The theme of ‘Biodiversity’ for World Environment Day 2020 appeared to be an inspired choice with a perceptible increase in public awareness regarding the interconnectivity of life, reflected in numerous media reports during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the brutal retaliatory killing of elephant(s)in the past week, and a TRAFFIC analysis reporting a massive upsurge in poaching during the lockdown period, have both come as a dampener on the earlier narrative.
As the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity (2011–2020)ends later this year, and countries prepare to adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework,2020 was planned to be a watershed year for biodiversity.There were several high-level opportunities to enhance measures to prevent further deterioration of nature, protection of biodiversity and climate action over the next decade. However, the coronavirus outbreak has overshadowed the roadmap for overturning catastrophic biodiversity loss.
Back in January, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) had declared that we only have ten years to save biodiversity on Earth! The unfolding events of the past months have only added to the urgency of remedial action. Although many of the planned meetings and events for the year have been postponed, there will be a series of opportunities to build up the global momentum for urgent action on biodiversity.
India is one of the recognized mega-diverse countries of the world, harboring nearly 7-8% of the recorded species of the world, and representing 4 of the 34 globally identified biodiversity hotspots (Himalaya, Indo-Burma, Western Ghats and Sri Lanka, Sundaland). As a signatory to the CBD, India is committed to the preservation of vital habitats to stop the catastrophic loss of biodiversity by 2030, as envisaged in the draft agreement likely to be adopted within this year. This commitment will require creation and regeneration of new protected areas, to meet the target of protecting 30% of land and of the sea, prioritizing areas of abundant biodiversity.
The ‘Zero draft of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework’ sought to set the global goals to combat the ongoing biodiversity crisis in the coming decades. According to the CBD, almost one third of the planet must be protected, while pollution has to be reduced to half of current levels to save our remaining wildlife, and all of this by the year 2030! The draft plan also outlines 20 targets for the next decade for achieving these targets.The planned adoption of an ambitious agreement at the CBD Conference of the Parties (COP15) at Kunming now looks uncertain.
The primary forests of northeast India represent some of the most biodiversity rich landscapes worldwide, with a repository of endemics and potential for new discoveries. The rainforests and contiguous elephant habitat in and around Dehing Patkai and the evergreen forests and grasslands of Dibru Saikhowa National Park and Biosphere Reserve are under threat after plans to allow extractive mining and drilling were unveiled in the past few weeks. In neighbouring Aruncahal Pradesh, the 3097 MW Etalin Hydro Electric Project threatens to destroy the enchanting Dibang valley.
The planned Summit on Biological Diversity during the High-Level Segment of the UN General Assembly on 22-23 September this year titled “Urgent Action on Biodiversity for Sustainable Development,” with the objective to highlight the urgency of action at the highest levels is also uncertain. The summit was envisaged to drum up support for a post-2020 global biodiversity framework that contributes to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and places the global community on a path towards realizing the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity.
The year 2020 also marks the final period for the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan on Biodiversity and its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Most importantly, it is a transitional phase for the start of two other pivotal biodiversity related decades. The period 2021-2030 will be observed as the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development as well as being the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
With our increasing demands, humans have pushed nature beyond its limit. In the last 50 years, the human population has doubled; it would take 1.6 Earths to meet the demands that humans make of nature each year. The emergence of COVID-19 has underscored the fact that, when we destroy biodiversity, we destroy the system that supports human life. By upsetting the delicate balance of nature, we have created ideal conditions for pathogensto spread.
The pandemic exemplifies how negative human impacts on natural ecosystems can result in widespread humanitarian, social and economic consequences across the globe. The need to urgently enhance the protection of biodiversity is more apparent now than ever, particularly in the context where hunger and poverty are expected to rise. The unfolding of humanitarian crisis is also an opportunity for the world to incorporate nature and climate in post COVID-19 recovery strategies.
We are intimately interconnected with nature and living in harmony with nature can only be achieved if we reverse negative impact of biodiversity loss. The food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable are all part of nature’s bounty.If we do not take care of nature, we cannot take care of ourselves.These are exceptional times in which nature is sending us a message. To care for ourselves we must care for nature. It is time to wake up. To take notice. To raise our voices. It is time to build back better for People and Planet.This World Environment Day, it is Time for Nature.
*Rituraj Phukan is an environmental writer with personal experience of climate change impacts at the polar regions. He believes in making a personal commitment to solving the biggest environmental crisis to humanity and has been vegan for years.