Address by Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Honourable Vice President at the International Day for Biological Diversity 2019, in Chennai on May 22, 2019.

Chennai | May 22, 2019

"It is indeed an honor and privilege for me to address you on this important occasion, as we celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB).

The United Nations proclaimed May 22nd as the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to improve understanding of issues related to biodiversity and raise awareness regarding the importance of conserving biodiversity, among the world community.

It falls within the scope of the visionary Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and seeks international cooperation in fields ranging from sustainable agriculture and food security to water and sanitation, to health and sustainable development, to urban resilience and adaptation, to climate change and disaster risk reduction.

Most of nature’s contributions to people are not fully replaceable, and some are completely irreplaceable.

Nature plays a critical role in providing food and feed, energy, medicines and genetic resources and a variety of materials fundamental for people’s physical and mental well-being and for maintaining culture.

This day serves as a reminder of the critical role played by biodiversity in sustaining life on this planet and in promoting inclusive and sustainable development and of the need to conserve and foster biodiversity to the best of our ability.

Dear Sisters and brothers,

As you know, India is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, spanning a period of more than 4000 years. It has witnessed the fusion of several customs and traditions, which are reflective of the kaleidoscopic variety and richness of its cultural heritage.

From a country reeling under the perils of colonialism, to one of the leading economies of the world within a relatively short span of 70 years, we have indeed come a long way.

The concern for environment is not new to our country. Ashoka, the great Indian emperor, was the first monarch, who, nearly 22 centuries ago, banned sacrifices, sport hunting and burning of forests. He also established through a royal proclamation, what is perhaps the first, formally established, state protected area for mammals, birds and fish.

An insignia belonging to Ashoka’s empire is today the National Emblem of India, which has four lions symbolizing power, courage, pride and confidence, resting on a circular abacus with a lotus in full bloom, exemplifying the fountainhead of life and creative inspiration.

Historically, conservation of nature and natural resources was an innate aspect of the Indian psyche and faith, reflected in religious practices, folklore, art and culture permeating every aspect of the daily lives of the people.

India also has a long cultural tradition of frugality and simple living in harmony with nature. The conservation ethos is deeply ingrained in our people.

All great religions which have traversed in our country have preached the unity of humankind with nature. Indian heritage thus is unique in its reverence for Mother Nature in all her manifestations.

Unfortunately, the symbiotic relationship of man with nature gets debilitated as societies develop. And, any damage to environment risks the well-being of future generations to come.

In post-independent India, a sweeping package of measures was brought about inter alia through the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and the Forest Conservation Act in 1980.

Local self governance got a major boost through the Panchayati Raj Amendment Act of 1992 that provided for devolution of powers and responsibilities to local elected bodies or panchayats for planning economic development.

To address environmental concerns at the global level, a plethora of multilateral environmental treaties have been negotiated, including the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Biodiversity is fundamental to the survival of the human race.

Considering the dependence of all life on this earth on the goods and ecosystem services provided by biodiversity, this Convention merits a central place in global environmental discourse, a place that it rightfully deserves, more than 25 years after its birth at the Earth Summit at Rio de Janerio in 1992.

In response to the changing paradigms relating to biodiversity, post-Rio de Janerio, India enacted the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 to give effect to the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The recognition of Forests Rights Act, 2006 thereafter, gave forest rights to traditional forest dwellers whose rights on ancestral lands were not adequately recognized in colonial period.

Today inclusive growth and a rapid increase in per capita income levels are our development imperatives as one of the fastest growing economies of the world.

The Convention on Biological Diversity had rightly acknowledged that poverty eradication is the first and over-riding priority for developing countries.

Hence, when giving practical shape and content to any internationally agreed architecture, care must be taken so as to allow each country to develop according to its own national needs, priorities and circumstances, while ensuring the harmonization of development with conservation.

Sustainable development mandates the efficient use of available natural resources including biodiversity. We therefore have to be much more frugal in the way we use these resources.

The current consumption patterns especially in the industrialized world are unsustainable as they put enormous pressure on natural resources.

Moreover, the poor who live at the subsistence level and are most directly and immediately dependent on goods and ecosystem services provided by biodiversity, would suffer first and most severely from such unsustainable models of living.

My dear sisters and brothers,

A grave challenge we face today is the destruction of forests and the loss of species.

Forests are an important component of our ecosystem and render vital services which have a direct impact on the very sustenance of life on earth.

Because of deforestation, urbanization, industrialization, and pollution, we are losing Trees at an unbelievable pace. The frequent natural disasters like cyclones, floods has washed out and damaged a lot of trees and affected lives of many.

Our forest cover stands at 21% against global standard of 33.3%. India has lost over 1.6 million hectare of tree cover between 2001 and 2018, according to a new study released by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

I recently inaugurated a truly innovative and unique ‘Tree Ambulance’ and ‘Tree Spade’ initiative, a campaign to save trees. The Tree Ambulance is conceived, designed, fabricated and equipped to provide first aid treatment to trees, aid tree plantation, assist the shifting of trees, carry out seed ball distribution and facilitate awareness drives in favour of tree conservation and afforestation.

Unconventional solutions such as the tree ambulance coupled with community participation can go a long way in conserving and increasing our green cover.

The ‘Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ released by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biological Diversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) on 6 May 2019 has underlined that global trends on continuing biodiversity collapse remain alarming due to unsustainable consumption in pursuit of a material-intensive lifestyle.

The report also finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.

In this context, I feel that the theme of International Day for Biological Diversity this year ‘Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health’ is very topical.

This year’s celebrations focus on biodiversity as the very foundation for our food and health and a key catalyst to transforming food systems and improving human health.

The theme also celebrates the diversity provided by our natural systems for human existence and well-being on Earth, while contributing to other Sustainable Development Goals, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, ecosystems restoration, cleaner water and zero hunger, among others.

Over the past several decades, while we have acquired the capability to produce large quantities of food and have become quite self-sufficient, we have simultaneously increased our dependence on just a handful of crops.

Globally also, in the last 100 years, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields, affecting the food security of billions of people across the globe.

As much as 80% of food supply is based on a few crops such as rice, wheat, maize and millets. The loss of diversity in diets is directly linked to life-style diseases as well.

Half of the breeds of domestic animals have been lost and over fishing has had its adverse impact on aquatic resources as well.

With these unsustainable practices, there has been a rapid decline of agro-biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge related to food and medicine.

Agriculture, diets and nutrition have changed dramatically in recent decades.

The increase in consumption of processed and commercial food items overtime, results in a decrease in the quality of diet.

This unwelcome tendency of homogenization of diets also makes us vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change, pollution and other developmental imperatives, putting food and nutrition security at risk.

The Indian way of life has been to eat seasonal, locally available food, a principle that is also endorsed by the traditional Indian systems of medicine.

The practice also decreases ecological footprint by reducing the energy requirements in processing, packaging, storing and transportation of food which is non-local and non-seasonal.

In our country, the traditional food systems evolved over centuries have proven to be healthier and more balanced from the nutrition point of view.

Millet-based meals consumed extensively in rural areas all over India are extremely nutrient rich.

By securing the life-sustaining goods and services which biodiversity provides to us, the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity can provide significant benefits to our health and well-being.

In contrast, the continuing loss of biodiversity on a global scale represents a direct threat human existence itself.

Good health and well-being is also one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals propounded by UN and adopted universally.

The conservation of biodiversity is central to achieving this and many other Sustainable Development Goals.

At a more basic level, I believe that modern man must re-establish the link with nature, as did the ancients in India centuries ago, and take from Earth and the environment only so much as we can replenish. The wise sages of ancient India, though the Atharva Veda, chanted this hymn to Earth, I quote:

‘What of thee I dig out, let that quickly grow over;
Let me not hit thy vitals, or thy heart’.

Let us together be responsive to the changing needs of the world to achieve sustainable development that is equitable and people-centred.

Let us collectively take this pledge today:

"Mother Earth, you have been, taking care of us, so far, now, the time has come, for us to take care of you".

Thank You, Jai Hind.