On Sunday May 22, the international community marks an important day but unfortunately not many people are aware of its deep significance. The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 as the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. In December 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted May 22 as IDB, to mark the adoption of the text of the Convention held on May 22, 1992 by the Nairobi Final Act of the Conference.
This year’s theme is, ‘Mainstreaming Biodiversity; Sustaining People and their Livelihoods.’ For those who do not know or do not care, Biological diversity or biodiversity is the term given to the variety of life on Earth. It is the variety within and among all species of plants, animals and micro-organisms and the ecosystems within which they live and interact. Biodiversity comprises the millions of different species that live on our planet and the genetic differences within the species. It also refers to the multitude of different ecosystems in which species form unique communities, interacting with one another and the air, water and soil.
Biodiversity is explored at three levels: genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity.
According to science journals, Human alteration of the global environment has triggered the sixth major extinction event in the history of life and caused widespread changes in the global distribution of organisms. These changes in biodiversity alter ecosystem processes and change the resilience of ecosystems to environmental change. This has profound consequences for services that humans derive from ecosystems. The large ecological and societal consequences of changing biodiversity should be minimized to preserve options for future solutions to global environmental problems.
Humans have extensively altered the global environment, changing global biogeochemical cycles, transforming land and enhancing the mobility of biota. Fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation have increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) by 30% in the past three centuries -- with more than half of this increase occurring in the past 50 years.
We have more than doubled the concentration of methane and increased concentrations of other gases that contribute to climate warming. In the next century these greenhouse gases are likely to cause the most rapid climate change that the Earth has experienced since the end of the last glaciation 18,000 years ago and perhaps a much longer time. Industrial fixation of nitrogen for fertilizer and other human activities has more than doubled the rates of terrestrial fixation of gaseous nitrogen into biologically available forms. Run off of nutrients from agricultural and urban systems has increased several-fold in the developed river basins of the Earth, causing major ecological changes in estuaries and coastal zones.
The UN in a message to mark this event says Biodiversity is the foundation for life and for the essential services provided by ecosystems. It therefore underpins peoples’ livelihoods and sustainable development in all areas of activity, including economic sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, among others. By halting biodiversity loss, we are investing in people, their lives and their well-being.
The thirteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 13) to be held in Cancun, Mexico from December 4 to 17 this year will focus on the mainstreaming of biodiversity within and across sectors. This is closely linked to this year’s IDB theme.
According to the latest figures, Plant diversity and endemism in Sri Lanka are quite high. Of 3,210 flowering plants belonging to 1,052 genera, 916 species and 18 genera are endemic. All but one of Sri Lanka’s more than 55 dipterocarp (Sinhalese “Hora”) are found nowhere else in the world. Sri Lanka’s amphibian diversity is only becoming known now. Sri Lanka may be home to as many as 140 species of amphibians. More than 50 known freshwater crabs are confined to Sri Lanka.
Though most Sri Lankans are not aware of this, the neo-colonial economic power blocks are quite aware. Experts and companies from those countries have been making subtle attempts to exploit Sri Lanka’s rare biodiversity. The national government needs to closely monitor this area and ensure that the full benefits of Sri Lanka’s biodiversity are obtained by our people for the common good of the country.