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Development but Not At The Cost Of Biodiversity: A Plan For “Living In Harmony With Nature”

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Authors: Partha PratimMitra and Prakash Sharma*

The United Nations General Assembly in 2006 adopted 22nd May every year as the International Day for Biological Diversity.The day commemorates the adoption of the agreed text of the Convention on Biological Diversity(CBD).This year’s slogan is “Our solutions are in nature”, which emphasizes upon ‘hope, solidarity and the importance of working together at all levels’, and a future built in harmony with nature. This year is important because it is the final year for three major instrument, namely United Nations Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020), the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020) and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

The year is also important because CBD is revising and working on another strategic plan to adopt post-2020 global biodiversity framework as a stepping stone towards the 2050 vision of “Living in harmony with nature”. The present paper discusses how ‘biodiversity’ is central to the development of environment discourse, especially when issues concerning ‘biodiversity’ makes international negotiations and agreements controversial and highly politicized. Amongst issues, perhaps three appears to be crucial i.e. national sovereignty; conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity; access and sharing of benefits of biodiversity.

CBD: Relevance

CBD was signed in the year of 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development(the Rio Earth Summit).CBD links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of sustainable using of biological resources. CBD has ensured that international environment law recognizes the conservation of biodiversity as “a common concern of humankind”, and at the same time remains an integral part of the development process.CBD is legally binding, and nation-states that join it are obliged to implement its provisions.

CBD covers ecosystems, species, genetic resources, biotechnology, and links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of using biological resources. It sets out principles for a fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. While it reminds decision-makers that natural resources are not infinite and its sustainable use, it recognizes that ecosystems, species and genes must be used for the benefit of humans. The earlier conservation efforts were only aimed at protecting particular species and habitats. Further, CBD offers guidance based on the precautionary principle to the decision makers and demands that where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat.

To date the Conference of the Parties (COP) has held 14 ordinary meetings, and one extraordinary meeting, namely the Biosafety Protocol, which was held in two parts. From 1994 to 1996, COP was held annually, and thereafter meetings were held less frequently. However, following a change in the rules of procedure in 2000, COPs were held every two years. COP is the governing body of the Convention, and advances implementation of the Convention through the decisions it takes at its periodic meetings.

Through its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, it addresses concern of technology development and transfer, benefit-sharing and biosafety issues. It is the first international regulatory framework for the safe transfer, handling and use of Living Modified Organisms. Likewise, the Jakarta Mandate on marine and coastal biological diversity was adopted by the CBD Parties in 1995 to underline the importance of establishing coastal and marine protected areas. Subsequently, the CBD Parties have agreed that marine and coastal protected areas are one of the essential tools and approaches in the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity. In the same year, Protocol concerning specially protected areas and biological diversity in the Mediterranean was adopted in Barcelona(came into force on 12 December, 1999). It is a key facilitator of CBD implementation in the Mediterranean area. Under the instrument, Parties are obliged to take necessary actions, In order to protect, preserve and manage in sustainable and environmentally sound way, areas of particular natural or cultural value, notably by the establishment of specially protected areas, and to protect, preserve and manage the threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna.

Another important instrument was the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization. Adopted in the year 2010, the instrument sets out core obligations for its contracting Parties to take measures in relation to access to genetic resources, benefit-sharing and compliance. It also creates incentives mechanism for conserving and sustainably using genetic resources for human well-being.

Balancing Intellectual Property Rights and Biological Diversity: Key Issues

Article 8 (j), CBD encourages to take steps that respect, preserve, maintain knowledge, innovations, practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It also suggests use of measures that promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits. Article 15(7), CBD mandates that each contracting Party, upon mutually agreed terms, shall take legislative, administrative or policy measures, with the aim of sharing in a fair and equitable way the results of research and development and the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilization of genetic resources with the contracting Party providing such resources. Under Article 16(5), CBD the contracting Parties are required to recognize patents and other intellectual property rights (IPRs)that may have an influence, and shall cooperate in this regard, subject to national legislation and international law in order to ensure that such rights are supportive of and do not run counter to its objectives.

Now, the current IPR regime encourages commercialization of seed development, monoculture, protection of new plant varieties, microorganisms, and genetically modified organisms. As a consequence, the rich biogenetic diversity is being eroded irreversibly. The relationship between the CBD and IPRs has been even considered by the COP in a number of decisions. In this regard, invitation was made to Word Trade Organization (WTO) to consider relevant provisions of CBD, their interrelationship with the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement, and to further explore this interrelationship. Policy-makers and members of civil society have registered concerns that the TRIPS Agreement promotes private commercial interests at the expense of public policy objectives contained in the CBD. It is disastrous to allow commercial priorities at the expense of the diverse eco-systems. The extent IPRs are considered essential to the industries, and in view of the increasing corporate control of biotechnological research, demands revisit of CBD. In this sense many argue that CBD is now regarded as a case of a hard treaty gone soft in the implementation trajectory.

Indian Position on Biodiversity Conservation

India plays a significant role in the protection of biodiversity acknowledges the value of biodiversity for sustaining and nourishing human communities. There are17 “mega-diverse” nation-states that contain 70 % of world’s biodiversity. India is one of these megadiverse countries with 2.4% of the land area, accounting for 7-8% of the species of the world, including about 91,000 species of animals and 45,500 species of plants, that have been documented in its ten bio-geographic regions. In order to honour the mandate of CBD, India had enacted the Biological Diversity Act, 2002for preservation of biological diversity, and establishes a mechanism for equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of traditional biological resources and knowledge. The Act establishes Authorities at both Central [National Biodiversity Authority (NBA)] and State level [State Biodiversity Board (SBB)].India has framed Guidelines on Access to Biological Resources and Associated Knowledge and Benefits Sharing Regulations, 2014 in pursuance of the Nagoya Protocol. As a result, any person who intends to obtain any IPR by whatever name called, in or outside India, for any invention based on any research or information on any biological resources obtained from India, shall make an application to the NBA in Form III of the Biological Diversity Rules, 2004.Now, where the applicant himself commercializes the process or product or innovation, the monetary sharing shall be in the range of 0.2 to 1.0% based on sectoral approach, which shall be worked out on the annual gross ex-factory sale minus government taxes. Likewise, where the applicant assigns or licenses the process or product or innovation to a third party for commercialization, the applicant shall pay to NBA monetary sharing of 3.0 to 5.0% of the fee received (in any form including the license or assignee fee) and 2.0 to 5.0% of the royalty amount received annually from the assignee or licensee, based on sectoral approach. However, any person applying for any right under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 is exempted from this procedure.

India is a leading country in having established a comprehensive legal and institutional system to realize the objectives of CBD. Besides, the efforts on behalf of NBA is recognized globally for its pioneering work to implement the CBD and fully operationalize the access and benefit-sharing provisions, among others through a national network of Biodiversity Management Committees, alongside the establishment of People Biodiversity Registers. There have been certain collaborative efforts, for instance the Government of India in collaboration with the Norwegian Government has established “Centre for Biodiversity Policy and Law” (CEBPOL) for strengthening the biodiversity policy and law in India.

Concluding remarks

Policy-makers have an important role to play in ensuring that policies and practices relating to IPRs, and the need for the conservation of biodiversity, remain mutually supportive. In this regard, Governments are required to adopt an integrated approach ‘across’and ‘between’ different national and international fora, to strictly implement the objectives and provisions of the CBD. Presently, CBD is in the epicenter of Global North-South debate, wherein developed States wants to promotes “scientific development, IPR for plant verities, genetically modified foods”,and developing States wants to extent protection on “agriculture, farmer’s rights, animal welfare, environment and ecology”.

We need to understand that the presentCOVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important is biodiversity in nature, and how scientific development and medicinal advancement are incomplete to handle situations like these. It is a clarion call from our creator is to remind ourselves of “live and let others live”. Extinction of species do affect our ecosystem, particularly when every specie has an important role to play on the planet. Biodiversity combines interactions of all living organisms and their existence on the planet. Only this time no Noah’s ark will come unless strict adherence to CBD is made. Indeed, itis possible to save all species in the mother earth because “Solutions are in Nature”.

*Assistant Professor, VSLLS, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.

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Green Planet

Increasing Frequency of Cyclones and Flooding Portends Worse Problems

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Sixteen years ago on August 29th, hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana coast causing widespread damage that was estimated at $125 billion.  This year, by a remarkable coincidence, hurricane Ida hit on the same date, again August 29th.  The weather service  holds the end of August though the beginning of September as the period with the highest likelihood of tropical cyclones hitting the Louisiana coast.  In light of this, perhaps the coincidence is not quite as uncanny.

While not as large as Katrina, hurricane Ida was more powerful with winds in excess of 150 miles per hour.  That is in line with climate scientists who now believe extreme weather events will tend to increase in both severity and frequency unless something is done about global warming.

Another example has been the heat wave last June in the Pacific Northwest in which hundreds of people died.  Canada set an all-time-high temperature record of 49.6 degrees Celsius in the village of Lytton.  The chance of all this happening without human-induced global warming is about 1 in a 1000.  However, the warming makes the event 150 times more likely. 

Following Ida was hurricane Larry.  Also powerful, it formed in the Atlantic but luckily for the Atlantic coast chose a path straight north.  These recurring extreme weather events have caught the attention of scientists.  Thus Myhre from the Center for Climate Research in Norway and his coauthors find a strong increase in frequency and confirm previously established intensity.  They collected data for Europe over a three-decade period (1951-1980) and repeated the process for 1984-2013.  This historical data also allowed them to develop climate models for the future, and, as one might imagine, the future is not rosy.

Expanding their horizon, the authors note that historical and future changes in Europe follow a similar pattern.  This does not hold when including the US, Japan and Australia which are likely to experience bigger changes.  Given intensity and frequency going hand in hand and also that the study considered natural variability alone, we can only dread the inclusion of human forcing through climate drivers like greenhouse gases.

For coastal residents, sea level rise adds to the hazard.  Worse, it is now a problem for people several miles inland.  In South Florida, drainage canals are used to return water to the ocean after storm and flooding events; the difficulty now lies in rising sea levels that hinder the efficiency of the drainage canals. 

Residents as far away as 20 miles inland have noticed water coming up their driveway, a new and frightening portend of the future.  The South Florida Water Management District oversees the canals.  It raises and lowers the gates controlling flow to the ocean or vice versa.  Thus they can open the gates to release flood water from storms to the ocean. 

The problem now is that the ocean level in the Atlantic during some storms is higher than the water level inland so they cannot open the gates — that would simply bring in more water.   

All of these happenings are clearly not a happy future prospect … unless we take global warming seriously and act soon. 

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Human activity the common link between disasters around the world

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Disasters such as cyclones, floods, and droughts are more connected than we might think, and human activity is the common thread, a UN report released on Wednesday reveals.

The study from the UN University, the academic and research arm of the UN, looks at 10 different disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021, and finds that, even though they occurred in very different locations and do not initially appear to have much in common, they are, in fact, interconnected.

A consequence of human influence

The study builds on the ground-breaking Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment released on 9 August, and based on improved data on historic heating, which showed that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years. António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General described the IPCC assessment as a “code red for humanity”.

Over the 2020-2021 period covered by the UN University, several record-breaking disasters took place, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a cold wave which crippled the US state of Texas, wildfires which destroyed almost 5 million acres of Amazon rainforest, and 9 heavy storms in Viet Nam – in the span of only 7 weeks.

Arctic-Texas link

Whilst these disasters occurred thousands of miles apart, the study shows how they are related to one another, and can have consequences for people living in distant places.

An example of this is the recent heatwave in the Arctic and cold wave in Texas. In 2020, the Arctic experienced unusually high air temperatures, and the second-lowest amount of sea ice cover on record.

This warm air destabilized the polar vortex, a spinning mass of cold air above the North Pole, allowing colder air to move southward into North America, contributing to the sub-zero temperatures in Texas, during which the power grid froze up, and 210 people died.

COVID and the Cyclone

Another example of the connections between disasters included in the study and the pandemic, is Cyclone Amphan, which struck the border region of India and Bangladesh.

In an area where almost 50 per cent of the population is living under the poverty line, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns left many people without any way to make a living, including migrant workers who were forced to return to their home areas and were housed in cyclone shelters while under quarantine.

When the region was hit by Cyclone Amphan, many people, concerned over social distancing, hygiene and privacy, avoided the shelters and decided to weather the storm in unsecure locations. In the aftermath, there was a spike in COVID-19 cases, compounding the 100 fatalities directly caused by Amphan, which also caused damage in excess of 13 billion USD and displaced 4.9 million people.

Root causes

The new report identifies three root causes that affected most of the events in the analysis: human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, insufficient disaster risk management, and undervaluing environmental costs and benefits in decision-making.

The first of these, human induced greenhouse gas emissions, is identified as one of the reasons why Texas experienced freezing temperatures, but these emissions also contribute to the formation of super cyclones such as Cyclone Amphan, on the other side of the world.

Insufficient disaster risk management, notes the study, was one of the reasons why Texas experienced such high losses of life and excessive infrastructure damage during the cold snap, and also contributed to the high losses caused by the Central Viet Nam floods.

The report also shows how the record rate of deforestation in the Amazon is linked to the high global demand for meat: this demand has led to an increase in the need for soy, which is used as animal feed for poultry. As a result, tracts of forest are being cut down.

“What we can learn from this report is that disasters we see happening around the world are much more interconnected than we may realize, and they are also connected to individual behaviour”, says one of the report’s authors, UNU scientist Jack O’Connor. “Our actions have consequences, for all of us,”

Solutions also linked

However, Mr. O’Connor is adamant that, just as the problems are interlinked, so are the solutions.

The report shows that cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions can positively affect the outcome of many different types of disasters, prevent a further increase in the frequency and severity of hazards, and protect biodiversity and ecosystems.

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Green Planet

Blue sky thinking: 5 things to know about air pollution

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Around 90 per cent of people go through their daily lives breathing harmful polluted air, which has been described by the United Nations as the most important health issue of our time. To mark the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, on 7 September, UN News explains how bad it is and what is being done to tackle it.

1) Air pollution kills millions and harms the environment

It may have dropped from the top of news headlines in recent months, but air pollution remains a lethal danger to many: it precipitates conditions including heart disease, lung disease, lung cancer and strokes, and is estimated to cause one in nine of all premature deaths, around seven million every year.

Air pollution is also harming also harms our natural environment. It decreases the oxygen supply in our oceans, makes it harder for plants to grow, and contributes to climate change.

Yet, despite the damage it causes, there are worrying signs that air pollution is not seen as a priority in many countries: in the first ever assessment of air quality laws, released on 2 September by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), it was revealed that around 43 per cent of countries lack a legal definition for air pollution, and almost a third of them have yet to adopt legally mandated outdoor air quality standards.

2) The main causes

 Five types of human activity are responsible for most air pollution: agriculture, transport, industry, waste and households.

Agricultural processes and livestock produce methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, and a cause of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Methane is also a by-product of waste burning, which emits other polluting toxins, which end up entering the food chain. Meanwhile industries release large amounts of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulate matter and chemicals.

Transport continues to be responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, despite the global phase out of dangerous leaded fuel at the end of August. This milestone was lauded by senior UN officials, including the Secretary-General, who said that it would prevent around one million premature deaths each year. However, vehicles continue to spew fine particulate matter, ozone, black carbon and nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere; it’s estimated that treating health conditions caused by air pollution costs approximately $1 trillion per year globally.

Whilst it may not come as a great shock to learn that these activities are harmful to health and the environment, some people may be surprised to hear that households are responsible for around 4.3 million deaths each year. This is because many households burn open fires and use inefficient stoves inside homes, belching out toxic particulate matter, carbon monoxide, lead and mercury.

3) This is an urgent issue

 The reason that the UN is ringing alarm bells about this issue now, is that the evidence of the effects of air pollution on humans is mounting. In recent years exposure to air pollution has been found to contribute to an increased risk of diabetes, dementia, impaired cognitive development and lower intelligence levels.

On top of this, we have known for years that it is linked to cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

Concern about this type of pollution dovetails with increased global action to tackle the climate crisis: this is an environmental issue as well as a health issue, and actions to clean up the skies would go a long way to reducing global warming. Other harmful environmental effects include depleted soil and waterways, endangered freshwater sources and lower crop yields.

4) Improving air quality is a responsibility of government and private sector

On International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, the UN is calling on governments to do more to cut air pollution and improve air quality.

Specific actions they could take include implementing integrated air quality and climate change policies; phasing out petrol and diesel cars; and committing to reduce emissions from the waste sector.

Businesses can also make a difference, by pledging to reduce and eventually eliminate waste; switching to low-emission or electric vehicles for their transport fleets; and find ways to cut emissions of air pollutants from their facilities and supply chains.

5)…and it is our responsibility, as well

At an individual level, as the harmful cost of household activities shows, a lot can be achieved if we change our behaviour.

Simple actions can include using public transportation, cycling or walking; reducing household waste and composting; eating less meat by switching to a plant-based diet; and conserving energy.

The Website for the International Day contains more ideas of actions that we can take, and how we can encourage our communities and cities to make changes that would contribute to cleaner skies: these include organizing tree-planting activities, raising awareness with events and exhibitions, and committing to expanding green open spaces.

How clean is your air?

You may well be wondering exactly how clean or dirty the air around you is right now. If so, take a look at a UNEP website which shows how exposed we are to air pollution, wherever we live.

The site indicates that more than five billion people, or around 70 per cent of the global population, are breathing air that is above the pollution limits recommended by the World Health Organization.

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