Conserving biodiversity: a global priority
Biodiversity is a global endowment of nature. Conservation of biodiversity includes all species of plants, animals and other organisms, the range of genetic stocks within each species, and ecosystem diversity. Food, many types of medicine, and industrial products are provided by the biological resources that are the basis of life on Earth. The value of the Earth's biological resources can be broadly classified as direct and indirect. Consumptive and productive uses are direct values, whereas nonconsumptive uses and options for the future constitute indirect values. One of the most fundamental direct benefits of biological resources is in providing the world's food. Wild species have also provided many of our medicines.
Ensuring conservation of biodiversity is one of humankind's important global responsibilities. Consequently, biodiversity has become a growing concern of central significance to all sectors of society. In Chapter 13 of Agenda 21, adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED 1992), mountains are defined as “storehouses of biological diversity and endangered species.” This great wealth of biological diversity is attributed to the wide variety of environments in the mountains, particularly the Himalayas.
Hence, UNCED gave biodiversity an important place on the agenda. Over 150 states have now signed the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which entered into force at the end of 1993. By 1994, several countries from Asia and Pacific had ratified the Convention. Nepal was the 34th nation in the world and the 14th nation in the then Asia–Pacific region to ratify the Convention, on 23 November 1993. The Convention is a framework agreement that allows individual countries to determine how most of its provisions are to be implemented.
The Himalayan region is the largest, highest, and most populous mountain chain in the world, and it is one of the world's richest ecosystems in terms of biological diversity. Extreme variations in altitude, aspect, geology, and soils over short distances have resulted in a wealth of natural ecosystems. The Himalayas are home to hundreds of endemic plant species and some of the world's rarest wildlife species. These rich biological resources have traditionally served as the foundation for the economic and cultural life of mountain people.
Human beings use the environment heavily. Projected population growth and economic activity will mean loss of biodiversity at a greater rate. Although biological resources are renewable, their overuse is usually associated with loss of biodiversity. Among the major threats are overexploitation of forest and vegetation resources for fuel, fodder, manure, grazing, fishing and hunting, expansion of agricultural land for an ever-increasing population, and the practice of slash-and-burn agriculture in mountain regions.
Biological resources are deteriorating rapidly throughout the world, primarily because of unsustainable approaches used in human activities, leading to the following changes and potential impacts:
A decline in biological diversity, as evidenced by accelerating extinction of species and the destruction, modification, and fragmentation of habitats and ecosystems at all scales.
A decline in the health and functioning of ecosystems, as evidenced by biodiversity loss, degradation of air and water quality, and loss of soil.
A decline in the quality of human life, as evidenced by increasing world poverty, disparities of wealth, and particularly conflicts over natural resources.
Against this background, the Himalayan Resources Institute (HIRI), the Biodiversity Research Group (BRG) of the Central Department of Zoology (Tribhuvan University), the Ecological Association of Nepal (ECOAN), and the Nepal Biotechnology Association (NBA) organized an International Conference on Himalayan Biodiversity (ICHB-2003) from 26 February 2003 to 28 February 2003 in Kathmandu, Nepal, on the occasion of the International Year of Mountains (IYM2002) and the International Year of Ecotourism. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the Asia Network for Sustainable Agricultural Bioresources (ANSAB), the Himal-Asia Cultural Heritage and Educational Foundation, the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), and other national and international organizations supported the conference.
The conference on “Conservation of Himalayan Biodiversity for Human Welfare” drew international attention to conservation and sustainable management and use of biological resources. The conference brought together various related aspects such as education, research, development, policy, production, processing, marketing, economics, energy, and environment and established an International Network for the Conservation of Himalayan Biodiversity in the Himalayan region. The following major topics were covered: Himalayan Flora and Fauna; Biodiversity Conservation; Indigenous Knowledge of Biodiversity Conservation; Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs); and Ecotourism. The specific objectives of the conference were to:
Identify the major issues and options in biodiversity conservation in the Himalayan region.
Share ideas on recent biodiversity conservation and management approaches.
Review existing government policies and extension programs of the Hindu Kush–Himalayan (HKH) countries and explore regional cooperation for effective implementation of biodiversity strategies and action plans.
Develop an international network for Himalayan biodiversity conservation to exchange information and technologies at local, national, regional, and international levels.
The need for research and action
The conference was attended by more than 200 research scientists, technical specialists, and resource managers involved in various issues related to Himalayan biodiversity, representing more than 50 national and international organizations. Over 150 technical papers covering various fields of Himalayan biodiversity were presented by more than 50 national and international organizations and institutions from abroad.
The participants at the conference recognized that:
The Himalayan range is a unique chain of mountains with fragile ecosystems and high endemic, rare, and endangered species of wild flora and fauna that fulfill basic daily needs for millions of people living in mountains and plains.
These mountain ecosystems are largely neglected and are greatly threatened by human pressure.
Exploration of flora and fauna and their habitats and mechanisms for maintenance of biological diversity are inadequate at present.
Degradation and loss of biological diversity are at high levels.
Appropriate approaches needed to address these issues are lacking, but recent developments (eg, large-scale conservation) appear positive.
Traditional practices (forestry, agriculture) and indigenous technology are disappearing.
There is a lack of coordination and communication among scientists and a lack of partnership among scientists, planners, and managers.
A comprehensive Red Data Book is lacking.
There is a need for habitat mapping using geographic information systems and global positioning system techniques.
There is a lack of appropriate teaching curricula and infrastructure and research capabilities in the area of biotechnology to assign and use biodiversity for the betterment of society.
As a result, the conference passed a series of resolutions in the ICHB-2003 Declaration.
Kathmandu Declaration of the International Conference on Himalayan Biodiversity
Realizing the lack of effective implementation of earlier conventions and treaties (such as CBD, Kyoto, Johannesburg), this conference strongly demands that nation states in the region incorporate/translate the provisions of treaties and conventions into national legislation.
This conference strongly recommends the creation of a Himalayan Biodiversity Database for the long-term research and monitoring of natural resources for sustainable development, including human dimensions.
Realizing the rapid depletion of biological resources and the indigenous knowledge system (IKS), this conference strongly recommends the meaningful participatory biodiversity conservation approach based on indigenous knowledge.
Realizing that mountain ecosystems are fragile and unique repositories of immense biological and cultural diversity, this conference recommends that the international community pay special attention to the conservation and sustainable development of these mountain ecosystems and cultural landscapes.
Recognizing the lack of coordination and communication among the scientific community and institutions involved in Himalayan biodiversity conservation, this conference strongly recommends the establishment of institutionalized networking among policymakers, scientists/researchers, and institutions.
This conference strongly recommends that the World Trade Organization respect the CBD, particularly by protecting the rights of the communities and farmers who are the true custodians of biological diversity.
This conference opposes the extension of an intellectual property rights (IPR) regime specifically patenting life forms and genetic processes, which are the creation of millions of years of natural evolutionary processes.