What it takes to preserve our biodiversity

TOMORROW is World Wildlife Day. The theme “The future of wildlife is in our hands” echoes that of our newly launched National Biodiver­sity Policy, “Our shared heritage, our shared responsibility”.

Indeed, protecting our varied ecosystems is in all our interests as they provide us with so much. Apart from water, food and natural materials, they regulate erosion, flooding and the climate.

Two years in the works, the policy is our most comprehensive and ambitious to date. The wish list ranges from protecting more wilderness to stopping wildlife poaching, sustainably managing forests, farms and fisheries, and properly valuing our natural resources.

Many scoff at the idea of another policy as despite similar earlier plans, our efforts to safeguard biodiversity have remained dismal – several species have gone extinct in our lifetime, our wild spaces continue to shrink and we have highways slicing through wild areas.

But with more species joining the “endangered” list, there is no room for pessimism. The new plan has got to work. Fortunately, it is an improvement from the last biodiversity policy written 17 years ago in that it has time-bound targets and a monitoring system, and identifies the agencies tasked with the job.

These may well stop it from suffering the fate of many previous plans which were never fully put into action.

Survival of our wild habitats and wildlife depends largely on the element of “mainstreaming”, meaning that we must integrate the idea of conservation into all decision-making. It is the logical thing to do if we want to have sustainable development, but mainstreaming remains elusive.

For instance, we drew up plans to link up fragmented forests with vegetated corridors but before that could happen, state governments chiselled away portions of these corridors for development.

Herein lies the problem: state governments exploit natural resources for revenue. So for the policy to work, they have to be convinced that it is crucial to strike a balance between exploitation and conservation.

The new policy wants more people involved in protecting biodiversity, such as through the setting up of community conserved areas (CCA). Let’s hope this will put an end to the controversy regarding Bukit Kiara; the people clearly want it kept as a park.

Local authorities should adopt the CCA idea and government funds should support such endeavours instead of being wasted on misguided efforts like purchasing drones for anti-poaching (Won’t it be difficult to manoeuvre drones in the thick rainforest?).

Realising the policy depends on adequate funds. But where will the money come from? Now, corporations generously sponsor “green” projects but some of these do little for nature, for instance giving out shopping bags and planting trees but not maintaining them, growing corals in unsuitable sites or competitions to design green-themed T-shirts.

As funds are tight, let’s be sure to spend them on projects which can truly make a difference.

Periodic reviews by a committee will help ensure that the policy is on track. The good thing is that the public has a chance to scrutinise the implementation through a proposed roundtable with members drawn from civil society and the private sector.

Nevertheless, even with the time-bound targets, what happens if they are still not met? It is not as if there are penalties for non-compliance. So, the only thing to ensure that the policy will be acted upon is just commitment – an undertaking by us all to preserve nature.

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