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M'sian biodiversity moves seem encouraging

The Living Planet Report2014 indicates that globally, populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have declined 52 percent in the 40-year period measured by the report.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) report released last month shows that the decline of biodiversity in the wider Asia-Pacific region ranks only behind Latin America in the same period.  For nearly two decades, WWF’s Living Planet Report, produced in collaboration with the Global Footprint Network, Water Footprint Network and the Zoological Society of London, has monitored the health of our planet.

The report also shows our Ecological Footprint - a measure of humanity's demands on nature - continuing its upward climb. Taken together, biodiversity loss and our unsustainable footprint threaten natural systems and human well-being, but can also point us towards actions to reverse current trends.

Globally, humanity's demand on the planet is more than 50 percent larger than what nature can renew, meaning it would take 1.5 Earths to produce the resources necessary to support our current Ecological Footprint. Malaysia has a consumption that exceeds this global average and is reported as needing 1.7 Earths to meet our consumption needs, which means if globally everyone consumes the way Malaysians do currently, we will need 1.7 Earths.

The biggest recorded global threats to biodiversity are habitat loss and degradation, fishing and hunting, and climate change. For the thousands of species tracked by the report, tropical regions show a 56 percent loss across populations compared to 36 percent in temperate zones.

In our country, a survey was released recently that there may be 250-340 wild Malayan tigers left and probably on a downward path. The bearded pig and pangolin are facing the same fate, while the Sumatran rhino and Leatherback turtle populations are no longer viable in the wild.

“The Living Planet Report tells us the cumulative pressure we are putting on the earth, and the consequent decline in the health of nature around the world. We should rise to the challenge that the report presents to us, we should create a prosperous future that the earth can sustain,” said executive director/CEO of WWF-Malaysia Dionysius Sharma during the launch of the report at regional level yesterday.

This year, Malaysia has documented several conservation wins that include the Larapan Island’s coral cover in Semporna which increased from the baseline of 53 percent Good Condition to 86 percent Excellent Condition. WWF-Malaysia has also taken up initiatives to boost marine turtle conservation.

“These initiatives which include partnerships with government and private entities enable more members of the public to learn about turtle conservation issues and empower local communities to engage in turtle conservation work and environmental stewardship,” added Dionysius.

Decoupling the relationship between footprint and development is a key priority indicated in the Living Planet Report 2014. Research presented in the report shows that it is possible to increase living standards while restraining resource use.

August this year witnessed Sabah State Government published a Letter of Intent to gazette Tun Mustapha Park measuring almost 1 million hectares. As part of the wider Coral Triangle, the park harbours one of the richest marine flora and fauna complexes in the world and is also home to more than 80,000 coastal dwellers that depend on a healthy and sustainable supply of marine resources.

Forest certification

Apart from that, August also saw Sarawak government’s move in getting the state’s major timber licence holders to obtain internationally recognised forest management certification by 2017. Dionysius explained that forest certification ensures that protection of significant wildlife species and their habitats are complied with. It also ensures that important ecosystem services such as provision of clean water are maintained and will also help in minimising soil erosion.

The Agriculture and Agro-Based Industries Ministry and the Fisheries Department on the other hand are urging restauranteurs and hoteliers to ban the serving of shark fin soup in support of their ‘Say No to Shark Fin’ campaign. They have also announced to stop serving shark fin at government official functions. It is one of the most important and positive policy decisions made by the federal government for marine conservation in recent years.

“The government’s launch of the anti- shark fin consumption campaign will go a long way in raising awareness of the effect the unsustainable shark fin trade has had on shark populations. We expect that the seafood industry including suppliers and retailers, major restaurants and hotel chains will also stop serving unsustainable shark fins and shark products,” said Dionysius.

The government is also revising the National Biodiversity Policy of 1998 to meet the global biodiversity targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for 2020 called the Aichi Targets. At the same time, it has been announced that one of the six thrusts for the 11th Malaysia Plan is Mainstreaming Environmental and Natural Resources Management.

It is hoped that this will not only ensure that Malaysia delivers her Copenhagen pledge made in 2009 at the CBD Conference of Parties to maintain 50 percent forest cover in perpetuity, a more systematic and comprehensive manner of evaluating our rich biodiversity and ecosystems will also be embarked upon to foster more initiatives like the ones above that are urgently needed.      

This year's Living Planet Index features updated methodology that more accurately tracks global biodiversity and provides a clearer picture of the health of our natural environment. With the findings revealing that the state of the world's species is worsening, the report serves as a platform for dialogue, decision-making and action for governments, businesses and civil society at a critical time for the planet.

The report includes WWF's ‘One Planet Perspective’ with strategies to preserve, produce and consume more wisely. It also includes examples of how communities throughout Asia are already making better choices to reduce Ecological Footprint and reverse biodiversity loss.

Protecting the wildlife populations and meeting global expectations on conservation come hand in hand in Malaysia’s pursuit towards achieving a developed country status. Additionally, Malaysia needs to embrace smart urban development and better consumption choices to secure healthy, sustainable communities and lifestyles.

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