‘Grandstanding’ is the current norm at most international conferences. It is as if high sounding and dramatic announcements would help humanity wish away the climate catastrophe which is now all too evident.
If COP27 of UNFCCC (Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, 6-20 Nov 2022) was ‘happy’ (sic) with an empty promise of “Loss & Damage Fund” agreement, then the just expired COP15 of UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) popularly called the UN Biodiversity Conference (Montreal, Canada, 7-19 Dec 2022) ended in perfect harmony with the former by agreeing to ‘request’ the GEF (Global Environment Facility) a UN agency, to establish, as soon as possible a Special Trust Fund (STF) to facilitate the implementation of its GBF (Global Biodiversity Framework) target for 2030 in what is being colloquially called 30:30.
The latter, amongst other things, envisages that the world shall ‘effectively’ conserve and manage at least 30% of the world’s lands, inland waters, coastal areas and oceans by 2030.
This is to presumably safeguard enough biodiversity on earth to help stabilise climate on earth. In short, if achieved this could help prevent the writing on the wall, namely the possible extinction of the human race from the face of the earth. So far so good! But what is the challenge like and why do we think GBF 30:30 target could be as elusive and hopelessly ambitious as the now proverbial no more than 1.5 deg Celsius target for global warming on earth over the pre – industrial times.
The year 2030 is less than a decade away. Actually just 8 years away. Against the target of 30% by 2030, currently just 17% and 10% of the world’s land and marine areas respectively are under protection. Lest we wrongly fall into some sense of achievement or complacency, the term ‘under protection’ does not ipso facto translate into effective conservation and management of those areas. These areas are spread all over the world in countries with different legal regimes and managerial capacities and capabilities.
India’s track record
Closer home let us take the example of our own country. According to the database maintained by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, as on 31 May 2022, there were 990 wildlife PAs (Protected Areas) including 106 national parks, 565 sanctuaries, 100 conservation reserves and 219 community reserves covering a total of 1,73,307 sq km which is approximately 5.27% of India’s terrestrial lands. These have been notified under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Additionally there are some 129 marine protected areas spread over some 1864 sq km. There are reportedly some 19 biodiversity heritage sites (BHS) declared under the national Biodiversity Act, 2002. These range from a few hectares to tens of sq km in area. If we were to include all these legally notified areas then over all India already has close to 5.3% of its land, inland waters and ocean and seas under the protection category against the GBF target of 30%.
Well India does claim 21.71% of its land under forest cover with the majority declared either as protected forests (PF) or reserve forests (RF) under the Indian Forest Act, 1927. So we could legitimately offer these figures as part of our commitment against the GBF’s 30% target. But with the majority of these lands facing increasing biotic and developmental pressures, if they would qualify as ‘effectively conserved and managed’ as is the requirement, is a moot point.
If one were to look close at the WII database then what strikes most is the fact that but for the biodiversity heritage sites (BHS) and the conservation and community reserves (CRs), majority of the protected areas (national parks and sanctuaries) were notified in the latter half of the 20th century and very few in the 21st century. The exception for CRs and BHS is since they came into being consequent to legislative actions affected in the 21st century itself. Fact also remains that these BHS and CRs are no more than paper PAs.
Hopelessly ambitious target of CBD
India has been one of the leaders in protecting and managing its biodiversity. But presently it is clearly struggling to keep up to its reputation in the face of a developmental juggernaut in a ‘leapfrogging’ manner since 1990s, when India ‘opened up’ its economy. Just two examples with a huge biological footprint might suffice to make the point.
Great Nicobar Island in the Bay of Bengal, spread over some 900 sq km is the largest forested southern landmass in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands group. An Rs 72,000 crore infrastructure development plan has been proposed there by the NITI Ayog, that includes an international airport, power plant, international container transhipment terminal and a township to be raised over the next 30 years.
While an environment impact assessment (EIA) study has been carried out and the union environment ministry given its statutory nod to the project, it is anybody’s guess as to how such a massive project in a forested area (two national parks) inhabited predominantly by primitive tribes (Shompen and Nicobari), which has never before witnessed this level of human intervention, going to impact adversely its people and biodiversity?
Panna National Park and Tiger Reserve lost all its tigers to poaching in 2009. After a very elaborate and painstaking effort over almost a decade, a tiger restoration project was successfully accomplished there. Park’s unique geology in form of sehas (deep gorges) opening into the river Ken (its lifeline) which provided secure natal sites to tigers was central to the revival of tiger population there.
Now an Rs 44000 crore dam and canal project in the name of linking river Ken with nearby river Betwa has been approved. This shall drown many such sehas in the Park’s core zone and bifurcate the park for all practical purposes. Experts are unanimous in that the said project shall irreversibly impact adversely the park’s biodiversity values.
This is not meant to critique the two projects on merit/demerits but to highlight the fact that perhaps the people who dreamt the GBF 30:30 target were not fully knowledgeable about the facts on the ground.
When a country like India with lot going for it in terms of its laws, protected area status and managerial capacity and capabilities has not been able to avoid ‘eyeing’ its existing biodiverse rich protected areas for developmental purposes then how could countries in the developing north and south with economies in transition can be expected to increase manifold in just next 8 years their protection and effective management of lands, inland waters, coasts and oceans, over and above what is already existing, if any at all?
What is most remarkable is that we as a global community tend to thump our backs soonest we create a mechanism to wishfully transfer “greenbacks” from few (so called ‘developed’) countries to large numbers of other (developing or with economies in transition) countries. This unfortunately is a very self defeating goal and reduces itself to just counting the money transferred with an assumption that if the latter can be shown, then all is going to be well?
But if recent deliverances on such targets are any indication then the world is in for a huge shock, yet again! Are we even aware that the USA, although present at the CBD COP15 at Montreal, is not bound by the GBF targets for it is still to become a party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)?
About the Author
Manoj Misra, a former member of the Indian Forest Service (IFS), and Convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan (Living Yamuna Campaign) a civil society consortium. Member of Water Conflicts Forum and the India Rivers Forum, Organising Committee.
Also read Musings from Rani Kamlapati’s Ginnorgarh Fort by the Author