Wednesday January 26, 2005

Major challenges in protecting biodiversity

By Koh Lay Chin in Paris

WHEN Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi spoke at the International Conference on Biodiversity, he was not only representing Malaysia.
He was also Asia's unofficial voice, and presented a viewpoint from a developing country that is just a notch away from the status of "developed country".   As one of the 12 "mega-biodiverse" countries in the world, Malaysia was also at the conference because of its abundance of biological wealth.
In his speech, Abdullah called for current discussions on biodiversity not to revolve around the North-South divide, as that would not benefit any move to protect the environment.
But the "North-South" term is heavily used in thousands of texts on biodiversity. Even the Press kit given to reporters at the conference stated that "deforestation remains a preoccupation in countries of the South, while in Western countries, forests are regaining territory".
The numbers are worrying. A developed nation like France has, since the beginning of the 1980s, increased its total forested area by more than three per cent to reach approximately 15 million hectares.
In the Philippines, however, the forested area has been reduced from 50 to less than 24 per cent in just 40 years.
According to environmental groups, 15,589 species are currently listed as being threatened with extinction, with one in four mammal species and one in eight bird species facing a heightened risk of extinction in the near future.
What is Malaysia's stand on this troubling scenario?
Abdullah acknowledged that a lot remained to be done, but that Malaysia was firm in its desire to protect the environment.
He spoke of biodiversity as God's gift to mankind, and how it was also a source of wealth to a nation's economy as well as a means to lift the poor out of poverty.
"It is pertinent to remember that God created interdependence between man and his environment," he said. "The development of either one should not be at the expense of the other. They should be mutually enriching."
Malaysia would not forget the importance of managing and utilising its natural resources in a sustainable manner, he said, and would ensure biodiversity was not sacrificed in favour of economic development.
There are several issues and challenges which Malaysia faces as it attempts to protect the environment.
Government officers involved in conservation said there was the issue of overlapping federal, state and inter-departmental jurisdiction.
Another challenge is to ensure that laws are enforced.
There is also the need to improve scientific knowledge on biodiversity.
Abdullah told reporters after the conference that this was an important issue and that if Malaysia did not enhance its knowledge and know-how in the field, it could be taken advantage of by other countries.
"If we do not have enough knowledge about bio-technology, for example, we will not reap the full benefits it could give to us," he said.
"We should not waste what we have."

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"