Biodiversity integral to reducing poverty


CRITICAL NEED: Weaving it into development goals can bring about major change

THE world is slowly moving to what many hope to be a new universal agenda on development, an agenda that will be even more successful than the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have been the driving force behind reducing poverty faster than at any other time in human history. 

But if a universal agenda is to be adopted, it must be comprehensive while, at the same time, practical and must also build on the lessons learned from the MDGs. This will be no easy feat and it will preoccupy the governments at the United Nations General Assembly for the next few years.

While some goals will be obvious, because they will be trying to complete the unfinished work of the MDGs, such as access to sanitation and health services and primary school education, others will be much more complicated. Biodiversity is one of the most complicated, but also one of the most critical to overall human wellbeing.

We need to reduce CO² emissions before climate change is completely out of control and the cost of cleaning up exceeds those of avoiding the problems to begin with or irreversible. But understanding the critical need to conserve biodiversity is not so straightforward, despite biodiversity being at the fulcrum of human life.

Biodiversity provides the building blocks for human life. On the most fundamental level, it provides food, fibre, fuel, medicinal plants and renewable natural resources for human development. Biodiversity is an essential service provider, giving us natural filtration for clean water, carbon storage and oxygen production. It regulates pests and diseases and the whole pollination cycle that ensures life is created and recreated. But this can only happen when biodiverse ecosystems function well. The poorest people around the world, those that the new Post-2015 Development Agenda wants to help above all, are the most dependent on biodiversity for their livelihoods.

But as biodiversity is integral to all human wellbeing and development, how are we to capture a single goal that will ensure its continued existence as a building block of life? Some say that this is impossible and such a target would be intangible and too broad. A better approach would be to weave biodiversity into development goals, such as those related to poverty reduction, access to clean water and sanitation, food security and human health. This camp argues that there would be too many environmental issues wrapped up into one new universal agenda that must remain practical, attainable and measurable without being diluted.

We need to do both. We need to ensure that we understand the value of biodiversity in delivering other critical goals and monitor and track its role with clear indicators, but we also need a single goal to serve as an incentive for action and raise badly needed financial resources to support the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity.

Given that biodiversity underpins all of human wellbeing, we must not lose track of its importance, despite the paradox that when something is everything, it is also nothing. In other words, when it comes to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, if we do not have a specific goal, then we will not be able to set the right conditions and priorities to achieve it. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon's blue ribbon panel chaired by the heads of state of Indonesia, Liberia and the United Kingdom got it right. Their report recommends a specific goal: to "safeguard ecosystems and, species and genetic diversity". Let us hope that this recommendation will survive the political wrangling that inevitably happens in the General Assembly when trying to balance the interests of development with the environment and social welfare.

This week, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak will preside over a high-level panel that is meeting in Kuala Lumpur, bringing together top policymakers and experts from around the world. They will discuss the role of biodiversity and the Post-2015 Agenda and how to devise a way forward of understanding the capacities that are required to enable developing countries to conserve and use biodiversity and ensure it remains the provider of essential services for generations to come.

Like most things in life, biodiversity is complicated, but the fact that it is complicated should not deter us from trying to give it a simpler label and place it in the new universal agenda for the world.

No country could be more apt for this event to take place than Malaysia, one of the 17th most biodiverse places on the face of this planet and a country which has demonstrated that it can carry out development in a sustainable manner.

Poverty can be reduced by inculcating biodiversity in the universal agenda. Reuters pic

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