The adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework at COP 15 brings a renewed sense of hope for biodiversity conservation worldwide. This year's International Day for Biological Diversity celebrates the transition from agreement to action and emphasises the urgent need for implementation.
India plays a crucial role in this global endeavour with its rich biodiversity and diverse ecosystems. Here, I explore India's role in building back biodiversity and highlight the importance of concerted efforts to protect and restore nature.
India's Extraordinary Biodiversity Heritage and Quest for Conservation
India has an extraordinary wealth of biodiversity, making it one of the world's mega-diverse countries. Its diverse landscapes, ranging from the lofty mountains of the Himalayas to the coastal plains, deserts, and tropical rainforests, provide habitats for an astounding array of flora and fauna. India's biodiversity heritage encompasses many ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, grasslands, and marine environments.
The country's rich biodiversity is reflected in its staggering number of species. India is home to approximately 7-8 percent of the world's recorded species, with over 91,000 animal species and more than 45,000 plant species. It is a global hotspot for biodiversity, harbouring several endemic and endangered species. From the majestic Bengal Tiger to the Asiatic Lion, Indian Elephant, and the rare One-Horned Rhinoceros, the country's iconic wildlife captivates the imagination of nature enthusiasts worldwide.
India's biodiversity heritage extends beyond charismatic megafauna. Its ecosystems support a myriad of life forms, from tiny insects and birds to unique plant species. The Western Ghats, recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a biodiversity hotspot of global importance. It is home to thousands of plant species, including medicinal plants with significant cultural and economic value.
Furthermore, India's traditional knowledge systems have played a vital role in preserving biodiversity. Indigenous communities understand local ecosystems intimately and have developed sustainable practices over centuries. Their knowledge of medicinal plants, agricultural practices, and conservation techniques is invaluable for biodiversity conservation and sustainable resource management.
Recognising the significance of its biodiversity heritage, India has established a network of protected areas, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and biosphere reserves to safeguard its unique ecosystems and species. These protected areas serve as vital habitats for endangered wildlife, including the Royal Bengal Tiger and the Indian Elephant.
Preserving India's biodiversity heritage is crucial not only for the nation but also for the global community. India's conservation and sustainable development commitment can inspire other countries to protect their natural treasures. By valuing and safeguarding its biodiversity, India can contribute to global efforts to build a sustainable future and ensure the survival of diverse life forms for generations to come.
Overcoming Challenges to Safeguard Biodiversity
India's remarkable biodiversity faces numerous challenges and threats that endanger its survival and ecological balance. These challenges arise from human activities, unsustainable practices, and external factors. Recognising and addressing these threats is essential to protect India's rich biodiversity heritage.
One of the primary challenges is habitat destruction and fragmentation. Rapid urbanisation, industrial expansion, and infrastructure development lead to the conversion of natural habitats into human-dominated landscapes. Deforestation, land degradation, and encroachment on forested areas result in the loss of critical habitats for many species. Fragmentation of habitats also disrupts ecological connectivity and hampers the movement of wildlife, leading to genetic isolation and reduced biodiversity.
Another significant threat is pollution, including air and water pollution. Industrial and agricultural activities, urban waste, and improper disposal of chemicals and waste contribute to pollution that adversely affects ecosystems and species. Pollution degrades water bodies, impacts aquatic life, and poses a risk to sensitive ecosystems like coral reefs and mangroves.
Illegal wildlife trade is a pressing issue that severely threatens India's biodiversity. Poaching, smuggling, and trafficking of endangered species and their body parts drive several species towards extinction. The demand for exotic pets, traditional medicines, and luxury goods fuels this illegal trade, undermining conservation efforts and decimating wildlife populations.
Climate change is an external factor that exacerbates India’s biodiversity threats. Rising temperatures, altered rainfall patterns, and extreme weather events disrupt ecosystems, affect species distribution and migration patterns, and lead to habitat loss. Due to ocean acidification and sea-level rise, climate change also challenges marine ecosystems’ survival, such as coral reefs.
Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts from government, communities, and stakeholders. Robust policies, legislation, effective enforcement, and community engagement are crucial to mitigate habitat destruction, combat pollution, and curb illegal wildlife trade. Sustainable land-use practices, conservation education, and integrating climate change adaptation strategies into biodiversity management are essential to safeguard India's diverse ecosystems and species.
Guardians of Nature: India's Indigenous Wisdom and Sustainable Practices
India is a land that boasts a rich tapestry of indigenous communities, each with its unique cultures, traditions, and deep connections to nature. These communities hold invaluable knowledge and practices passed down through generations, offering profound insights into sustainable living and biodiversity conservation.
Indigenous knowledge systems in India have long recognised the interdependence between humans and the natural world. These communities possess a deep understanding of local ecosystems, including the behaviour of wildlife, the medicinal properties of plants, and the sustainable use of resources. Their traditional practices revolve around maintaining a harmonious relationship with nature, ensuring the longevity and resilience of ecosystems.
One striking aspect of indigenous knowledge is the sustainable management of natural resources. Practices such as rotational grazing, mixed cropping, and water harvesting techniques demonstrate a profound understanding of ecological balance and long-term sustainability. Indigenous communities in India have practised agroforestry, which involves the integration of trees with crops, providing multiple benefits such as soil conservation, biodiversity enhancement, and improved water management.
Furthermore, traditional ecological knowledge plays a crucial role in conserving biodiversity-rich areas. Indigenous communities act as custodians of forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems, employing their wisdom to protect and manage these vital habitats. They possess an intricate knowledge of various species' behaviour and habitat requirements, helping preserve critical wildlife corridors and maintain ecological connectivity.
Recognising the value of indigenous knowledge and sustainable practices, efforts are being made to integrate them into mainstream conservation strategies. Collaboration between indigenous communities, researchers, and policymakers is essential to harness this knowledge effectively. Involving indigenous communities in decision-making processes and empowering them with land rights and resource management can ensure preserving their traditions and continuing sustainable practices.
By embracing and incorporating indigenous knowledge, India can enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of biodiversity conservation efforts. Providing platforms for knowledge exchange, promoting cultural preservation, and fostering mutual respect and collaboration between indigenous communities and the wider society is crucial. By valuing and supporting indigenous knowledge, India can forge a more harmonious and sustainable coexistence with the natural world.
Protecting India's Natural Treasures
India boasts of an extensive network of protected areas, including national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and biosphere reserves. These areas serve as critical habitats for endangered species and safeguard biodiversity hotspots. However, the effectiveness of these protected areas can be enhanced through improved management, increased community participation, and scientific research. Investing in ecological restoration projects can revitalise degraded ecosystems and promote biodiversity recovery.
India's development aspirations must be aligned with the conservation of biodiversity. Sustainable development practices, such as promoting renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and eco-tourism, can minimise environmental impacts and provide alternative livelihood options. Encouraging public-private partnerships and integrating biodiversity considerations into economic sectors will foster a mutually beneficial relationship between development and conservation.
As we celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity, India has a crucial role in building back biodiversity. By implementing the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, India can lead the way in conserving its natural heritage, protecting endangered species, and restoring degraded ecosystems. India must prioritise biodiversity conservation in its policies and promote sustainable practices across all sectors. Only through collective action can we safeguard the planet's biodiversity for future generations and ensure a sustainable and resilient future for all.
(Anjal Prakash is an Associate Professor (Research) and Research Director at the Bharti Institute of Public Policy at the ISB. He contributes to IPCC reports. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)