MALAYSIA. Kuala Lumpur: On the occasion of World International Biodiversity Day on 22 May 2021, a growing number of elected officials, Indigenous leaders, scientists, and other experts are calling on ASEAN leaders to endorse ambitious proposals to protect biodiversity and advance Indigenous rights through the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, and join a group of 60 countries seeking to protect 30% of land and oceans by 2030.
The 30×30 campaign is a science-based initiative to conserve 30 percent of the world’s lands and waters by 2030 to fight climate change and reverse the destruction of our wildlife, waters, and natural places. 30×30 efforts must embrace the campaign’s five core principles: support locally-led conservation; work toward a more equitable and inclusive vision for nature conservation; honor the sovereignty of tribal nations; support private conservation, and be guided by science.
The 30×30 proposal is championed by the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People (HAC)–an intergovernmental coalition of more than 60 countries co-chaired by Costa Rica, France, and the UK. Cambodia is the first HAC member from the ASEAN region. Other Asian members include Japan, Pakistan, and the Maldives.
The 30×30 proposal has been included in the Convention on Biological Diversity’s draft strategy as a global target, as countries will have different opportunities for biodiversity conservation depending on the particular circumstances in their national territory. It is appropriate that how to implement such a globally agreed target be a sovereign decision made in conjunction with the best science.
Biodiversity in ASEAN region
ASEAN countries together cover only 3% of the earth’s surface, yet the region hosts three of the world’s 18 mega-diverse countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Its land and ocean contain 35 percent of the world’s mangrove forests and 30 percent of its coral reefs. More than two thousand species have been discovered in the ASEAN region over the past two decades. Across the region, the importance of biodiversity–whether linked to traditional medicine, tourism, fishing, or agriculture–is an important part of member states’ economies, food, and societies.
But nature is in a state of crisis here, threatened by habitat loss, pollution, overexploitation, invasive species, and climate change. Evidence shows that the ongoing and rapid loss of natural areas in Southeast Asia and across the world poses a grave threat to the health and security of all living things. Worldwide, one million plant and animal species face extinction, many within decades, because of human activity.
ASEAN countries are home to about 18 percent of the world’s endangered species. They include the Saola–known as the Asian unicorn–as well as the Malaysian steam toads, the Philippine crocodile, and the helmeted hornbill, found in Thailand. Though each country in Southeast Asia has a unique situation, deforestation is responsible for most habitat loss.
Worldwide, some 60% of the world’s terrestrial wildlife populations have been lost since 1970, while 90% of the ocean’s big fish have been killed in the last century alone. Scientists still don’t know for sure how far we can push our natural ecosystems before they begin to collapse.
Convention on Biological Diversity
After a year-long delay, the official negotiations of the Convention on Biological Diversity have resumed this month and are scheduled to conclude in Kunming, China this October. As delegates from 196 countries–including all of the ASEAN member states–participate in the negotiations, eyes are on the ASEAN region.
Action during the pandemic era
While urgent action on the coronavirus pandemic could divert attention from the biodiversity and climate crises, science tells us we cannot wait any longer. In fact, the pandemic has shown us that action to protect and conserve nature now can play an important role in preventing future health crises.
With the benefits in mind, various leaders make the case for why ASEAN member states should publicly support the 30×30 global target and advance Indigenous rights.
Dr. Zakri Abdul Hamid, Ambassador and Science Advisor to the Campaign for Nature said: “To overcome the current global health crisis and mitigate those to come, science guides us. Having delivered life-saving vaccines for COVID-19, scientists now urge us to preserve intact natural areas to prevent similar infectious disease outbreaks in the future. Protecting at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030 is a timely and important action to defend and improve the health of our planet, our economies, and ourselves. I urge all Malaysians and ASEAN neighbours to support this goal.”
Tony La Viña, Former Undersecretary of Environment, Philippines, said, “There is growing recognition that effectively responding to climate change will require greater attention to and increased investment in nature conservation. I encourage all ASEAN countries to embrace the proposal to protect at least 30 percent of the planet as an important element of an ambitious climate strategy.”
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