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Protecting the world’s biological diversity


The objectionable activity of mass forest clearance in vital tropical rainforests for the highly commercial mono-crop oil palm is emerging as a contested topic in several countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Latin America particularly.

By Salam Rajesh

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets that were agreed to amongst nations in 2010 sought the extension of protected area coverage to achieve gain in global biodiversity loss. Criticism is ripe in the failures to meet the set targets by the year 2020. This is being reflected in the discussions on strategies to be designed for the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

Amidst the projected failures to meet the goals set in the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, conclusive remarks of the program as reflected in the bi-annual Protected Planet Report (2018) states that the ‘Global protected area coverage has increased significantly, with almost 15% of terrestrial areas and over 7% of marine areas protected’. The report further provides that ‘Any newly designated protected or conserved areas need to be targeted towards documented areas of importance for biodiversity, such as Key Biodiversity Areas’.

The Protected Planet Report series is a joint effort of the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the National Geographic Society (NGS). The report is produced bi-annually to monitor the progresses achieved in extending the protected area coverage globally, and measures achieved in protecting wildlife habitats and species.

The Protected Planet Report (2018) provides an update of the progress towards achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 at the global scale. As per the report, the World Database on Protected Areas, managed jointly by UNEP-WCMC and IUCN, reaffirms that almost 15 percent of the earth’s land surface and inland waters, and just above 7 percent of the global ocean is now protected.

Global biodiversity targets as set in the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Paris Climate Agreement amongst other agreed international commitments are primarily focused at addressing biodiversity loss issue in the backdrop of the climate change and global warming discussions. Biodiversity loss is intrinsically linked to processes of greenhouse gas emission and other phenomenon connected with temperature rise, which again is connected to diverse ecological and environmental hazards.

The Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) as defined in the Protected Planet Report are the ‘most comprehensive dataset on areas of global importance for biodiversity’. The IUCN (2016) define KBAs as ‘sites contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity’. As of date, there are around 15,000 sites identified. KBAs are found in terrestrial, freshwater and ocean ecosystems. The report further states that on the average, 47 percent of each terrestrial, 44 percent of each freshwater, and 15.9 percent of each marine Key Biodiversity Area are within protected areas.

The World Conservation Union defines a protected area as ‘a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values’.

There are contested arguments on the impact of protected area coverage on the traditional lifestyle and livelihood of indigenous peoples who primarily thrive upon forests and on forest resources for their living. Controversies rage on the allegation that indigenous peoples, in specific forest dwellers and forest dependent tribes, are evicted from their territories of life in the name of conservation.

The deliberation on the interpretation of ‘protected areas’, therefore, also assumes questions on human rights violations against the backdrop on the urgency of climate issues and long term conservation of threatened species and their habitats. The international organization World Wildlife Fund was recently involved in a similar case of rights violation as it pushed through with extension of protected area coverage.

It, however, has to be viewed from the perspective of emerging concerns on extreme weather conditions resulting from climate change processes on the need to preserve natural landscapes to reduce pressure on carbon emissions. Large scale burning to clear forests for commercial activities is said to release carbon dioxide in huge volume, thus increasing the presence of carbon contain in the atmosphere and adding to global warming.

The objectionable activity of mass forest clearance in vital tropical rainforests for the highly commercial mono-crop oil palm is emerging as a contested topic in several countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia and Latin America particularly. Large scale burning to clear the rainforests for oil palm cultivation has raised global concern on attribution to the process of carbon emission. Even as controversies rage in many countries across the globe, the Government of India seeks to introduce monoculture in the biodiversity sensitive Andaman & Nicobar Islands and in the North East region.

It, therefore, is seen on the two sides of the coin conflicting viewpoints where on one side there is a concerted effort to reduce emissions by extending the protected area coverage while on the other side Governments are pushing for activities that reduce forest area and influences carbon emission. This differing viewpoint perhaps may be a reason why the Aichi Biodiversity Targets failed to achieve its set goals.

It maybe recalled that the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2010-2020) of the Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 calls for Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to achieve ‘By 2020, at least17 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape’.

The Protected Planet Initiative is seen as an ‘authoritative global platform providing the world’s decision-makers and the community of practice with the best possible global information, knowledge and tools for the planning and management of protected and conservation areas’.

This definition goes at length to indicate the ‘share of concern’ amongst policy-planners and the communities on ground, whereas, the process has to be seen holistically with the actual participation of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) in every step of the policy planning and implementation in field. Bereft of this, issues on conflicts of interest naturally springs forward stalling every process mid-way. Everybody then becomes the loser, nobody wins.

(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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