Asia’s Biodiversity Challenge
Image Credit: Dean Croshere

Asia’s Biodiversity Challenge


In your opening statement for the COP10 biodiversity conference, you described the global situation for biodiversity as, simply, ‘not good.’ You also said species are continuing to disappear ‘at up to 1000 times the natural background rate of extinction.’ Looking at the Asia-Pacific region specifically, what are your particular concerns?

The IPCC predicts that up to 50 percent of biodiversity in Asia is at risk due to climate change, while as much as 88 percent of its reefs may be lost over the next 30 years. Furthermore, as many as 1,522 plant species in China and 2,835 plants in Indo-Burma could become extinct.

Climate change is threatening the rich biodiversity heritage of the region, which sustains 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs and mangroves, produces 40 percent of the world’s fish catch and is considered one of the world’s centres for tropical marine biodiversity.

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Moreover, biodiversity is disappearing faster from the Greater Mekong Sub-Region than anywhere else on Earth. The ASEAN region, although covering only 3 percent of the Earth’s surface, serves as the natural habitat of up to 40 percent of the world's plant and animal species.Deforestation rates here are at least twice as high as other tropical areas. All this means that if present levels of deforestation continue, ASEAN will lose nearly three quarters of its original forest cover—and up to 42 percent of its biodiversity—by the next century.

Are there any positive examples in the Asia-Pacific region you would point to for how to tackle this problem?

An example that stands out comes from the South Pacific. In the past decade, more than 12,000 square kilometres in the region have been brought under a community-based system of marine resource management known as Locally-Managed Marine Areas.

The initiative involves 500 communities in 15 Pacific Island States and has helped achieve widespread livelihood and conservation objectives based on traditional knowledge, customary tenure and governance, combined with local awareness of the need for action and the likely benefits if something is done. These benefits include the recovery of natural resources, greater food security and improved governance and health.

Looking at Fiji as an example, the results of LMMA implementation since 1997 have included a 20-fold increase in clam density in areas where fishing is banned, an average of 200-300 percent increases in harvest in adjacent areas, a tripling of fish catches and a 35 percent to 45 percent increase in household incomes. Such initiatives need to be widely replicated.

How damaging has it been to efforts to maintain biological diversity that the world’s largest economy, the United States, is one of the only countries not to have ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity? How difficult is it to tackle this problem without it doing so?

While the United States participates as an observer to all major CBD meetings including its Conference of the Parties, the time has come for the US to stop holding observer status and to play its role as a world leader in showing the way ahead in protecting life on Earth.

Having the US as a party is immensely important due to the country’s leadership role in the world and the knowhow and resources it can bring to bear on biodiversity-related issues. The implementation of the international community’s 2011-2020 biodiversity strategy will require the full engagement of all stakeholders and all governments without exception. US accession to the CBD would make an immeasurable contribution to this process.

International meetings are often dismissed as talking shops. What kind of results are you hoping to achieve during the talks in Nagoya?

We have an ambitious agenda that’s geared toward producing results on the ground over the coming decade. In Nagoya, we’re expected to adopt a new biodiversity strategy for 2011-2020, which will incorporate a 2050 biodiversity vision, a 2020 biodiversity target and sub-targets and contain a means of implementation as well as monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. These targets are being established with a clear underlying logic consistent with the available scientific evidence, including the scientific review of biodiversity projections prepared for the Convention’s publication Global Biodiversity Outlook 3. The targets will then serve as guidance for countries who will tailor them to their individual circumstances, which can vary quite a bit from nation to nation.  Countries will be asked to set concrete national targets and to develop appropriate assessment criteria for achieving them.

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