Despite all the concrete developments and luxuries of the 21st century, we are in universal agreement that nature is essential for humanity’s survival. By providing various ecosystem services, the world’s biodiversity plays an irreplaceable role in providing food, water, air, energy, medicine, and a wide range of products and services—all of which determine the quality of our lives. This International Biodiversity Day (May 22) calls for a key reminder: Our “solutions are in nature” and our focus, attention, and commitments should reflect this awareness.
The estimates are telling: more than two billion people rely on fuelwood to meet their primary energy needs, four billion people rely primarily on natural medicines for their health care, and some 70 percent of drugs used for cancer are natural or are synthetic products inspired by nature. Human dependence on biodiversity is increasing as more and more resources are extracted at the cost of nature’s ability to continue providing these solutions for future generations.
But despite the fact that we turn to the natural world for our solutions, our growing dependence has led to its rapid decline. The Living Planet Index, a global measure of the health of populations of species, reported in 2018 that the world has seen ‘a decline of 60 percent in size of populations of vertebrate species between 1970-2014’. Among them, freshwater species populations have suffered the largest decline of 83 percent, which on an average means a decline of around four percent a year from 1970. Habitat degradation and loss, and overexploitation are responsible for more than two thirds of the threats for all animal species.
Even after 27 years since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, where the first global commitment for biodiversity conservation was agreed upon in order to avoid a scenario of further biodiversity loss, the problem has amassed in severity. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has three main objectives: conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of the components of biological diversity, and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
Nepal ratified the CBD on 23 November 1993, and the convention was enforced in Nepal from 21 February 21 1994. Nepal has expressed its commitment to meet the objectives and targets of the convention through various acts, plans, and policies. The National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014-2020, a guiding framework for the management of Nepal’s biodiversity on a sustainable basis for the benefit of present and future generations, is one such example.
While Nepal has made significant achievements in biodiversity conservation, we are also at a critical juncture in our development trajectory. As Nepal moves forward in its phase of rapid development, the future of key major freshwater sources and terrestrial biodiversity hangs in a precarious balance. Habitat loss through human encroachment, infrastructure development, agriculture expansion along with unsustainable harvesting, forest fires and overgrazing, continue to threaten Nepal's biodiversity.
All these threats vary in impact, according to scale, intensity and irreversibility, and need to be identified, prioritized, and addressed accordingly. In this phase of growth, we have the opportunity to learn from changing development paradigms that highlight the role of sustainability. Factoring nature’s role as a solution-provider is vital as we devise economic solutions for recovery.
Humanity’s relationship with nature demands urgent revisiting and reestablishment. Year 2020 was supposed to be a key juncture in this history, with major dialogues, deliberations, and decisions to be made around climate change, and biodiversity conservation largely for improving the quality of human lives. But today, amid the tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic and all its economic and social implications, we are forced to realize the long-standing global environmental crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.
We are at the point of time when biodiversity loss is at its peak, or as some experts put it, “a tipping point.” Given that we understand the value of biodiversity better and we now know the scale of the problem—and the potential scale of the solution as well—we have the opportunity to ‘bend the curve’ or even reverse the loss of biodiversity for the well-being of humans and all life forms on earth.
Post-2020, the CBD has an ambitious vision where by 2050 biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet, and delivering benefits essential for all people. To contribute to this global vision and the national vision of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali,’ Nepal will also need to establish a post-2020 roadmap which determines goals for biodiversity conservation, develops measurable indicators for the same, and identifies an array of actions to support the achievement of these goals.
There is a pressing need to safeguard our planet's natural spaces, stop the loss of species therein (and the diversity of life) and apply a sustainable approach to our production and consumption in order to guarantee adequate food and water for human communities.
Traditional biodiversity conservation interventions such as species, protected area and landscape management will always remain key, but actions must also address major drivers of biodiversity loss and ecosystem changes, considering all emerging threats and challenges. There is a need to come up with approaches and strategies that can contribute to a combination of economic, societal and environmental goals, avoiding trade-offs and emphasizing win-win scenarios—ultimately leading to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature.
The author is the Climate and Energy Lead at WWF Nepal