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Questions India needs to ask on world biodiversity day

May 22, 2013 14:28 IST

India is the chair of Convention on Biological Diversity till 2014. India has the chance to lead the world with setting high standards on biodiversity protection within India and with operations outside. We should also shift our energy paradigm slowly away from dirty destructive practice of coal mining into cleaner sources of energy, says Nandikesh Sivalingam.

In 1992, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a historic agreement was signed at the “Earth Summit”; the Convention on Biological Diversity, the first legally binding global agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

It recognised, for the first time, that the conservation of biodiversity is “a common concern of humankind” and an integral part of development process. India, signatory to the convention, with four biodiversity hot spots, 7-8 percent of the world’s biodiversity and is one of the 17 mega biodiversity countries of the world.

Indonesia tops the list as the most biodiversity rich nation. The USA and Australia are the only developed nations on the list, while all the others are developing nations. Together these 17 nations are home to 70 percent of the world’s biodiversity. What are we doing to these “natural riches” is what we need to ask ourselves while we celebrate world biodiversity day (May 22)! Let’s take the case of India and see how its operations impact not just on its own biodiversity but also to other mega diversity countries.

Mining is one of the most important direct threats to forests and biodiversity in India. A Greenpeace study released last year estimated a loss of more than 1 million hectares of forests within just 13 coal fields out of the 40 or more coal fields in central India.

These very same forests of central India are also the habitat to of India’s tigers, elephants and leopards. A more recent scientific report by the Cardiff University and the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore established that as a consequence of habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, 93 percent of DNA variants found in tigers in the period of the British Raj are not present in tigers today.

If the plight of the Indian tiger is bad, the story of the Sumatran tiger is worse. With fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers remaining in the wild, they face a tough challenge for survival. Oil palm and pulp and paper plantations companies are ravaging their habitat. Indonesia is the largest exporter of palm oil in the world. The palm oil industry is identified by the Indonesia government as one of the key drivers of deforestation in the country. Due to rapid deforestation, Indonesia is the 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world after USA and China. Indonesia is also world’s largest exporter of thermal coal and Kalimantan[i] is where more than 70 percent of the country’s coal comes from. Endangered species like orangutans, argus pheasant and hornbills face the same threats due to coal mining.

India is the largest importer of palm oil from Indonesia. In the year 2012/13 alone, India imported 77.5 million tonnes of thermal coal from Indonesia, a jump of 40 percent on the previous year.

Indian companies’ involvement with forest destruction doesn’t just stop with these imports. Our firms, both public and private, already own or have plans for acquiring vast areas of land for agricultural purposes and mining in other mega diversity countries including South Africa, Indonesia, Australia[ii], and Colombia. These are not the only countries where Indian companies are investing in land. There is a boom to expand into other African nations such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, and Mozambique including Madagascar for producing agricultural products like palm oil, rice and sugarcane to be sent back to India.

The pattern is very clear. India is part of band wagon that is fighting to grab and hoard global resources. While we question the basis on which western countries preach emissions reduction to us, we have a fundamental responsibility to ask ourselves what we are a nation are doing to other developing/poor countries. What are the consequences of our activities on biodiversity and on the people whose livelihoods depend on it, both in India and abroad?

The space for making the change is there. India is the chair of Convention on Biological Diversity till 2014. India has the chance to lead the world with setting high standards on biodiversity protection within India and with operations outside. We should also shift our energy paradigm slowly away from dirty destructive practice of coal mining into cleaner sources of energy. On the other hand industry should refrain from acquiring forests/agricultural land in other developing/poor countries for monoculture plantations which is a direct threat to biodiversity.

Finally, we need to think about the responsibilities of the most important stakeholders, the consumers, in whose name all the destruction is happening. Most consumers are not aware of the true cost of the products and services they use, it’s because it’s deliberately kept that way by a handful of people who profit from the destruction.

Unsustainable patterns of consumption, production and resource exploitation have led to multiple problems threatening the future of humanity. Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. As consumers, we need to start questioning our own ways of consumption, demand good practices and cleaner services from the industry and the government. We are right now at a juncture where we can choose a neo colonial mode of development or choose a sustainable pathway that will ensure equity and justice for all. The choice is ours.

Nandikesh Sivalingam is forests campaigner, Greenpeace India

Image: Mountain forests on the outskirts of Manokwari, Papua, Indonesia | Courtesy: Greenpeace

References

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-22536571

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/02/05/coal-exports-risk-biodiversity-kalimantan-say-activists.html

http://www.redd-monitor.org/2013/01/25/the-point-of-no-return-how-indonesias-coal-mining-expansion-is-accelerating-climate-change/

http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/05/13/column-russell-coal-india-idINDEE94C04320130513?type=economicNews

http://www.mineweb.com/mineweb/content/en/mineweb-energy?oid=189212&sn=Detail

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/indias-gvk-in-6bn-coal-deal/story-e6frg9df-1226595064704

http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/monnet-ispat-in-talks-for-coal-mine-buy-in-colombia-112112000050_1.html

http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/colombia-coal-to-fulfill-captive-requirement-monnet-ispat_786445.html

Munasinghe M (2009). Sustainable Development in Practice: Sustainomics Framework and Applications. CambridgeUniversity Press: London, UK. 

http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/world_footprint/

 

Nandikesh Sivalingam