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International Day for Biological Diversity 2011

Celebrating the International Day for Biological Diversity 2011

The United Nations proclaimed 22 May as the International Day for Biological Diversity to promote greater understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. This year’s theme is forest biodiversity, in recognition of 2011 as the International Year of Forests, and drawing attention to the great value of forest biodiversity to our lives, livelihoods, and wellbeing.

Andreas Schild

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Forests cover close to one-third of the earth’s land surface and contain more than two-thirds of the world’s terrestrial species. They are biodiversity rich and vibrant ecosystems, containing a wondrous array of birds, animals, and plants. Forest biodiversity is an integral part of the history of human development as it is the basis for more than 5,000 products, from aromatic oils distilled from leaves, to herbal medicines, fuel, food, furniture, and clothing. Forests prevent soil erosion and help to regulate the climate; they provide clean water, inspire us in art, research, and religion, and are essential for our survival and wellbeing – all seven billion of us. As a service provider, forests play a broad role. Standing forests are able to remove about 15 per cent of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere every year by sequestering carbon; in so doing, they become valuable ‘carbon sinks’. Fuelwood is the primary source of energy for heating and cooking for an estimated 2.6 billion people globally. In 2005, the global sales of pharmaceuticals sourced from animals, plants, or microorganisms reached US$ 14 billion.

We often take the services provided by forests – the Earth’s ‘natural capital’ – for granted. Over the last quarter of a century, the world economy has quadrupled. At the same time, 60 per cent of the world’s major ecosystem services, which underpin livelihoods, have been degraded or used unsustainably. This is because economic growth has been accomplished partly by drawing on natural capital without allowing stocks to regenerate, and through allowing widespread ecosystem degradation and loss. Since 2000, primary forests have decreased by more than 40 million hectares, mostly due to logging and agricultural expansion. Invasive species are colonising forested areas rampantly. Climate change is adding to the vulnerability of forest ecosystems. The challenges in maintaining forested biodiversity are increasing day-by-day.

The Hindu Kush-Himalayas, the working area of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), is one of the most dynamic regions in the world with rich and remarkable biodiversity. Approximately 25 per cent of the region is forest. The region, with its varied landscapes and soil formation, and variety of vegetation types and climatic conditions, is well known for its unique flora and fauna showing a high level of endemism. However, forest-based resources in the HKH are declining, mainly due to lack of incentives for local communities to conserve forest biodiversity and the trading of pollution for economic growth. The communities living in this fragile and biologically rich ecosystem are highly dependent on forest resources as they are marginalised from mainstream development. Their dependence on forest-based resources is higher than that of people in the lowlands and elsewhere. Nearly three-quarters of the people in the region live in rural areas, most dependent on land-based activities for their subsistence living.

ICIMOD has been advocating for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development through its mountain perspective framework, which is characterised by understanding the specific characteristics of mountain conditions such as fragility, inaccessibility, marginality, diversity, specific niche opportunities, and human adaptation practices. ICIMOD has also been active in facilitating its regional member countries through various conservation and development approaches, such as participatory natural resources management. It has fostered regional cooperation in applied research on conservation and management using the ‘ecosystem approach’ and taking the existence of transboundary landscapes into account. ICIMOD is supporting sharing and mainstreaming of information and best practices in the region and highlighting crosscutting issues such as policy, governance, and equity and gender.

To celebrate the International Day of Biological Diversity, ICIMOD is organising a talk programme. Two distinguished experts, Dr Krishna Chandra Poudel from the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, Nepal, and Dr Ram Prasad Chaudhary from Tribhuvan University will discuss themes related to ‘Sustainable management of forests for conserving biodiversity, developing the local economy and adapting to climate change’ on 23 May at ICIMOD Headquarters in Kathmandu.

Conserving biodiversity and assuring continuous ecosystem services to support life on Earth is our responsibility, and ICIMOD is committed to it! On the International Day for Biological Diversity, ICIMOD calls for everyone to contribute to the cause, in whatever form possible, so that we make a difference.

Andreas Schild

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