Updated: July 28, 2022 8:39:51 am
A global biodiversity crisis stares us squarely in the face. Biodiversity, globally, finds itself under an ever-increasing all-round threat as man’s relentless predatory exploitation of natural resources continues unchecked. Driven by wasteful, unbounded greed, man’s plunder of land and marine resources has led to a situation where about 25 per cent of species face the threat of extinction.
The World Nature Conservation Day, celebrated on July 28, seeks to highlight the need to work for a healthy planet by preserving our environment and protecting our natural resources. The time to address the factors that cause biodiversity loss is now. If mankind has to survive, we have to recognise the role protection and conservation play in attempting to maintain the pristine nature of biodiverse ecosystems.
Conservation is our only hope for the future of the planet, as also for that of succeeding generations, because it also contributes to sustainable livelihoods, climate change mitigation, food and water security and reduces the threat of natural disasters. The idea of conservation encompasses various facets of nature including flora and fauna, energy resources, soil, water and air. In this context, it is essential to underscore the critical nature of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures as key drivers of biodiversity conservation.
Conservation and ecological balance form the cornerstone of the cosmic vision of Indian civilisation. The Vedas, Upanishads, itihasas and puranas teach us the worship of the divine in the elements — in rivers, mountains, lakes, animals, birds, flora, as also stars and planets. Our scriptures are replete with references to the manifestation of prana or shakti in all forms of matter. This is seen in our daily practices — be it the worship of fire, water and air as agni, jal and vayu, the sun as Surya deva, earth as Bhu devi, the Himalayas as the abode of the gods and rishis, the Ganga, Yamuna and all other rivers, the Tulasi plant and peepul tree, the cow as gau mata, the elephant as associated with Vinayaka — bowing to mother nature is an expression of our gratitude to her for her bountiful blessings. The Prithvi Sukta in Atharva Veda serves to remind us of our relationship with nature: mata bhumih putroham prithiyah (The earth is my mother and I am her son).
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With the passage of time, we have begun to forget some of the essential lessons our ancestors taught us about nature being a life-giver and not a hostile force to be conquered. The mindless exploitation and destruction of our natural resources has only unleashed nature’s fury in the form of disasters like floods, landslides and earthquakes upon us. As a nation, we only have to go back to our roots and strive proactively in order to achieve the targets of the post-2020 of the UN’s Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and realise the 2050 vision of “living in harmony with nature”.
Climate change has often been referred to as the defining issue of our time which has brought about irreversible changes in ecosystems. Caused by human actions, climate change has brought us close to the Lakshman Rekha of ecological balance, which we cannot afford to cross. It, therefore, calls for decisive action on many facets relating to energy, industry, land, transport and urban planning. Sudden changes in weather patterns causing heat waves, ocean warming, diminishing amounts of snow and ice, melting glaciers, forest fires and floods — an ever-increasing range of resultant factors threaten livelihoods and food production worldwide. Global climate efforts to build partnerships to make the transition to low-emission economies and meet the goals and targets set by Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement have to be intensified if the human race has to survive.
Statistics put the loss of the earth’s original forest cover at as high as 45 per cent over the last 8,000 years, most of it alarmingly enough, during the past century. Apart from climate change, the conversion of forests to agricultural land, overgrazing, poor forest management, invasive infrastructure development including the ill-planned expansion of urban settlements, mining and oil exploitation, anthropogenic forest fires and pollution, have impacted forest biological diversity. The Food and Agriculture Organisation recently estimated that about 13 million hectares of the world’s forests are lost due to deforestation each year. Aggressive measures for conservation of forest biodiversity alone can help save one of the most biologically rich terrestrial systems providing balance and harmony to the ecosystem. The saying, vruksho rakshati rakshitah (protect trees and they will protect you), should be our guiding mantra.
As a member of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People initiated at the “One Planet Summit” in Paris in January 2021, India is committed to work proactively to protect at least 30 per cent of our lands, waters and oceans, and adhere to its commitment of 30×30 by 2030. The recent launch of the 75-day-long awareness campaign, “Swachh Sagar, Surakshit Sagar”, covering 75 beaches across the country, is a reflection of India’s commitment to the cause of conservation and clean-up. The government has banned the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of identified single-use plastic items with low utility and high littering potential from July 1, 2022.
In their joint report, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Economics for Land Degradation Initiative have rightly urged the G-20 nations to step up to their roles as powerful leaders against climate change. Globally, the mainstreaming of conservation and the need to address and achieve climate targets and sustainable development outcomes should be integrated into national policies and decision-making frameworks at the local levels. Only then can we hope to reverse, to some extent, the harm we have caused to mother nature.
The writer is Vice-President of India
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