Biodiversity loss

Two reports released ahead of the United Nations (UN) Summit on Biodiversity, scheduled for Wednesday, reveal that global biodiversity and natural resources are in much worse shape than presumed. At the same time, the remedial action is inadequate and half-hearted. The bottom line is that more resources are being consumed or splurged than the earth can regenerate. This amounts virtually to chipping away at the foundation of economy, livelihood, food security, and public health. A planet about 1.56 times the size of the earth is needed to maintain the current level of human enterprise. Business-as-usual may, therefore, jeopardise sustainable development and heighten the risk of natural disasters like climate change and attendant extreme weather events, wild fires, water stress, and environment degradation. 

According to the 5th UN Global Biodiversity Outlook report, released recently by the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). It shows that none of the 20 conservation targets set during the Conference of Parties (COP) 14 of the CBD at Aichi (Japan) 10 years ago has been met fully. The designation of the 2010s as the UN Decade of Biodiversity made no difference. Only six goals could be partially achieved. 

India is no exception in losing biodiversity, though its record is better than that of many others. The obvious reason is the setting up of 18 biosphere reserves, over 540 wildlife sanctuaries, and more than 100 national parks for conserving flora and fauna. Many special programmes are also underway to protect some key endangered species like the single-horned rhino, Asian elephant, and river dolphin. Yet, over 12 per cent of the wild mammals, 3 per cent of the birds, and 19 per cent of the amphibians of India are threatened or critically endangered. A noteworthy point of immediate relevance is that both these reports point to a possible link between the biodiversity loss and the spread of devastating diseases like Coronavirus. Further destruction of biodiversity might result in outbreaks of more zoonotic diseases transmittable from animal to human and vice-versa. This viewpoint is backed by recent medical studies that have indicated the involvement of pangolins in Covid-19 transmission from animal to human though the jury on this issue is still out. 

Fortunately, it is still deemed possible to halt, if not reverse, the ongoing degradation of biodiversity. It requires a further intensification of the fight against climate change, well-judged alterations in food production and consumption patterns, and greater investment in conserving and restoring nature. The UN biodiversity summit and the subsequent COP 15 of the CBD at Kunming, China, in May 2021, should, hopefully, craft practical strategies and fix binding targets for this purpose. Otherwise, sustainable development would remain wishful thinking.


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