The Eleventh Ordinary Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has recently been held (8-19 October) in Hyderabad, India. The periodic meetings of the COP, which make many significant decisions on how to advance and ensure implementation of the Convention decisions, resume high importance for member countries on many grounds, for making required plans and policies, tracking on individual member’s assures to the Secretariat with realities, undertaking new and emerging challenges into decision making, among others. As being the highest global body on biodiversity, any decision made by the COP connotes high regional, national and international importance. Bangladesh, being a signatory of the CBD, thus needs to be bothered about the outcomes from the COP 11 and also to embark upon impeding large-scale degradation of its biological resources.
The Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 adopted three very important international conventions: (a) United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, a framework for stopping desertification and forest destruction; (b) United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), to limit the release of polluting gases into the atmosphere to slow the process of global warming; and (c) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a legally binding biodiversity treaty intended to save plant and animal species from becoming extinct. Out of these three conventions, UNFCCC got maximum focus at the policy level and also by the global media due to many obvious reasons. On the other hand, Convention to Combat Desertification never gets a real instigation by the UN member states, while the COP meetings to CBD continued to remain more of ceremonial events, although many important decisions have been made and the global communities were urged to implement these decisions for managing the biological resources for sustainability. Yet, keeping in mind the fast degrading state of biological resources of the earth, COPs should resume high importance by the member states like Bangladesh which are facing large-scale degradation of biodiversity.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has three important goals: conservation of biological diversity; sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources. To realize these goals CBD aims to make national and international policies required to protect and manage local, regional and global biological resources which are essential to acquire sustainable development. Moreover, biodiversity remains at the heart of attaining sustainable rural livelihoods, green development and eco-friendly growth which in recent years got much global attention.
Besides this year’s COP meeting, ten other ordinary and one extra-ordinary meetings of the parties were held since the first meeting of Nassau, Bahamas in1994. The last COP meeting was held in Nagoya of Japan (18-29 October 2010), where the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization to the CBD was adopted by the parties on 29 October 2010. Moreover, the year 2010 was declared as the ‘International Year of Biodiversity’, while the UN declared the period from 2011 to 2020 as the ‘UN Decade on Biodiversity’ to promote need for caring about the wealth of biological resources and their sustainable management for larger benefits. This year’s COP 11 is a step further to move forward in managing global stock of biodiversity and ensures better treatment to endangered biological resources for our own ends.
The slogan of this year’s COP (COP 11) rightly flags on the need for protecting global biological resources with an urge to “Prakruti Rakshti Rakshita or nature protects if she is protected”. Mother earth’s benevolent offering to her offspring with numerous biological resources have not only enabled human society to grow and nourish them, but their very existence also depends highly on biodiversity.
The agenda of the COP 11 includes, items related to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits arising from their Utilization (ABS); implementation of the Strategic Plan 2011-2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets; financial resources and the financial mechanism; cooperation, outreach and the UN Decade on Biodiversity; review of the programme of work on island biodiversity (PoWIB); operations of the Convention; Article 8(j) and related provisions (traditional knowledge); ecosystem restoration; marine and coastal biodiversity; biodiversity and climate change; biodiversity and development; and other substantive, administrative and budgetary matters, among others.
Bangladesh, on 5th June 1992 at the UN Conference on Environment and Development, became a signatory of the CBD, while it also became the 42nd signatory to the Nagoya Protocol in 2010 and is thus committed to preserve its rich biodiversity, including genetic diversity. In line with the CBD principles, Bangladesh prepared the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan in 2004 as a commitment to fulfil its international obligations on this regard and also to conserve nation’s biodiversity for sustainable livelihoods and development. The country has also now drafted a ‘Bangladesh Biological Diversity Act 2012’ which is currently been available on the Ministry of Environment and Forests’ (MoEF) official website for public scrutiny and comments. Besides them, the country also has other national plans and policies which have enough provisions to safeguard its environment and biodiversity.
Yet, looking at the state of environment and biodiversity of Bangladesh, many areas of great concerns can be identified. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012 (Version 2012.2) identifies as many as 124 species of all categories from Bangladesh which are categorized as threatened. It is also observed that almost all South Asian neighbours of Bangladesh too are facing similar threats of biodiversity loss, figures are 935, 561, 95, 62 and 61 for India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan, respectively. Out of the 124 species found in Bangladesh, 34 are mammals, 31 birds, 22 reptiles, 17 fish and 17 plant species, besides a few others which are categorized as threatened in Bangladesh. The list has further categorized the extent of threats to different levels. It is found that at least 15 animals and 5 plant species are critically endangered in Bangladesh, while as many as 31 animal and 4 plant species are categorized as endangered. It also listed 61 animal species and 8 plant species as vulnerable, while 69 animal and 5 plant species are termed as near threatened in Bangladesh. It should also be mentioned that many of threatened species still remains out of the official count and are not included in this list.
Looking at the most important habitat for biodiversity in Bangladesh, its vast available wetlands, homes of numerous fish, plant, reptile and other types of species, are fast degrading and losing their natural ecosystems. Most of the smaller beels in Bangladesh are now found to be either converted into agriculture fields or cultured fisheries and many of their natural biological elements are either destroyed or went extinct. Unsustainable extraction and indiscriminate consumption of wetland resources like fishes, wetland vegetations and run-offs from chemicals and pesticides used for agriculture and industries have, on the other hand, nearly destroyed most wetland ecosystems of the country. Similarly, natural forests and forest biodiversity are at the edge of extinction. Our marine resources are also extracted without considering their sustainability. Most of the natural ecosystems surrounding cities or even smaller urban areas have been degraded, which have mostly their natural biodiversity.
Despite Bangladesh has number of strong policies and plans to protect environmental and biological resources, the country is continuously losing its biodiversity because of their poor implementation and also due to human ignorance. We failed to recognize biodiversity as a rich and essential source of our food, nutrition and nourishment for advancing country’s economy and fostering her prosperity. The time has thus come to ask our conscience whether Bangladesh, as a signatory of the CBD, has been able to take enough real steps besides just drafting some of the fantastic plans and policies to protect our biological resources for sustainable livelihoods and to promote eco-friendly development process which may enable the country to achieve the targets and visions it envisaged.
In this regard, the COP 11 of the CBD should resume high significance by the state in its actions and practices towards saving biodiversity.
A. K. M. Nazrul Islam is an Associate Professor of environmental economics, associated with the newly established Dhaka School o Economics, DScE (a constituent institution of the University of Dhaka).