Politics of Biodiversity Loss

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Akademi Ilmuwan Muda Indonesia bekerja sama dengan INGSA Asia, IULI, Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI), InSME, dan Global Development Network (GDN, pada 23-34 September 2019 lalu menyelenggarakan “Capacity Building Workshop on Biodiversity and Its Reserach Management”. Banyak pengetahuan-pengetahuan dan informasi baru yang dihasilkan dari pertemuan yang diikuti oleh 25 ilmuwan dan praktisi lingkungan dari sejumlah negara di Asia tersebut. Kami akan membagikan pengetahuan-pengetahuan tersebut melalui beberapa seri tulisan. Untuk tulisan pertama ini mengambil judul “Politics of Biodiversity Loss”. Tulisan ini bersumber dari presentasi Mantan Penasihat Sains Perdana Menteri Malaysia, Prof Zaki Abdul Hamid, yang hadir sebagai pembicara kunci di acara tersebut. Semoga berguna. 

Biodiversity and Its Research Management (Part 1)

Biodiversity is very importance for us. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat all rely on biodiversity, but right now it is in crisis – because of us.

Biodiversity and ecosystem services are declining at an unprecedented rate. We’re well acquainted now with the startling prospects: 1 of every 8 birds, 1 of every 4 mammals and 1 of every 3 amphibians is threatened with extinction.

The same is true of 6 of every 7 marine turtles, and of one-third of our reef-building corals. Some 75% of genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost. Three-quarters of world fisheries are fully or over-exploited.

The issue of biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystem services is not a new thing. It has been recognized most poignantly since the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in 1962.The book documented the detrimental effects on the environment –particularly on birds — of the indiscriminate use of pesticides.

This was stated by Prof Zakri Abdul Hamid, Founding Chair of The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and also the Former Science Advisor of Prime Minister of Malaysia in “Capacity Building Workshop on Biodiversity and Its Research Management” that held by International Network for Government Advise (INGSA) Asia and supported by Indonesian Young Scientists Academy (ALMI), IULI, Knowledge Sector Initiative (KSI), and Global Development Network (GDN), in Jakarta, September, 23-24, 2019.



For many people living in towns and cities, Zakri continued, wildlife is often something you watch on television. But the reality is that the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat all ultimately rely on biodiversity.

“Some examples are obvious: without plants there would be no oxygen and without bees to pollinate there would be no fruit or nuts. Others are less obvious – coral reefs and mangrove swamps provide invaluable protection from cyclones and tsunamis for those living on coasts, while trees can absorb air pollution in urban areas,” he explained.



So, what does this mean for our future and can we stop it?

In his presentation, Zakri said recent reports have warned that species are disappearing at up to 1,000 times the natural rate of disappearance because of human activity and now climate change.

UN states have missed an agreed 2010 deadline to achieve ‘a significant reduction’ in the rate of wildlife loss. “Too many people still fail to grasp the implications of this destruction. I urge all leaders present today to commit to reducing biodiversity loss,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned as he called for greater international action to protect plants and animals.

But doing so will require proactive environmental policies, the sustainable production of food and other resources and a concerted effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions

Politics of Biodiversity

In his presentation, Zakri revealed the importance of interplay between nations, international organizations, business community and NGOs to halt biodiversity loss. He called it the Politics of Biodiversity Loss.

The report sought to recapture the spirit of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment – the Stockholm Conference (1972) – which had argued for environmental considerations into the formal political development debate. ‘Our Common Future’ placed environmental issues squarely on the political agenda, thus putting the balance between environment and development into one single package.

“The interface between science and public policy formation from the perspective of what policy makers require and what the science community can provide, both responsively and

proactively,” Zakri said.

So, what do we see as the biggest environmental challenge facing us today?

Gus Speth, the American environmental lawyer and advocate said, “I used to think that the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that 30 years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists do not know how to do it.”

In other words, even if armed with an avalanche of data and scientific information, nothing changes if policymakers and citizens aren’t moved to take action. Earth scientists collect and analyse information on topics such as biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change.

“We take a systematic, logical approach to discovering how things in the universe work,” he said.



The word ‘science’ itself is derived from a Latin word, scientia, defined as knowledge based on demonstrable and reproducible data — measurable results arrived at through testing.

Science is based on facts. We have always assumed that people would understand and appreciate the problems and act accordingly, taking the necessary actions when they are presented with the stark reality of these looming calamities. But for many decades nothing much has happened.

As noted by several observers, most people continue to live their lives as normal; they have done little or nothing to address climate change issues. Indeed, many people continue to deny it.

Cultural And Spiritual Transformation

it surely doesn’t help when the leader of the US, the world’s largest economy, ignores the science, announces the withdrawal of his country’s signature on the world’s climate agreement signed in Paris, having declared that global warming is a foreign conspiracy.

As Speth stresses it, science has no answer to ‘selfishness, greed and apathy’. Not many people would voluntarily trade their standard of living for less, although we know that we are living in a very inequitable world.

For example, developed countries use more than their share of resources. The average American uses 20 times the energy of a Costa Rican and 70 times that of a Bangladeshi.

The world’s richest one billion people use 80 per cent of the world’s resources. That means, the other seven billion plus people use only.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) of the 17 Global Goals agreed to by heads of governments in 2015 at the United Nations talks about promoting resource and energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure, and providing access to basic services, green and decent jobs and a better quality of life for all.

Its implementation helps to achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs.

When Speth talks about the need for a ‘spiritual and cultural transformation’, he has in mind a paradigm shift in our attitude towards caring for the environment while we concurrently pursue economic development and social well-being. The monumental environmental challenges we face today are largely anthropogenic in nature, and largely due to our self-centred human behaviour.

Earth scientists are essential guides to the identification of current conditions, drivers of change, trends, future scenarios and potential solutions, but notorious in their inability to move mountains. It is fitting, therefore, that we reassess our approach to setting things right and engaging the many branches of social science as well to help foster an overdue cultural and social.

Link Up with Political Leaders

While climate change concerns have been expressed at several G20 meetings in the past, the most recent G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan marked the first time that the issue of biodiversity loss shared the centre stage.

“A final communique from the leaders’ forum of 19 countries and the European Union included the following: Noting the important work of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and IPBES, and in the light of recent extreme weather events and disasters, we recognise the urgent need for addressing complex and pressing global issues and challenges,” Zakri said.

The reference to IPBES is the result of a stark report it released on May 6 in Paris that warned that, without ‘transformative change’, one million of the world’s eight million plant and animal species are being pushed to extinction, many of them within the next few decades, with serious consequences for the rest of life on Earth — humanity included.

The report is based on a review of more than 15,000 scientific and government sources, compiled by hundreds of expert authors from 50 countries, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors — the first comprehensive look at the state of the planet’s biodiversity since 2005. It also systematically incorporated, for the first time, indigenous and local knowledge.

“It is interesting to consider how the IPBES report achieved such prominent traction in the world’s top political echelons. And, as cliché as it sounds, it’s always good to have friends in high places” he continued.

After the report launch in Paris, a delegation of IPBES leaders met at the Élysée Palace with French President Emmanuel Macron, who promised to advance their cause. “What is at stake is the very possibility of having a habitable Earth,” Macron said at the time.

“Biodiversity is as important a subject as climate change and we can’t win this battle without working all the levers,” Macron stressed.

And indeed, biodiversity will be further stressed next month when Macron hosts the G7 in a French resort town, Biarritz.

One take-home lesson for the scientific community is to note that although we could be excellent knowledge generators and gatherers, in today’s complex world, we need to link up with our political leaders for our voices to be amplified and heard. This could be no better exemplified than the collaboration between former US vice president Al Gore and the IPCC on climate change.

The panel reports its findings every six years. But it was the charismatic Gore who truly drove home and galvanised world attention on the dangers of global warming.

Sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the IPCC, Gore was recognised by the Nobel Committee as ‘one of the world’s leading environmentalist politicians’ and ‘probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted’.

Working with Politicians

For the all of politicians, getting re-elected has always been their #1 priority. Economy will always be their main concern (wealth generation and job creation). Social wellbeing (poverty alleviation and adequate healthcare). Environment is important but almost always, an afterthought. Science, Technology and Innovation is reluctantly recognized as an underpinning to Sustainable Development.

There are three prerequisites of convincing policymakers: credibility, relevance, and legitimacy. These are three things that scientists must absolutely fulfill so that what they find and their scientific work can penetrate policy making.

(To be Continued)


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