Sunday, 27 May 2007

Biodiversity and climate change

By Deependra Joshi

Biodiversity is the foundation of life on earth and one of the pillars of sustainable development. There is little argument over the fact that the world's biodiversity is being degraded. There is more or less a consensus on the fact that the number of species of birds, animals and plants is on the decline. Debate, in the conservation world, generally rages on what should be done to tackle the problem of biodiversity depletion.

Biodiversity contributes directly (through provisioning, regulating, and cultural ecosystem services) and indirectly (through supporting ecosystem services) to many constituents of human well-being, including security, basic material for a good life, health, good social relations, and freedom of choice and action. Many people have benefited over the last century from the conversion of natural ecosystems to human-dominated ecosystems and the exploitation of biodiversity. At the same time, however, these losses in biodiversity and changes in ecosystem services have caused some people to experience declining well-being, with poverty in some social groups being exacerbated.

Human activities such as fossil fuel combustion and deforestation are changing the earth's climate by releasing greenhouse gases. To mitigate the anticipated increase in extreme weather events and the rise in sea level, we need to invest in cost-effective and environmentally-sustainable energy, promoting and engaging climate-friendly carbon and technology markets, and taking adaptation measures.

Despite this critical relationship, the full benefits available from the world's biological resources have not yet been realized, at the same time that future possibilities of their use are being foreclosed as they disappear. Fundamental problems include determining which resources are most critical to conserve in a time of limited finances and personnel, and what activities area needed to ensure that the biota sustain their productivity. Other critical issues linking biodiversity with sustainability include the impact of alien invasive species on the productivity of ecosystems, both aquatic and terrestrial; and the restoration of ecosystems whose productivity has been significantly reduced through past over-exploitation. Both of these require improved management systems.

As the world is focusing its attention on climate change, the links between climate change and biodiversity are also being articulated. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment - a state-of-art appraisal of the world's ecosystems and the services they provide - has identified climate change as one of the biggest causes of our planet's loss of biodiversity, along with changing land use patterns.

It is, therefore, timely that the theme of this year's observance of the International Day for Biological Diversity is "Biodiversity and Climate Change". Indeed, the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is an essential element of any strategy to adapt to climate change. Through the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the international community is committed to conserving biodiversity and combating climate change. The global response to these challenges needs to move much more rapidly, and with more determination at all levels - global, national and local. For the sake of current and future generations, we must achieve the goals of these landmark instruments.

The conservation camp is split between the species protectionists and the sustainable users. The former generally believe that humans have shown a large degree of irresponsibility in managing their environment and the more natural resources that are out of reach of greedy hands, the better. The sustainable users, on the other hand, believe that biodiversity depletion and the abuse of natural resources cannot be divorced from the socio-economic reality within which they exist. Natural resources should be used for the benefit of people, but in a way that does not endanger the existence of these resources.

Biodiversity conservation and sustainable development is at the core of IUCN's mission and mandate. IUCN has been working to demonstrate that biodiversity conservation and sustainable use contribute not only to securing ecosystem integrity but also to sustainable livelihoods, effective governance, financing for sustainable development, greater social, economic and environmental security - and ultimately to a reduction of human suffering.

IUCN has been focusing on the causes and effects of climate change where it relates to biodiversity, ecosystems and poverty. It aims at ensuring ecosystems and communities play their full part in responding to climate change, and helps understand climate change by providing knowledge and the most accurate and up-to-date information about the effect of climate change on species, ecosystems and communities.

Although biodiversity conservation is an integrated process that brings many benefits, substantial resources are required to set up and support effective management regimes. Nepal needs to mainstream responses by integrating issues of climate change and variability into national economic and sector planning. As an agrarian country, we need to invest in adaptation strategies, such as helping farmers adopt alternative cropping and water management strategies in response to changing temperatures and precipitation patterns.

While environmental challenges and biodiversity loss act at local, national, regional, and global scales, it is time for Nepal to devise national level implementation plans to combat biodiversity loss and climate change and lay the foundation for sustainable development that eventually helps in making a rapid headway in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. After all, individual actions we all take make a difference when it comes to conserving Nepal's biodiversity.

Each of us make choices that will affect generations to come. The future of our biodiversity depends on those choices.

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