- Mongabay-India spoke with Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), on India’s role and responsibility in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss.
- Speaking at the 2019 World Conference of Science Journalists’ “Nature on The Brink” keynote and “Biodiversity: Reporting a Silent Crisis” plenary, Watson drew attention to the fact that loss of biodiversity, like human-induced climate change, is an intra- and inter-generational issue.
- Watson expressed scepticism on the call to protect 50 percent of Earth’s land by 2050 and 30 percent of the world’s surface and oceans by 2030.
A landmark report released earlier this year by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, or IPBES, was a stark reminder that life on this planet, in all its wide diversity, is disappearing more quickly now than it has at any time in human history.
One million species of plants and animals face extinction.
Describing the situation as “ominous”, former IPBES Chair Sir Robert Watson, emphasised in the report that the biological crisis requires transformative change across economic, social and technological factors and that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.
Sir Watson is currently the Strategic Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in the UK. He has also chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
At the World Conference of Science Journalists 2019 in Lausanne, Switzerland, Watson reiterated these points and underscored why it is important to address biodiversity and climate change together.
Speaking at the conference’s “Nature on The Brink” keynote and “Biodiversity: Reporting a Silent Crisis” plenary, Watson drew attention to the fact that loss of biodiversity, like human-induced climate change, is an intra- and inter-generational issue.
Watson also acknowledged the problems of capitalism when it comes to biodiversity and drove home the point that current government and private sector actions are totally inadequate to meet the Paris climate agreement targets.
The outspoken environmentalist strongly feels that there is economic value in nature and that such valuation does not commodify nature. “We need to demonstrate to environment ministers, treasury ministers and heads of state that there is economic value in nature,” Watson said at the conference.
Highlighting that the poor of today and future generations are most vulnerable, the British physical scientist specialising in atmospheric science issues, commended how the youth are speaking out with campaigns throughout the world.
Read the Mongabay-India article on a children’s manifesto: Schoolchildren in Assam produce their agenda for the national elections.
Watson sat down with Mongabay-India for a brief chat at the conference to discuss India’s increasing importance and responsibility in fighting human-induced climate change and the binary of protecting biodiversity with people living along with it.
How do you see India evolve in its role in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss?
India is a key player (in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss) and it is one of the big countries in the world in terms of population and economy. There are five big developing countries in different stages of development: India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.
A lot of smaller developing countries will follow what India and China do. It is the same in the rich world: many developed countries follow what the United States does and what some of the European countries do.
India must become a world leader in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss. The government has to realise that dealing with climate change and dealing with the loss of biodiversity is in the country’s best economic and development interests. Climate change is not just a scheme of the industrialised countries to keep India poor. It is not.
Having said that, India still has very low average per capita emissions (India’s emissions measured per person), but it has a growing population and the country is poised to surpass even China (in population) — which is incredible to me.
What one has to show in India is new technology, such as wind and solar. They are good technologies and India does a good job in the wind power sector. More energy-efficient vehicles and industries all make sense.
There’s an increasing call for an audacious conservation target called “Half-Earth” in the sense that devoting half the world to nature would help save the majority of species, which was first proposed by prominent biologist Edward O. Wilson, in his book, “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life”.
Other researchers have backed the “Nature Needs Half” theme in policy and advocacy papers: protecting 50 percent of Earth’s land by 2050 would “help make the planet more liveable for humanity.” Earlier this year 13 nature conservation organizations urged world leaders to back a plan to protect 30 percent of the world’s surface and oceans by 2030.
Why are you circumspect about these targets and why do you say we need to clearly define protected areas?
It can’t be 30 percent of the world’s surface… we now are living there. So we have to decide what is the definition of a protected area. How do we blend social issues with environmental because people are going to live within those systems.
We have got to protect biodiversity within protected areas and outside. We can’t set aside half of the land for protected areas. Every square inch of India has got people on it. How do you protect biodiversity if people are living on it? It is not about kicking people out. How do you have people living in harmony in nature? So there is a lot of thinking that has to be done.
Speaking of protected areas, the Bangladesh government has succeeded, very narrowly, in quashing a move to push the world’s largest mangrove forests, the Sundarbans, from being listed as a World Heritage in Danger with the help of China and India. The Bangladesh government has been courting controversy over the Rampal coal-fired power plant that is coming up in the periphery of the Sundarbans. What are your views on the subject?
It is very clear we need to stop converting or exploiting all of our natural ecosystems so the natural forests of the world can stay as natural as possible. If we can protect our ecosystem, then that’s the way we can protect species such as the tiger.
The general message is how do we protect the remaining habitat we have got recognising that we need to increase food production, we need to feed people, we have got to produce clean water, so essentially we have to bring the developmental issues (food, water and energy) together with the environment.
Countries such as India have seen a spurt in citizen science initiatives to document and monitor biodiversity. How crucial are these projects for India and other developing nations?
We need as much information as possible. Developed countries have the money to spend on it. For other countries, they have to struggle. So what is the priority in India, between the money you spend on agriculture and space exploration? It really is where one sets one’s priority, but the more information we have got on our ecosystems the better we can manage it. We need to move these issues both from a science perspective and policy perspective.
Is India on the right track to achieve what was set out in the Paris Agreement?
There are very few countries on the right track. The basic problem we have got is even if all the basic pledges under Paris were met that doesn’t put us on a pathway to 1.5 degree Celsius and 2 degree Celsius. It puts us on a pathway to 3 degree Celsius to 4 degree Celsius. So most countries, as I understand it, are challenged to meet the current pledges and the current pledges are totally inadequate in all countries. The targets have to got to be much stronger.
What do you have to say about extinction deniers and climate deniers who had recently attacked the IPBES report and even you?
The climate and extinction deniers do not care about evidence – the job of IPBES is to keep presenting the evidence to governments, the private sector and the public for informed decision-making. Personal attacks on me by the deniers is part and parcel of the job.