“There is today a much higher global awareness of environmental risks and concerns. It is this consciousness that should provoke us to greater action even as we cope with the pressures of the current global economic downturn,” Manmohan Singh, India’s Prime Minister, said in Hyderabad while opening the high-level segment of the UN biodiversity summit.

Given this awareness, it “is indeed unfortunate” that “in recent years, it has become increasingly more difficult to find common ground on environmental issues,” he said in his speech to heads of government and environment ministers from around the world, gathered at the southern Indian city for the finale of the October 8-19 conference of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD).

Singh, however, singled out UNCBD as a welcome exception and said he was “glad that negotiations regarding biodiversity have achieved remarkable success.” To move further down this path, he urged all countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol which deals with access to traditional biological resources – mainly for medicines and cosmetics – and sharing the benefits with the local community. The Prime Minister said, “We believe that the treasure trove of traditional knowledge should be used for the benefit of all humankind rather than for private profit.” He also delivered a blow to patenting of seeds by saying, “Indian farmers have always believed in the free use of seeds. The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights’ Act of India confers intellectual property to farmers through registration of seed varieties. In our Patent Act we have adopted disclosure requirements on the origin of inventions based on biodiversity. But I believe a lot more needs to be done. We need to build on this experience and build living germplasm laboratories in our fields. We know that food security is a key challenge for the world, particularly in an increasingly climate vulnerable world. Biodiversity, found in our forests and our fields, could provide us keys to the solutions of the future. So we need to build a movement to conserve traditional varieties of crops.”

India has recently become the seventh country to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Fifty countries have to ratify before it comes into force.

Saying that “concerted global action is imperative and cannot brook any further delay,” Singh pointed out, “Despite global efforts, the 2010 biodiversity target that we had set for ourselves under the Convention on Biological Diversity was not fully met. This situation needs to change. The critical issue really is how to mobilise the necessary financial, technical and human resources, particularly the incubation, sharing and transfer of technology.”

According to the Prime Minister, “The challenge going forward is to develop new models of inclusive conservation. In India, we have legislated a Forest Rights Act that lends legal sanctity to the rights of forest dwellers, who are often the best friends of the biodiversity that resides in these magnificent forests. We will have to adopt similarly innovative approaches to deal with the issue of protecting fishermen’s livelihoods even as we negotiate a framework on sustainable use of marine biodiversity in the high seas.”

Singh, who is a reputed development economist, also referred to the need to ‘green’ the economy. He said, “There is a realisation that ecosystem services form a much higher percentage of the ‘GDP of the Poor’ than of classical GDP calculations. Biodiversity based livelihood options form the basis of rural survival in many parts of the world. Living at the periphery of subsistence, the poor are the most at risk from biodiversity loss. They should not also be the ones to bear the cost of biodiversity conservation while the benefits are enjoyed by society at large… We have also found that many development schemes can be realigned to provide biodiversity-related benefits. This is vital to protect habitats, including our water bodies, which are beyond our protected areas. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for example, with an annual outlay of $6 billion, aims to create legally mandated green jobs for every rural household in our country.”

India – which will hold the UNCBD presidency for the next two years – is earmarking $50 million to strengthen the institutional mechanism for biodiversity conservation in India. Singh added, “We have also earmarked funds to promote similar capacity building in developing countries.”


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