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Biodiversity loss -A threat to our very existence

Tue, 13/07/2021 - 13:21
Edition
April - June 2021

There is something hopeful and inspirational about summer. It is that time of the year when nature is at its bountiful best with flowers blooming, birds singing, bees buzzing and the environment in general is more vibrant and colourful. However, climate change is threatening to take away from us everything that we have come to love.

"We are ravaging the very ecosystems that provide us with the food, water and resources we need to survive. The Earth is resilient, but she needs our help”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres 

The humble bee that we take for granted, plays a pivotal role in our survival. It is estimated that one third of the food that we consume each day relies on pollination, mainly by bees. As per a recent study, global warming is causing flowers to bloom much earlier than they did a decade ago. The bees on the other hand are not keeping up with the pace. This has impacted the synchronization between flowers and bees which is one of the major reasons for a decline in their population.The decline in the population of bees and other pollinators can seriously impact the global food supply by consequently affecting the production of fruits and propagation of many vegetables. A basic coevality between humans, plants and pollinators is imperative for human sustenance. 

However, this disconnect in the symbiotic relationship between bees and flowering plants can also potentially lead to the extinction of other related organisms as the fate of multiple species in an ecosystem is closely intertwined. This is just a tipping point of an impending biodiversity collapse. Climate change has caused a global decrease in biodiversity like never before.

The Living Planet report 2020 published by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has reported a colossal 68% species loss in the past 50 years alone. The report states that around 75% of the world’s ice-free land is altered and there is a decrease in the area of wetlands by 85%. The marine ecosystems are also rapidly changing with 90% of the big fish population depleted and 50% of the coral reefs destroyed. The integrity of the ecosystem that we depend upon is being threatened. The forests, grasslands, wetlands and other related ecosystems are constantly being destroyed and degraded  primarily because of human activity. One of the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss in land is conversion of pristine habitats to agricultural systems and in the sea, it is overfishing. The worrying factor is that this trend shows no sign of slowing down. 

Zooming on the home front, India is known for its rich and diverse biodiversity but it is under severe threat of being endangered. Four of the main thirty six biodiversity hotspots in the world are found in India. These hotspots include the Himalayas, the Western Ghats, the Indo-Burma region and the Sundaland. According to a recent report entitled “State of India’s environment in figures, 2021” published by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), around 25 species have already gone extinct. The Indo-Burma hotspot in particular has lost 95% of its vegetation area while the total area lost in these four hotspots together is 90%. What was initially 23.73 lakh sq km has been restricted to a mere 1.18 lakh sq km. To make the situation worse, there has been an unprecedented increase in forest fires this year. As of May, a whopping 4.33 lakh forest fires have been recorded with Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh reporting the maximum forest fire incidences. Forest fires cause great harm to the biodiversity and ecosystems that depend on it.

Despite these depressing statistics, one good thing that has come out, is that the world is finally waking up to the crisis. The current COVID19 pandemic along with the threats of climate change and biodiversity loss has instilled fear and developed a sense of urgency among individuals and nations and serious steps to combat its catastrophic effects are envisaged. 

The Biological Diversity Act (BD Act) was implemented by the Government of India in 2002 to halt and reverse the effect of biodiversity loss. This became operational after the adaptation of Biodiversity Rules in 2004. The three structures created under BD Act are the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) at the national level, the State Biodiversity Boards (SSBs) at the state level and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at the local level. The BMCs, despite being a powerful statutory body, are still in the initial stages of their formation. Lack of interest by implementation agencies and lack of clarity among beneficiaries are some of the challenges that hinder the functioning of BMC. It also has a long way to go before being recognized as a constitutionally mandated statutory authority.

Apart from this, the Indian Government has also taken quite a few initiatives to conserve and protect biodiversity. Some of the popular initiatives include Nagar Van Udyan Scheme, Project Tiger, the National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCP) and Green Skill Development Programme. But these steps are too little too late in comparison to the magnitude of the rate at which biodiversity loss is happening. 

To conclude, if radical and drastic steps are not taken to combat the massive and rapid extinctions of species, basic human well-being is at grave risk. It has been established that climate change is one of the main reasons for biodiversity loss and diminishing ecosystems. There is an urgent need to move away from fossil fuels and embrace clean energy alternatives. Apart from this, ambitious conservation efforts and appropriate legislation to protect wildlife and steps to combat habitat loss, ocean mining and deforestation is required. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), it is estimated that 1.3 billion tonnes, roughly around one third of all the food produced globally for human consumption is wasted and India alone wastes 40% of the food produced. The way we produce and consume resources needs to be rethought. Transformative changes in farming and sustainable living needs to be practised and we need to start living in harmony with nature.

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