Call for new biodiversity targets


Biodiversity Secretariat chief at Nagoya

Biodiversity is key to our survival, but threatened all over the world. All 193 signatories to the United Nations’ Convention of Biological Diversity were in the Japanese city of Nagoya last week discussing ways to halt the extinction crisis which affects life on earth – Malaka Rodrigo reports from Nagoya

Earth is experiencing its sixth mass extinction. Yes, you heard it right. Scientists estimate that in 2100, more than half of the species living in the earth today will become extinct. This time the cause is not external but the activities of one single species that is also part of earth’s biodiversity – Homo sapiens – none other than ourselves.

The 2007 IUCN Red List for Sri Lanka indicated that 21 species of endemic amphibians and 72 of the 1099 plant species evaluated could be considered extinct from the island. Most were endemic. The report also highlights that 223 species of terrestrial vertebrates, 157 species of selected inland invertebrates and the 675 plant species evaluated are categorized as Nationally Threatened. Of the threatened animals, 62% of vertebrates and 61% of plants are endemic to Sri Lanka and thus deserve extra attention. In addition, among the vertebrate fauna, the highest number of threatened species was recorded from the reptiles (56 or 25%), followed by amphibians, birds, mammals and freshwater fish respectively.

In 2002 the world’s leaders who are part of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) agreed to a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 also coupling it with Millennium Development Goals. The delegates of these countries met in Nagoya, Japan for a 12-day summit known as the 10th Conference of Parties (COP10) to review these targets and set a new strategy to slow down biodiversity loss during the next decade. The Sri Lankan delegates in Nagoya were also reviewing the new strategic plans.

“It is not an easy process. The Convention of Biodiversity has so many points to discuss and 40 items in the agenda are being discussed daily,” said Gamini Gamage, head of Biodiversity Secretariat of Sri Lanka. Protected areas, invasive species, biodiversity & climate change, biofuel, agricultural biodiversity, traditional knowledge are some of these agenda items being discussed.

“The most difficult part of the negotiations has been agreeing on a protocol for Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) where many countries have different opinions,” said Mr. Gamage. ABS protocol links with Genetic Resources and aims to create a legal framework that would give nations much better control over their resources from trees to fungi and from fish to frogs that can lead to cures for cancer or new crops more resistant to climate change. It is said that the users of the genetic resources should do it with the prior consent of the provider communities or countries and the benefit should also go back to the providers.

Gene piracy has been a concern for Sri Lanka where some plants like Binara or Kothala Himbatu are patented elsewhere. “We had many concerns regarding the initial proposals of the protocol, but things have progressed at COP10,” says Mr. Gamage. But the complexity of the issue has had delegates debating until late to come up with an agreement.

“This also highlights the need of having more understanding of these new legal backgrounds,” pointed out Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, who visited Nagoya to attend the high-level meeting together with Central Environment Authority Chairman, Charitha Herath. Addressing the summit, Minister Yapa said the government of Sri Lanka is committed to mainstreaming biodiversity as an integral part of the national planning and accounting process. He has plans for setting up a special Biodiversity Act for Sri Lanka, he added, stressing the subject is becoming complex with elements of economics and law coming in.

Mr. Gamage says the discussions are now mainly turned toward the economic value of the biodiversity and ecosystem services. “The convention was established in 1992 and initially mainly focused purely on conservation aspects. But it evolved into sustainable use of biodiversity and now has begun making an economic case to highlight the value of biodiversity and consequences of its loss,” he said.

Delegates hoped a fruitful agreement and a realistic strategic plan to save Earth’s biodiversity could be achieved before the conference ended on October 29. Time is running out for many species. As the old slogan says; “Extinct is Forever”..!!

The Convention of Biological Diversity

Biodiversity, a contraction of the synonymous phrase ‘biological diversity’, is defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as ‘the variability among living organisms from all sources including, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part including diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems’.

The CBD is one of the three “Rio Conventions”, emerging from the UN Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It came into force at the end of 1993, with the following objectives: “The conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding.” There are currently 193 Parties to the Convention (192 countries and the European Union).

Earth’s valued Biodiversity

Biological diversity – or biodiversity – is the term given to the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. The biodiversity we see today is the fruit of billions of years of evolution, shaped by natural processes and, increasingly, by the influence of humans. It forms the web of life of which we are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend.

This diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. So far, about 1.75 million species have been identified, mostly small creatures such as insects. Scientists reckon that there are actually about 13 million species, though estimates range from three to 100 million.

Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species – for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock. Chromosomes, genes, and DNA-the building blocks of life-determine the uniqueness of each individual and each species.

If we do not act today, more than half of Earth’s valued biodiversity will be lost.

Published on SundayTimes (Features section) on 31.10.10 

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