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Indigenous and local communities are key players in preventing the sixth mass extinction

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ (IPBES) warned on 7 May of one million species at the risk of going extinct at least in part due to humankind's activities. The report's findings were carefully examined and negotiated by representatives of 132 governments before it was finalised and approved.

The landmark report is a cumulation of nearly 15,000 studies, government reports as well as reports from indigenous and local communities. It is also the first appraisal of the earth's biodiversity of global scale since 2005, and shows alarming statistics about species loss alongside strategies to overcome them. It's grim stuff.

That said, coordinating lead author of the IPBES report from India, Suneetha Subramanian, expressed hope. The global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services, which was released on 6 May, said human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before.

"An average of around 25 percent of species in the assessed animal and plant groups are threatened, suggesting that around 1 million species already face extinction — many within decades — unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss," read the report. The document makes no bones in blaming humans for the catastrophic loss in biodiversity — especially in the last 50 years, which has been unprecedented in human history.

 Indigenous and local communities are key players in preventing the sixth mass extinction

Rice harvest put to dry before seeds are preserved. Image credit: Seed Freedom

It associates the loss of species to five key reasons. The direct drivers of changes in nature with the largest global impact change, according to the report, have been:

  • changes in land and sea use
  • direct exploitation of organisms
  • climate change
  • pollution
  • invasion of alien species

Despite such a grim warning of things to come, the report offers hope in two ways: by including the experiences and views of indigenous tribes, local communities and those who depend on nature for their livelihoods like fishermen, herders and farmers. "This is the first time that their experiences have been integrated into the report in such a structured and nuanced manner," Subramaniam said. "Though it does not give specific goals like the Paris Agreement for mitigating climate change, I remain hopeful as the signatories have accepted the scale of damage to our biodiversity," she added.

Apart from peer-reviewed scientific journals, the report also took inputs from locals.

"For those living close to nature, there is no lag in understanding the consequences of our development paradigm. Their inputs to our understanding have been tremendous," she told Firstpost. "Therefore, it is important they insights are integrated into any development proposals, especially in India when environmental impact assessments are being carried out. The process of EIAs’ need to be re-looked fundamentally," she added.

A migration of wildebeest in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Wildebeest are among the most cautious animals in the moonlit grasslands – choreographing their movements to match the available moonlight and minimize their risk of attack by their predators, the African lion. Image: Wikimedia Commons

A migration of wildebeest in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Wildebeest are among the most cautious animals in the moonlit grasslands – choreographing their movements to match the available moonlight and minimize their risk of attack by their predators, the African lion. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Instead of giving local communities a bigger voice in the country’s development paradigm, the Supreme Court on 13 February put out an order that threatened to evict more than a million forest dwellers. The order has, however, been put on hold till 10 July. In India, the law requires local communities to be only consulted, and not consented, said experts. According to the IPBES report, nature is generally declining less rapidly in regions where the indigenous people live.

"Indigenous peoples and local communities are facing growing resource extraction, commodity production, along with mining, transport and energy infrastructure, with dire impacts on livelihoods and health," the report concluded. There are some 300 million indigenous people living in undisturbed natural areas, and another 600 million in local communities 'striding the natural and built words'.

Experts working on forest rights in India criticise both the IPBES report and the country’s government of diluting forest rights as purely money-driven, policies that are driven by economics and not conservation. "One major flaw I see with the IPBES report is that while it talks about the economic impact of biodiversity loss, it hardly does go into the root causes of the loss. Economic growth based models of development that are even pushed by SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) continue to rely on a linear path of modernity in which everyone has to become consumeristic to keep the economy afloat. Without a fundamental shift from this thinking, there is no hope for humanity being able to make peace with the earth," said Ashish Kothari who is a member of Kalpavriksh — an environmental NGO based in Pune. Kothari was also involved in the drafting of the Biological Diversity Act, the National Wildlife Action Plan (2000) and also coordinated India's National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) process.

Bush Vipers are a class of snakes found only in tropical subsaharan Africa. Many species have isolated and fragmented distributions since they are confined only to rain forests. Image courtesy: WWF

Bush vipers are a class of snakes found only in tropical subsaharan Africa. Many species have isolated and fragmented distributions since they are confined only to rain forests. Image courtesy: WWF

On 24 April, the National Biodiversity Authority put out draft guidelines on Access to Biological Resources (ABS) and Associated Knowledge and Equitable Sharing of Benefits, Regulations, and invited comments and responses from the public. The draft is in pursuance of the Nagoya Protocol, which is a global signatory of over 100 countries on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The protocol prescribes to free prior and informed consent (FPIC).

"In the biodiversity regime, FPIC is conspicuous by its absence. Question is if the new ABS guidelines address that gap, even though they claim to be issued in 'pursuance of the Nagoya Protocol'. However, the Biodiversity Act, only deals with issues around access to biological resources and related people's knowledge," said independent legal researcher Shalini Bhutani.

Another researcher from the Centre For Policy Research, a public policy think tank, agreed. "The guidelines put out by the NBA envisages a very myopic outlook towards conservation of biodiversity. It does not go beyond sharing of economic benefits," said Kanchi Kohli. "There are other benefits that can be given to local communities; like access to government gene banks or involving them in the conservation of certain species. These guidelines have missed the opportunity to make conservation holistic," she added.

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Updated Date: May 08, 2019 18:37:58 IST