The strongest message to emerge from the global conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad is that countries allowing their natural capital to be rapidly depleted and destroyed in pursuit of short-term goals are dangerously risking their future. Many examples from around the world underscore the importance of diverse plant and animal species to agriculture, human health, climate and the complex web of interactions that make up an ecosystem. It is important to note, for example, that the latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies 20,219 of the 65,518 species listed, as facing extinction. Given the rising threat, the Conference of the Parties to the CBD have done well to commit themselves to a doubling of biodiversity funding for developing countries, although from a modest baseline. India, which has assumed the presidency of the conference and is itself biodiversity-rich, must show leadership by mainstreaming ecosystem concerns in development policy. It has won plaudits by allocating $50 million towards building technical and human capacity to attain biodiversity conservation goals in the country. But the real test lies in its commitment towards strengthening and implementing national laws on environment protection, forests, wetlands, marine areas, wildlife, tribal welfare, air quality and urban development. Some key laws, notably the Environment (Protection) Act, are weakly enforced at present, if at all. State governments share a considerable part of the blame for rendering the law sterile.
Arguably, some of the most important takeaways for participants of the Hyderabad meet come from the findings of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity studies. They show that nature is critically important to the livelihood of millions, and in India, 47 per cent of the ‘GDP of the Poor’ comes from ecosystem services. It is heartening that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged this contribution of natural capital to the economy of the less affluent — in comparison with conventional GDP measurements. There are valuable insights also for urban areas in the ‘Cities and Biodiversity Outlook’ study. A preliminary assessment of Bangalore, for instance, has demonstrated the value of biodiversity to slum livelihoods, in the form of food and herbal medicines. Local body governments, however, were found to have insufficient knowledge on sustainable development. These are pointers to the work that lies ahead. The CBD’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and its Aichi Targets for 2020 call for speedy action to stem losses. India must lead by example over the next two years.