OP Rana

Will we see unity over biodiversity?

By OP Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-11-06 07:05
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This is where China comes in. It is sixth on the list of countries with the most AZE sites. Mexico, with 68 sites, tops the list, followed by Colombia (46), Peru (34), Indonesia (31) and Brazil (27). China has 23.

The conservation of these sites will protect the areas that help conserve plants and animals. These sites maintain crucial habitats, provide refuges, allow migration of species and ensure that natural processes are maintained. They provide livelihood for about 1.1 billion people and are the primary sources of drinking water for more than one-third of the world's largest cities. Plus, they play a significant role in ensuring food security for the world because they protect fisheries, wild plant and crop relatives, and the ecosystems services upon which agriculture depends.

But why do we need wild plant and crop varieties when we have domesticated all the food crops?

We know that the Irish Potato Famine killed more 1 million people and forced another 1 million more to flee Ireland in search of food between 1845 and 1852. Closer home, the epidemics of rice tungro wreaked havoc in the Philippines and Indonesia in the 1970s and 1980s. The difference, and this made the difference between life and death, between Ireland in the 1840s and the Philippines and Indonesia in the 1970s and 1980s, was biodiversity. The Irish had just two species of potatoes to choose from (and hence lost the battle) but the Filipinos and Indonesians had hundreds (if not thousands) of rice species and subspecies (even from other countries) to choose for hybridization to resist the disease. So biodiversity's role cannot be understated.

That's why we have no option but to protect at least the 587 AZE sites. China should take the lead and declare these sites out of bounds in its development plans, especially because it is one of the about 190 countries that agreed to the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) protocol.

The protocol, which may come to be known as the "Nagoya protocol", will make it mandatory for companies and researchers to get the consent of the local people before they take flora and fauna from their area for scientific research. This, no doubt, will protect native (and endemic) species from being exploited for commercial purposes and preserve biodiversity.

Unfortunately, the "Nagoya protocol" reminds us of the Kyoto Protocol, especially because the US has ratified neither. The US' stance makes the future of the "Nagoya protocol" as uncertain as that of the Kyoto Protocol, and dims the chances of saving the planet's species from doom. It's now for the international community to decide whether or not it will let the future of 6.8 billion people depend on the whims and fancies of a government that rules over just 300 million people. But then the fate of the Kyoto Protocol tells a sad story.

The author is a senior editor with China Daily and you can reach him at oprana@hotmail.com.

(China Daily 11/06/2010 page5)

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