High-level panel report on global resources for biodiversity launched

October 16, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

So far, countries have made no headway on an agreement on mobilising the cash for meeting the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets agreed upon in Nagoya ,  even as the high-level segment kicked off today (16 Oct) by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh,.

Meanwhile, a report of a high-level panel on global assessment of resources for biodiversity, was released today by the environment ministers of India and UK at a side-event.  The report, the first of its kind, describes which targets would require ‘high’ or ‘moderate’ or ‘low’ global investments from 2013-20. So, here we are:

Ecosystem services provide a range of benefits, as in this conceptual diagram. Photo credit: ELN-FAB Steering Group, Wikipedia

Significant investment required:  several hundreds of billions of US dollars, for targets specifically aimed at addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss and ecosystem restoration,

Moderate investment required:  hundreds of billions of US dollars, for targets associated with required conservation work, for example, target 11 dealing with marine protected areas, tens of billions of US dollars for other targets on conservation.

Low investment required:  billions of US dollars for targets related to improving and creating necessary enabling conditions.

For example, the costs for implementing the  Aichi targets are estimated at between US$ 150 billion and US$ 440 billion per year. Raising awareness would require an  investment of of US$ 54 million every year, while reducing habitat loss (wetlands and forests) US$ 152,300 – 288,800.

According to economist Pavan Sukhdev, the chair of the panel, if the direct drivers of biodiversity loss are addressed, the benefits would extend beyond biodiversity to human health, livelihoods, and sustainable development. So, the high numbers in the report “should not be seen as a bill to the biodiversity community,” but a call for better governance.

The report observes that biodiversity targets are inter-linked and inter-dependent, and with national policy goals, and investment for one would be influenced by investments and effectiveness of others.

This requires strong political and institutional frameworks; and funding from a diverse sources, including not just national budgets and international donors, but also private sector and conservation incentives such as payment of ecosystems services, water fees, carbon off-sets and green fiscal policies.

Something tells me, the greens will see red over the recommendations for carbon offsets and private sector

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

Impact of rapidly expanding cities on biodiversity a major concern

October 16, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

This is all about concrete jungles. This week (15 October) saw the launch of the ‘Cities and Biodiversity Outlook‘ (CBO), prepared by the CBD, the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), during a two-day summit on ‘cities for life’, at COP-11. The CBO provides the first global synthesis of how urbanisation impacts biodiversity and ecosystem services in terrestrial, freshwater and marine systems.

A more detailed scientific analysis and assessment of the links between urbanization, biodiversity and ecosystem services, the Global Urbanization, Biodiversity, and Ecosystems – Challenges and Opportunities is scheduled to be published as a book in 2013, with in-depth coverage of regional and local case study assessments.  Meanwhile, COP-11 gave a peek at a case study of  India and its fifth largest city Bangalore.

The Cities and Biodiversity Outlook addresses the impact of rapidly growing cities.   Photo credit for Curubita city, Brazil : J.M.Guimarães, Wikipedia

An estimated 60 per cent of the world’s people will live in cities by 2030, with most of the urban changes projected to take place in Asia particularly China and India.India’s massive urbanisation trend indicates half of it would become urban by 2050. It already has three of the world’s ten largest cities and three of the world’s fastest growing cities. This in turns means clearing of more forests, wetlands, and agricultural systems, habitat degradation and fragmentation, says the report.

Cities present both challenges and opportunities, the India report released on 15 October says. They become nodes of spread of invasive alien species, and are witness to decline in water bodies, mangroves and native birds species diversity.

Biodiversity and ecosystem restoration has tremendous potential, with urban forests reducing air pollution and heating, and wetlands and lakes increase groundwater recharge and stabilise soil. Besides, ecosystems in slums were found to provide other services such as adding nutrition to diet, herbal medicines.

The section on policy and action says cities have a large potential to generate innovations and governance tools and can – and must – take the lead in sustainable development.  And ecosystems services must be integrated in urban policy and planning, as increasing the biodiversity of urban food systems can enhance food and nutrition security

Cities are sites of continuous exchange of practical, traditional and scientific knowledge, it says.

Hope they don’t go down the drain.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

Brazil, Canada, China, Paraguay and UK nominees for the ‘Dodo’ awards at the CBD meet

October 16, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

In case you are wondering why I have not mentioned anything about how the core discussions went at the Hyderabad meet, that is because words are being taken into and out of brackets and replaced by more.

So I was very pleased to learn about the nominees for ‘prestigious Dodo awards’ released by CBD Alliance, the network of NGOs taking part in the meet.  The Dodo, it says, is the “quintessential symbol of biodiversity loss, signify governments failure to evolve”.

CBD Alliance announced nominees for the Dodo awards. Photo credit: Ballista from en.wikipedia.org

Brazil – “for trying to sabotage a draft ADIVICE” on safeguards for biodiversity in the REDD+ mechanism under the climate change convention, and for “refusing to recognise the importance of full and effective participation” of indigenous peoples and local communities in process for ecologically and biodlogically significant areas (EBSAs).Canada: “for their strong stance on CBD not being a food venue” which, according to CBD Alliance is an “ingenious way” to ensure that discussions on biofuels do not take into account the impact of biofuels crops on food crops.

I did hear and was taken aback when heard, a Canadian delegate say if countries wanted to re-open discussions on the agreed text, “so could Canada”, whatever it meant.  I gather that it is a means to ensure there are no more inclusions on socio-economic issues in the biofuels text.

Canada is also recognised for refusing to recognise the importance of participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in EBSA process, and “for trying to stop the CBD from taking up synthetic biology issue”.

China: for consistently blocking the EBSA process (something I blogged about); for “denying some developing countries  of the opportunity to highlight the importance of marine areas in their national waters”.

Paraguay: recognition in retrospect, for blocking any progress on socio-economic issues in the MOP-6 meeting on biosafety; and continuing the good work in COP-11 on GM issues.

UK: for “blocking all attempts in the EU and CBD to adopt a precautionary approach to synthetic biology and geoengineering; for facilitating he monetisation and sale of biodiversity in order to enable continuation  of business as usual”, and for its promotion of the “biodiversity offsets” (BBOP) as an innovative way to buck any contribution to a biodiversity budget.

Tomorrow (17 October), I will update you on the winner. Who do you back?

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

Dryland forests call for more attention from researchers, policy makers

October 16, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

I come back to the point about the ‘poor cousins’ of forestry, the under-rated forests. One such is dryland forests.

Its time to look beyond rainforests to dry-land forests; and the latter’s conservation, says Sergio Zelaya, from the secretariat of UNCCD (UN Convention to Combat Desertification). I caught up with Zelaya this week as discussions among various UN agencies dealing with environment, biodiversity and forestry, steered to restoration of degraded land.

Zelaya says research on dryland forestry is lagging behind other sectors.

Dryland forests tend to be ignored in research and policy. Photo credit: Forest & Kim Starr, Wikipedia

The neglect of dryland forest research is a pity, I think, because this is one more area where modern science and traditional knowledge can join hands to make a difference to poor communities. The dryland nomad communities are a rich storehouse of knowledge on water and biodiversity conservation, dryland farming, and cattle keeping, something that was brought up in sessions on local communities’ knowledge too.

An equally important, but lesser known fact , is that much of developing countries land has dryland forests — an estimated 72%.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture organization, 40% of the Earth comprises open or closed forests; and 42% of these are dry forest; while only 33% are ‘moist’ forests and 25% wet forests.

Dry forests, ranging from desert to grasslands, Mediterranean scrublands and woodlands, are home to 2.5 billion people who depend on them for food, fodder, medicine, energy and shelter. They are the key to food security as dryland ecosystems support 44% of the world’s food production systems and 50% of its livestock. .

About 18% of land in arid zones is covered by forests, according to the Millennium Ecosystem Report.. The largest proportion in Africa and the world’s tropical islands, where they account for 70%-80%, and these forests make up about 22% of South America and 50% of Central America’s land.

Dryland forests are also rich in biodiversity which is adapted to extreme conditions; provide ecosystem services; serve as a buffer against drought and desertification by preventing soil erosion; and can help in adaptation to climate change. They store carbon, and hence can contribute to mitigation

Yet these forests do not attract conservation and sustainable management programmes, or technical and financial resources, and most discussions on forests and climate change also side-line them, focusing  mostly on rainforests.

Hopefully they catch policy makers attention.  As Nuc Gnacadja, UNCCD executive secretary, observed on Monday, drylands are the buffer zone for the biodiversity outside the ecosystem.”

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

Afro-Asian millets network launched to bring millets back on research and farm agenda

October 15, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

Millets, the so-called ‘poor man’s’ cereal and a ‘neglected and under-utilised crop’ in scientific parlance, could bridge poor farmers of two ancient continents, Africa and Asia. An Afro-Asian millets network was launched together today (15 Oct), where millet networks agreed to draw attention to research and promotion of millets as a way to preserve agricultural biodiversity, especially in poor soils where few other crops grow.

“Who is implementing the Aichi targets? The governmental groups ganging up together to get funds for Aichi targets, or the poor farmers, especially women, who have been doing in-situ (on field) biodiversity conservation without any money?” questioned P V Sateesh, director of Hyderabad-based Deccan Development Society that organised the millets network launch.

An Afro-Asian millets network seeks to bring millets back on research and farm agenda. Photo credit: Mikael Häggström. Wikipedia

There is need for strong research and development, and exchange programmes on millets, as millets can be a source of livelihoods and nutrition for majority of farmers below the poverty line, T A Prakash, professor at the department of agriculture economics at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru, emphasised.

Even if one wants to promote millets today, there are neither simple mechanical tools for harvesting and milling, or innovations in the sector, he explained later to me.

Despite the neglect, some doughty farmers are pushing ahead with millets.

“Millets are an important part of the food chain and we are fighting to bring back the millets, says Mohammad Coulibaly, from Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in development (IRPAD,) Mali. In Africa, land where poor farmers once grew millets in giving way to commercial cotton, says Rene Segbenou from Coalition to Protect Genetic Heritage, from Benin.

India’s north-eastern state of Nagaland in the eastern Himalayas holds an annual millets festival every year, and local farmers groups resist the government’s efforts to replant the area with ‘alien commercial’ plants such as rubber and Jatropha.

Such alien commercial concepts means “we have lost the essence of life, the essence of biodiversity,” pints out Seno, a woman farmer from the state.

Prakash says that wheat-maize economies dominated by the west, and national governments’ support for rice as the major crop in Asia, have together led to the neglect of millets.

“Millets can be a powerful tool for the third world to fight the wheat-maize agriculture systems dominated by the west,” he said at the launch of the network.

Interesting theory!


This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

How the great apes (and maybe other endangered primates) could help local communities and conserve the planet

October 15, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

This morning the IUCN released a report on the world’s 25 most endangered primates for 2012-14, and hence needing conservation most. The list has five species from Africa, six from Madagascar, nine from Asia and five central and Southern America. Country-wise, Madagascar tops the list with six species, followed by Vietnam with five, Indonesia with three, Brazil with two and China, Colombia, Peru, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Venezuela with one each.

Primates are important to tropical forest ecosystems, says Russel Mittermeir, president of Conservation International and chair of IUCN’s primate group. They are  at risk from a slew of development and infrastructure projects that destroy their natural habitats; Eboloa virus and global warming. “There is an impending extinction crisis,” says  Mittermeir.

Gorillas and other primates need urgent conservation measures. Photo credit: Rene Nijenhuis. GRASP

There is a great example from Rwanda, on how a gorilla conservation programme that vested its ownership and management to local communities improved the economy of the communities and they now have keen interest to conserve the gorillas.  Gorillas are among the four species of great apes, the others being chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos. Less than 800 mountain gorillas remain in the wild, and by 2030, over 90% of the great apes would be impacted by human activity, GRASP estimates.

The Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), an alliance of UN organisations, conservation agencies, scientific instates and private organisations, started the gorilla conservation programme in Rwanda 2009.

The key to the success of the gorilla programme is that local communities were involved in its management, with roles as wardens and park managers, while other found jobs as tourist guides and drivers, Douglas Cress, GRASP programme manager coordinator, explained to me.

The gorillas were also an indicator of human health as there was risk of transmission of viruses from humans in surrounding areas to the endangered species. In the process, the local communities benefited with the setting up of health clinics.

As scientists explain, great apes can reason and communicate emotions, have mastered some forms of communication through signs and symbols; and have their own culture.  Great apes and humans share more than 96% of the genetic materials, and crucial to understanding evolution.

I am all for our endangered ancestors.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

Conservation by indigenous people and local communities needs scientific and legal support

October 13, 2012

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

There is a tendency for governments to assume that the onus of nature conservation lies on its bulging shoulders. What most governments tend to ignore is the rich biodiversity in indigenous peoples and local communities conserved areas (ICCAs). A colloquium on Saturday (12 Oct) presented two studies by an ICCA consortium, across Africa, Americas, Asia and the Pacific.

Several speakers at the colloquium spoke of inadequate rights to indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) and the major threats they face. One is loss of habitat and over-exploitation of resources; pollution, invasive species and climate change. The second is direct pressures on these communities and resources from industrialisation, development, mining, , infrastructure and dams and similar activities.

Indigenous people’s and local communities customary rights and role in biodiversity conservation need to legal and scientific recognition. Photo credit:Robertobra, Wikipedia

But the most important threat is that, despite increased on-legal recognition of these communities, for example, in national and international projects there is lack of effective legal recognition of these communities’ customary rights over their resources, and they have no rights over sub-soil resources.

For example, governments in Fiji, Philippines and Suriname can issue prospecting licenses over land areas without owner consent if it is considered important for the nation, report of the studies, issued in the colloquium, shows. In Chile, the government can cede mining and geothermal resources, as well as water, to non-indigenous peoples and private firms.

There are similarly lack of land tenures in several African countries, while in India, the government owns much of the lands within IPLC’s conserved territories and areas.

One problem, says the report, is that most countries have “severely inadequate” documentation of and research on ICCAs, and almost none have databases.

“The ICCAs have simply been invisible to the formal sector of scientists and conservationists,” it says.

Another problem is that even in places where ICCA recognition is rising, documentation, research or database development is not by the indigenous peoples, nor is free and prior informed consent taken from them. The information is in a format that the indigenous peoples cannot access or understand.

Countries are also weak in providing fund and technical support for providing legal empowerment, mapping and building capacity for reclaiming rights over land management of their territories and resources.

Conservation is clearly in area that needs a humane face of science and law.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP 11 Convention on Biological Diversity — which takes place 8–19 October 2012. 

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