SHE prowls through the forest undetected on padded paws, her black stripes providing the perfect camouflage for ambushing and hunting prey.
However, this majestic hunter becomes the hunted when humans poach her species to near extinction for unjustifiable purposes such as their perceived medicinal value or to use as decorative, ornamental objects.
There are fewer than 150 Malayan tigers left in Malaysia to date. A far cry from the 3,000 strong population in the 1950s, based on data from World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia.
This unfortunate phenomenon is just one of the many catastrophes caused by human mismanagement of the environment.
The mismanagement and destruction largely contribute to ecosystem imbalance and loss of biodiversity, which is detrimental to not only wildlife but humans as well.
Biodiversity, the next frontier
The fight against the loss of biodiversity — defined as the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms that make up the natural world and work together in specific ecosystems to maintain balance and support life — had begun three decades ago.
However, biological diversity or biodiversity as it is more commonly called, is now drawing considerable attention in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) space due to the devastating effects felt by humans in everyday life.
The World Economic Forum estimates over half of the world’s economic output ($44 trillion) is at least moderately or highly dependent on nature — meaning when natural systems collapse, so will the world’s economic and financial systems.
WWF Malaysia conservation director Dr Henry Chan points out the strong interrelationship between climate change, biodiversity loss and human wellbeing.
“In many cases, working on biodiversity loss can help address climate change and vice versa. Retaining biodiversity also brings tangible benefits to the people and the economy.
“Humans, as a species, want to continue living. We consider ourselves Earth’s shepherds but we exist within a volatile equilibrium that we're slowly tipping away from, in our insistence on achieving infinite growth.
“Everything we do depends on maintaining the delicate web of diverse interactions, as it affects our temperature regulation, food security and water accessibility,” says Chan.
Greenpeace Southeast Asia regional campaign strategist Heng Kiah Chun says climate change and biodiversity issues cannot be considered one without the other due to the multiple interactions and interdependencies between them.
Human beings depend on biodiversity for their survival. Many of the situations where we depend on biodiversity remain obscure, are not visible, and hence have not been considered to have value in economic terms.
This condition may lead us to undermine the importance of biodiversity for human existence as well as for the whole life support system.
Heng adds that biodiversity loss and the depletion of natural resources ultimately threaten everyone’s survival.
The challenge of preserving enough habitat for biodiversity to recover in the future is enormous.
Therefore, people, businesses, and policy makers should take actions to protect and restore our nature.
Humans remain completely dependent on healthy and vibrant ecosystems for daily sustenance, medication, fuel, shelter, and more despite technological advances.
However, mankind’s seemingly insatiable appetite to consume has left just 2.8 percent of the land surface on the Earth "functionally intact", according to the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released in 2019 at UNESCO.
Recognising the dire situation, the United Nations (UN) has called on the global community to respect, protect and repair the world’s biological wealth through the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework — a historic agreement signed last December that sets goals and concrete measures to stop and reverse the loss of nature by 2050.
In 1992, the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), was opened by the UN at the Conference on Environment and Development (Rio Earth Summit) and entered into force on Dec 29, 1993.
The CBD is the international legal instrument for "the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources" that has been ratified by 196 nations.
The UN then proclaimed May 22 as The International Day for Biological Diversity with a theme for each year — this year’s was “agreement to action: build back biodiversity”.
Noting that Malaysia ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1994 and was the 65th country to do so, Chan points out the government made a commitment to keep at least 50 percent of the nation’s land mass under forest cover during the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
This commitment, he says, is embedded in the new National Forestry Policy.
Chan commends the government for introducing a budget that is committed to both nature conservation and long-term financial sustainability, although further improvement is still possible.
“During the Budget 2023 announcement earlier this year, the Prime Minister stressed the importance for the people to combine a sustainable and balanced quality of life, while maintaining the relationship between humans and nature, in addition to pursuing economic growth,” he says.
Chan adds that WWF-Malaysia has come up with a 10-year strategy to reverse the decline of nature and transform Malaysia into a sustainable nation by 2050.
This strategy guides conservation work, with 10 goals covering conservation, sustainable use, restoration and reducing humanity's ecological footprint.
As a step to safeguard Malaysia’s biodiversity, Heng suggests for a legislative framework under a Climate Change Act for a Minister to be responsible for both green (concerning biodiversity such as forestry) and brown issues (concerning human health such as air pollution) as well as climate change issues, such as, forest, water, agriculture, coastal erosion, carbon tax and renewable energy.
On behalf of Greenpeace, he also calls for the nation’s standards of environmental pollution prevention, monitoring and enforcement to be amended.
“Malaysia’s current system allows pursuing limitless economic growth without proper regulation. It became a huge source of injustice and exploiting the planet.”
Citing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) guidelines, Heng points out the current practice involves private developers paying consultants to conduct EIAs for their projects and produce their assessment reports.
“Almost all EIA reports are favorable to the developers paying them. It is important that the Department of Environment (DoE), not the developer, be the party that pays these (consultants) who conduct the EIAs.
He adds that stopping forest fires is at the heart of international climate change agreements to protect biodiversity.
“If we do not stop forest fires, we cannot protect biodiversity and we cannot stop climate change.
“That’s why Greenpeace is campaigning to ask the Malaysian government to enact the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, as a good step to ensure Malaysian companies operate responsibly abroad and to protect our biodiversity.”
Globally, Greenpeace is calling for a commitment to bold targets that protect at least 30% of lands and oceans by 2030, with a clear plan for how to get there in partnership with local communities and enough funding and resources to make it happen.
Power lies with us
Unsustainable human activity and mankind’s seemingly insatiable appetite to consume have dramatically impacted nature and climate, human health and wellbeing, security and economic development.
An August 2021 report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that there’s no chance of undoing the damage already caused by global warming.
However, all hope is not lost.
Though humans are responsible for the destruction of biodiversity, we can also be the healing hands that mother nature so desperately needs.
It doesn’t have to be complicated — one can even contribute in simple ways starting with one’s simple choice at the comfort of your own home.
Chan says the general idea is to understand where and when one can reduce wastage.
“Consume less and consider heavily what is being bought and eaten, or check your travel habits. One can also use your individual voice in pushing for net-zero, nature-positive policies within your local government.”
He notes while individual actions are important for reversing biodiversity loss, businesses and financial institutions can also be the world’s strongest positive forces for sustainability, citing Target 15 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework which calls on large companies and financial institutions to regularly monitor, assess and transparently disclose their risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity.
“Everyone — in all systems — plays a huge role in working together to find solutions that are feasible and not quick fixes.
“In order to reverse the loss of biodiversity and reduce the risks of such pandemics in the future, the natural ecosystems require a collective response of transformative actions,” says Chan.
Heng says humans are part of an ongoing cycle of life and it is up to ourselves to put it back in balance for it to recover.
“If we protect biodiversity, we can build up resilience to combat climate crises and future epidemics, and help protect people and the planet.
“People, policy makers, especially governments must stop prioritising corporate profits and restore the balance of power to communities and rethink the way we produce goods to ease the pressures on nature,” says Heng.