ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Will there be unity over biodiversity?
By Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr
"Hot Money" is the new capital problem for government policy makers in some developing Global economies.
Asia's economy is the fastest growing in the world. It has led, and is still leading, the world economic recovery. These are undeniable facts.
Asia, especially Southeast Asia, is also losing its forests at the fastest rate in the world. The loss of forests is also a loss of biodiversity. These are undeniable facts as well.
Scientists who compiled the new Red List of Threatened Species recently say only 20 percent of animal and plant species are under the threat of extinction, and the proportion of species facing wipe out is rising. Their report was released during the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Nagoya, Japan, from October 18-29.
The scientists' report says 41 percent of the amphibian species are at risk, making them the most threatened category of animals. And they are threatened because of loss of habitat.
But why should humans be bothered about the extinction of frogs, toads, salamanders and newts?
The answer is simple: because their existence is related to the existence of other species. The loss of one species will lead to the loss of another, which in turn lead to the loss of a third, fourth and fifth setting a chain reaction till all the species, ultimately including humans, are wiped out.
There is some good news, though. Intensive conservation work has pulled some species back from the edge of extinction. Among them are three species bred in captivity and returned to the wild: the California Condor and black-footed Ferret in the United States, and Przewalski's Horse in Mongolia.
And the ban on commercial whaling has increased the number of Humpback Whales to such an extent that they are now off the Red List.
Though scientists agree that a complete halt to the loss of biodiversity is not feasible in the world we live in today, they appeal to the world to save 587 sites across the world that are home to 920 species on the brink of extinction.
The scientists, under the Umbrella of the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE), have said that if the 587 sites are protected, the world could avert an imminent global extinction crisis.
This is where we I believe China comes in. It is sixth on the list of countries with the most AZE sites. Mexico, with 68 sites, tops the list, followed by Colombia (46), Peru (34), Indonesia (31) and Brazil (27). China has 23.
The conservation of these sites will protect the areas that help conserve plants and animals. These sites maintain crucial habitats, provide refuges, allow migration of species and ensure that natural processes are maintained. They provide livelihood for about 1.1 billion people and are the primary sources of drinking water for more than 33 percent of the world's largest cities. Plus, they play a significant role in ensuring food security for the world because they protect fisheries, wild plant and crop relatives, and the ecosystems services upon which agriculture depends.
A big question is: Why do we need wild plant and crop varieties when we have domesticated all the food crops?
We know that the Irish Potato Famine killed more than 1 million people and forced another 1 million more to flee Ireland in search of food between the years 1845 and 1852.
Closer home, the epidemics of rice tungro wreaked havoc in the Philippines and Indonesia in the 1970s and 1980s.
The difference, and this made the difference between Life and Death, between Ireland in the 1840s and the Philippines and Indonesia in the 1970s and 1980s, was biodiversity.
The Irish had just two species of potatoes to choose from, and so they lost the battle, but the Filipinos and Indonesians have hundreds of rice species and subspecies, even from other countries, to choose for hybridization to resist the disease. So biodiversity's role cannot be understated.
That's why there is little option but to protect at least the 587 AZE sites. China should take the lead and declare these sites out of bounds in its development plans, especially because it is one of the about 190 countries that agreed to the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) protocol.
The protocol, which may come to be known as the "Nagoya protocol", will make it mandatory for companies and researchers to get the consent of local people before they take flora and fauna from their area for scientific research. This, no doubt, will protect native and endemic species from being exploited for commercial purposes and preserve bio-diversity.
The "Nagoya protocol" reminds us of the Kyoto Protocol, especially because the USA has ratified neither.
The USA's position makes the future of the "Nagoya Protocol" as uncertain as that of the Kyoto Protocol, and dampens the chances of saving our planet's species from doom.
It's now for the International community to decide whether or not it will let the future of 6.8 billion people depend on the whims and fancies of a government that rules over just 300 million people. But then the fate of the Kyoto Protocol tells a sad story.
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