Living on future’s capital

Living on future’s capital

India is home to 8% of the world’s biodiversity. It has diverse ecological zones — temperate climate in the Himalayas, tropical forests in the South, and deserts in the North.

The Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) was ratified by 196 countries in 1992. This is an international legal instrument for the “conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of utilisation of genetic resources.”

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the text on May 22, and since then, this day is being celebrated as the International Biodiversity Day to create awareness about CBD and its implementation.

Globally, a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity loss at regional and national level is recognised a major contributor to poverty alleviation under Millennium Development Goals.

This year marks the 25th year of inception of the CBD, and the theme is “celebrating 25 years of action for biodiversity.” As one of the countries ratifying this convention, it will be appropriate to take a close look at how India has fared in implementing this on the ground.

In order to implement the features of the CBD at international level, scientific guidance for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity has been agreed upon, which resulted in Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources. Which mandate that each country has to adopt national biodiversity strategies and action plans.

India is one of those countries that have implemented the convention by passing the Biological Diversity Act in 2002 and setting up of the National Biodiversity Authority. Many states have established State Biodiversity Boards to facilitate the conservation of genetic resources.

Local governments at Panchayat levels are to form biodiversity management committees (BMC), which are supposed to document flora and fauna through people’s biodiversity registers. The Act empowers them to levy charges for access and collection of bioresources for commercial purposes.

Though many BMCs have been formed in different states, the main objective of allowing local institutions to manage and document bioresources and benefit sharing schemes have not been accomplished. In most cases, the developmental goals of the state work in contradiction to conserving bioresources.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) initiated a people-centred process to evolve the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) in collaboration with Kalpavriksh, a civil society organistion. The NBSAP was finalised in 2004, outlining the specific activities and the broad strategies for biodiversity conservation.

Unfortunately, the MoEFCC dumped the NBSAP without giving specific reasons. The herculean task of preparing this action plan that involved funding and human resources across the country was wasted.

The people-centred action plan posed a serious threat to the official economic model of development professed by the government. In 2009, the same ministry came out with another action plan without any focus or commitment to conserve the biodiversity.

Intricate links

Launching of project tigers and elephants are visible faces of biodiversity, but the invisible face is small insects like bees that play a dominant role as pollinators.

The threat to bee population due to colony collapse disorder has direct consequences on crop production and yields. These intricate links provide the foundation for the living fabric on the planet.

Over past decades, the loss of biodiversity has accelerated due to habitat fragmentation, introduction of exotic species, overexploitation of plant resources, air and water pollution.

India’s ecological footprint is heavy and exceeds the available biocapacity — land and other renewable resources required to absorb carbon dioxide emissions. Thus we are living on the capital borrowed from our future generations.

The MoEFCC in its report on the performance of the CBD, claims to have worked towards achieving the targets set in Aichi. It says that India is on its way to incorporate biodiversity values in national and state planning and development programmes.

The ongoing development policies are accelerating the destruction of biodiversity, especially in the fragile Himalayan range and the Western Ghats. The construction of a 900 km highway across Char Dham is decimating the forests and grazing lands in Uttarakhand. The mega rail projects planned in the Western Ghats will cause further degradation.

A review of implementation of Biological Diversity Act in 2002 and functioning of National Biodiversity Authority has had least impact on arresting biodiversity destruction in the country. Ironically, the government is assisting the biodiversity destruction instead of halting it.