in the galaxy than how many species there are on earth” (WRI).
India is one of the 17 Megadiverse countries of the world, sharing four global biodiversity hotspots, one being the Himalayas. Extremely diverse topographic, climatic and cultural features prevalent in the country since ages, have led to a considerably rich and varied biodiversity and a huge wealth of indigenous and innovative ways of using it. Complete picture of the country’s biodiversity as a whole is, however, yet to be known! Jammu & Kashmir State, a part of the Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, is a treasure-trove of biodiversity, a ‘Biomass State’ as it has rightly been called. From the subtropical Jammu plains, through temperate Kashmir valley, to the cold arid desert of Ladakh, the State depicts considerable gradients in topography and elevation, being endowed with a diversified and precious bounty of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, however, the knowledge about over-all biodiversity of the State is insufficient.
Loss of biodiversity: How many species are we losing, is not quite clear. This is because, “if we don’t know how much there is to begin with, we don’t know exactly how much we’re losing” (WWF). But, there is no doubt that there is a very serious biodiversity crisis. Scientific evidences clearly highlight the disturbing fact that the Earth is in the midst of unprecedented loss of biodiversity, being 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate.
Of the various environmental problems, the loss of biodiversity is the most serious one, the greatest threat to world stability and security today. What makes it different from other global environmental problems is its irreversible and irreparable nature. Biodiversity once lost can’t be restored back to life. A living species once extinct is gone forever. And with its extinction, we are losing the ecological services and economic goods that the species was known for in its past, or its immediate present and the future potential.
Footprints of climate change on the biodiversity are already quite visible. In the Swiss Alps, plant species have been migrating upwards by 1-4 m per decade. Some plants previously found only on the mountaintops have disappeared. Most of the world’s endangered species may become extinct over the next few decades as climate change conditions alter the forest, grassland and wetland ecosystems. Here in the Kashmir Himalaya, earlier spring due to shorter winters have brought shift in the flowering phenology of plants, at least one month before.
Over the last two decades, the loss of biodiversity has emerged as an issue of global concern. The Rio Earth Summit (1992), under the aegis of UNEP, was the first global-scale event that ascended biodiversity to the status of a global issue. It led to the CBD that has provided the international institutional framework for the countries to deal with issues related to biodiversity. Now, all the member countries have formulated their own National Biodiversity Action Plans. In India, a new legislation under the Indian Biodiversity Act, 2002 has come into force.
Future concerns: So what should be our response? Big challenges also force us to search for solutions. Only those nations will succeed who have the capacity, both institutional and human, to manage biodiversity in the sustainable way. Biodiversity is a crisis discipline that needs a response of an efficient crisis management. We know, day by day, our State is forced to allocate huge public funds for the conservation purposes. However, without a well thought out policy document, based on scientific knowledge base, all our conservation planning will not yield the desired results. Commerce of conservation will do no good in restoring our degraded ecosystems or protecting our pristine natural landscape. There is an urgent need for a paradigm shift in our understanding of conservation projects among the foresters and the bureaucrats. The issues of biodiversity loss are not a matter best left only to academic debates and research topics. It should be everybody’s concern, because biodiversity sustains the life on the planet Earth. Precious the conservation of biodiversity is for the human survival, the perilous the loss of biodiversity is for human existence.
Given the challenges ahead in view of the impending threats due to habitat loss and other anthropogenic activities, the apathy and least-concern shown by the stakeholders and policymakers will prove too costly in future. Large expanses of terrestrial ecosystems, such as forests, grasslands, etc. and the freshwater ecosystems, such as rivers, lakes and wetlands that are home to a huge biodiversity, are battling last days of their existence. As the problem is too urgent and gigantic, the policy response has to be of equal magnitude. To stop and regulate the illegal smuggling of our biodiversity by outsiders is still a non-issue in our State. This is going to be the biggest challenge for our State in future. Because the external agencies can use (actually misuse) the technological advancements to claim patent rights on the biodiversity smuggled from the State territories.
What needs to be done? As the documentation, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are emerging top priority global issues and have assumed an urgency world over, our State cannot afford to lag behind in this endeavor. The following main issues need to be urgently addressed:
1. Inventorization and documentation of over-all biodiversity of the State so that we have data-base to know ‘what’, ‘where’, and ‘how’ our bio-resources are lost.
2. Documentation of existing scientific and traditional knowledge about different aspects of biodiversity using modern bioinformatics’ tools.
3. Identification of knowledge-gaps in under- and un-explored regions; and the less investigated taxonomic groups.
4. General public awareness using both print and electronic media; and involvement of the civil society, NGOs, and religious institutions.
5. Special focus to be laid on rare, endemic and threatened (RET) species and fragile ecosystems of the State.
6. Assessment and quantification of threats to biodiversity of the State, with particular reference to deforestation, habitat loss, biological invasions, overexploitation, pollution, and climate change.
7. Framing effective in-situ and ex-situ strategies for conservation of biodiversity.
8. Establishment of State Biodiversity Board, with formation and strengthening of village-level institutions for biodiversity conservation.
9. Strengthening of institutional infrastructure for carrying out biodiversity-related studies.
10. Utilization of economically important biological resources in a sustainable manner for regional development.
11. Review of State biodiversity policies in light of contemporary concerns and issues.
12. Formulation and effective implementation of laws related to biodiversity.
In conclusion, the international events such as International Day for Biodiversity and UN Decade on Biodiversity remind all the stakeholders involved to pledge using all our knowledge, vision and wisdom in proper care of biodiversity, so as to ensure its judicious and sustainable use and conservation for generations to come. “We can no longer see the continued loss of biodiversity as an issue separate from the core concerns of society: to tackle poverty, to improve the health, prosperity and security of present and future generations, and to deal with climate change. Each of those objectives is undermined by current trends in the state of our ecosystems, and each will be greatly strengthened if we finally give biodiversity the priority it deserves”. [CBD's 'Global Biodiversity Outlook 3' report].
Author works at Mahatma Gandhi Chair on Ecology & Environment, Centre for Biodiversity Studies, Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, Rajouri (J & K).
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Lastupdate on : Mon, 21 May 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 21 May 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 22 May 2012 00:00:00 IST
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