In 1992, the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro hosted the UN Conference on Environment and Development that the world now remembers as the “Earth Summit”. It was a successful event at a time when international relations were still reeling under the immediate after of Cold War. The “only superpower” left in the world at that time the US was represented by her President as was the case with many heads of the states.
The Summit was the birth place of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Another convention was also signed here – Convention on Bio Diversity (CBD) – that came into force the next year (1993).
The idea behind the convention on biodiversity was to save the global biological diversity on land and ocean, in flora and fauna. All the 192 nations within the UN fold and European Union became a party to it.
In 2002, ten years after coming into existence, the parties within the convention took a commitment to bring down the rate of biodiversity decline by 2010.
This great goal was endorsed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa and at the UN General Assembly the same year (2002). It also became one of the additional targets in the Millennium Development Goals (Ensure Environmental Sustainability).
However, by 2010 when the Convention on Biodiversity’s Secretariat published its 3rd Global Biodiversity outlook none of the targets were met by any of the 192 countries who were party to the convention.
Off the 21 sub targets only two showed a healthy increase. The areas under protected ecological zones had increased along with the Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to the efforts undertaken for biodiversity conservation.
A question that begs an answer is when the ODA was increasing for the eight years in a row and so were the protected ecological zones than why were other indicators showing a negative trend.
The answer lie in details as well as the approach of almost all the government both the developed and the developing.
These governments have tried to approach the issue of biodiversity conservation from the stand point of a very old bureaucratic stratagem. This stratagem is called “work to rule”. It means you only bare minimum to save your skin from any opprobrium and keep ticking all the boxes so that what is expected of you is seen to be done. Whether it’s actually been done or not is of none of your concern.
Most of the governments have followed this path for most of the time. Announcing reserve forest, protected forest, reserved marine parks etc are an exercise in the same direction. It takes some administrative effort to ear mark an area on the map as protected. So not much sweat is lost in carrying out this exercise.
Great Himalayan National Park in the upper reaches of Indian section of Himalayas is a case in point. Most of the area over 10000 feet above the sea level has been earmarked as protected ecological zone. However, as it is remote and treacherous terrain not many people go there anyway, but those who are able to reach have a field day in causing whatever harm they can as there is no check.
The same is the case with many national parks where big game animals have disappeared even when they were declared as protected. Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary, close to the national capital New Delhi, has lost its tiger population long ago to poachers.
Another reason why these protected areas are created has to do with employment and entitlement, privileges and powers. Once these areas are earmarked a task force and a bureaucracy starts building up around them. A sizeable chunk of the budget goes in maintaining the personnel and at times schemes and equipments aren’t bought as there is no money to source them.
Also as the entry is restricted, the permits are issued and it creates its own dynamics which is a euphemism for corruption. The task force or the rangers are there to deter the ordinary public which is already law abiding, but it has no power over poachers as they are well armed and highly motivated due to the profits involved.
It is due to this that the rising extent and areas of protected zones aren’t producing the desired results as they should have by now. Even when the year 2010 was declared the “year of biodiversity” it hardly made an impact on the scale of poaching and other threats to ecosystems.
The UN Secretary General expressed his sadness when he said in the foreword of the 3rd Biodiversity Outlook, “…conserving biodiversity cannot be an afterthought once other objectives are addressed – it is the foundation on which many of these objectives are built. We need a new vision for biological diversity for a healthy planet and a sustainable future for humankind.”
However, not all is lost as the report suggests there are many small but encouraging stories of successful conservation efforts and revival of ecosystems. These have been achieved due to the active participation from the government as well as the public.
This brings us to an understanding that overseas development assistance should be tweaked in a manner where it is only provided to projects that have shown some sort of success and continuity.
Mere earmarking of certain areas should never be taken as an aggressive and proactive effort to save biodiversity. Actually it would be better to drop it from 21 sub targets. The better thing would be to prepare a detailed assessment check list that should be employed to assess the health of a protected area.
Once it has been established beyond doubt that yes they have performed consistently well over a period of five years than ODA should be extended to them. A strict monitoring code should be in place to see the future progress and the moment it is seen that the local government is being lax the ODA should be suspended for three years as a penalty.
These checks and balances, though not enough, will form an important part of the strategy to save global biodiversity.
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