- India submitted its sixth national report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) last month which reveals that it is well on track to achieve majority of its 12 national biodiversity targets by 2020. It highlighted that India has already overachieved one target.
- The report also highlights numerous success stories wherein public awareness played a significant role in biodiversity conservation.
- However, India’s submission to CBD acknowledges that balancing development and biodiversity remains a key challenge.
Seventy women from three villages in Assam mobilised and sensitised over 10,000 people for protecting the endangered greater adjutant stork and its supporting habitat in their villages. Their efforts highlight the importance of public awareness for conservation of species and biodiversity. The success of this women’s Hargilla (greater adjutant) army is just one among multiple examples that India has highlighted in its latest report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to emphasise the importance of public education and awareness in achieving national biodiversity targets aligned with the CBD.
The CBD is the first comprehensive global agreement that addresses all aspects relating to biodiversity. India had signed the CBD in June 1992 and ratified in February 1994.
Last month, on December 29, India’s environment minister Harsh Vardhan submitted the country’s sixth national report (NR6) to the CBD. The NR6 provides an update of progress in achievement of 12 national biodiversity targets (NBT) developed under the CBD in line with the 20 global Aichi biodiversity targets.
As per the report, India has exceeded/overachieved one NBT, it is on track to achieve nine NBTs and is aiming to meet the remaining two targets by 2020.
India on track to achieve its biodiversity targets
India’s sixth national report was submitted to the CBD Secretariat by Harsh Vardhan during the 13th national meeting of the state biodiversity boards (SBBs) in the national capital.
Speaking about the report at the 13th national meeting of the state biodiversity boards, Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan said: “India is among the first five countries in the world, the first in Asia and the first among the biodiversity rich megadiverse countries to have submitted NR6 to the CBD secretariat. While globally, biodiversity is facing increasing pressure on account of habitat fragmentation and destruction, invasive alien species, pollution, climate change and overuse of resources, India is one of the few countries where forest cover is on the rise, with its forests teeming with wildlife.”
He noted that India is “on track” to achieve the biodiversity targets set at the national level and is also contributing significantly towards achievement of the global biodiversity targets.
India hosts nearly eight percent of the globally known floral and faunal species while covering only 2.4 percent of the total land area of the world. But, at the same time, it is also home to nearly 18 percent of the global human population and in such a scenario pursuit of sustainable development is certainly a challenge.
As per the report, India has already overachieved its target to bring more than 20 percent of its geographic land under some kind of protection and conservation efforts. However, it needs to ramp up its efforts in case of targets like developing strategies to deal with invasive alien species and increasing financial, human and technical resources.
India is on track to achieve targets like spreading awareness among significant population about importance of biodiversity, finalising strategies for reducing rate of degradation, fragmentation and loss of all natural habitats, adopting measures for sustainable management of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, operationalising an updated national biodiversity plan at different levels of governance and strengthening national initiatives using communities’ traditional knowledge relating to biodiversity.
The effort of the ‘Hargilla army ‘ in Assam is one such example where India is on track with one of India’s national biodiversity targets which states that by 2020, a significant proportion of the population is aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.
The group consists of women from 14 self-help groups from Dadara, Pacharia and Singimari villages of Assam who changed the “commonly held adversarial attitudes against greater adjutant Stork” to save it from “disappearance from their villages, which used to be an important habitat of these birds.” The greater adjutant stork is listed as endangered under International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red list.
This conservation effort was started by a keen woman bird researcher determined to save the bird’s habitat in these villages, said the report, which led to the women widening the support base for the greater adjutant by including children and other members of their households. “The persistent action of women secured the support of the district authorities in departments of administration, police, forest, health and the State Zoo Authority, each contributing to ‘Save the greater adjutant’ goal in a coordinated manner,” said the report.
It emphasised that significant outcomes of the effort resulted in “saving of all the kadamba (Neolamarckia cadamba) trees which serve as greater adjutant stork habitats, increase in nests from 28 in 2008 to 143 in 2015, establishment of rescue and rehabilitation system for injured birds in collaboration with Assam State Zoo, programmes for alternative livelihood options for the community under which 28 handlooms have been distributed among the 14 self-help groups.”
Balancing development and biodiversity
Talking about pressures and drivers of change in biodiversity, India’s report said that balancing the development and livelihoods needs of the growing population and enhancing conservation of biodiversity is a serious challenge.
It noted that main threats to biodiversity include habitat fragmentation, degradation and loss, over-exploitation of resources, shrinking genetic diversity, invasive alien species, declining forest resource base, climate change and desertification, impact of development projects and impact of pollution.
“India needs to ensure that its regulatory frameworks are made more robust and complied with to secure our biodiversity especially its sustainable use and benefit sharing with the local communities,” Vishaish Uppal of WWF India told Mongabay-India.
The report also highlights series of measures that India has been taking or is proposing to take in years ahead for protecting the biodiversity along with the problems it has been facing.
For instance, it revealed that for rehabilitation of mined out areas, 115.70 million saplings were planted over 57,996 hectares of mined out areas. It also stated that there is annual estimated loss of more than Rs. 5,500 million from forest fires.
“With the inclusion of other effective area-based conservation measures such as biosphere reserves, community conserved areas known as sacred groves and notified eco-sensitive zones, the total conservation area comes to nearly 27% of the geographic area of the country,” the report said.
As per the report, the number and area of protected areas under India’s Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 has increased from 690 protected areas in 2014 to 770 in 2017.
The Indian government also patted its back as it highlighted that it has nearly two third of the population of wild tigers in the world. Additionally, the population of lions has risen from 177 in 1968 to over 520 in 2015 and elephants from 12,000 in 1970s to 30,000 in 2015, said the report
“One-horned Indian Rhino which was on the brink of extinction during the early 20th century, now number 2,400. While globally over 0.3 percent of total recorded species are critically endangered in India only 0.08 percent of the species recorded are in this category,” the report said.
It further highlighted that the “discovery of new species by BSI (Botanical Survey of India) and ZSI (Zoological Survey of India) has increased India’s floral and faunal species to 48,655 and 100,693 respectively – an increase of 3,655 in floral and 1,693 in faunal from the previous figures.” They constitute 11.2 percent of floral and 6.7 percent of the known species of the world.
As per the NR6 report, the detailed assessment of the budgets and documents of five-year planning period (2012-13 to 2016-17) followed by extensive consultations at central government level has identified 116 public schemes from 24 ministries and 29 departments as biodiversity relevant and “technical work is under progress to identify workable solutions for raising additional resources for biodiversity”.
India has been investing a huge amount on biodiversity directly or indirectly through several development schemes of the central and state governments, as per the environment ministry, to the tune of Rs 70,000 crores per annum (Rs 700 billion) as against the estimated annual requirement of nearly Rs 109,000 crores (Rs 1.09 trillion).
Banner image: A picture of the endangered greater adjutant stork. Photo by A.J.T. Johnsingh/Wikimedia Commons.