As a biodiversity convention key member, India’s pandemic recovery must be greened
The UN Summit on Biodiversity convened on September 30 in the midst of a global crisis caused by the novel coronavirus that is thought to have spilled over to humans from an animal reservoir. In New York, member-nations of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) took note of the link between biodiversity loss and the spread of animal pathogens, calling for an end to destructive industrial and commercial practices. There is consensus that conservation targets set a decade ago in Aichi, Japan, to be achieved by 2020, have spectacularly failed. Evidence is presented by the latest UN Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report: none of the 20 targets has been fully met. Many countries have chosen to ignore the connection between biodiversity and well-being, and depleted ecological capital in pursuit of financial prosperity. Among the Aichi targets that fell by the wayside are those on reform or phasing out of subsidies that erode biodiversity, steps for resource use within safe ecological limits, preventing industrial fisheries from destroying threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems, and an end to pollution, including growing plastic waste. A bright spot is the partial progress made on protecting surface and subsurface water, inland, coastal and marine areas. But the losses appear even more stark from WWF’s Living Planet Index, which points to precipitous declines in vertebrate populations, a key indicator, by 68% over 1970 levels. Faced with fast-eroding ecosystem health, the 196 CBD member-countries must chart a greener course, aligning it with the Paris Agreement, which has a significant impact on the health of flora and fauna.
At Wednesday’s summit, India’s message was one of pride in an ancient conservation tradition, as one of the few megadiverse countries, and one that recognised the value of nature as much as the destructive impact of unregulated resources exploitation. National laws of the 1970s and 1980s have indeed shielded islands of biodiversity, particularly in about 5% of the country’s land designated as protected areas, but they are today seen as irritants to speedy extraction of natural resources. In this unseemly hurry, due process is sought to be dispensed with, as envisaged by the new EIA norms proposed by the NDA government. There is little concern for indigenous communities that have fostered biodiversity, and no effort to make them strong partners in improving the health of forests and buffer zones. Now that CBD members are set to draw up fresh conservation targets to be finalised next year, India too has the opportunity to plan a trajectory of green growth after COVID-19, around clean energy, ecological agriculture, a freeze on expansion of mining and dam-building, resource recovery from waste, and regeneration of arid lands. It should join the coalition of the enlightened.