India must get its own house in order on biodiversity

by Guest Blogger

October 15, 2012

Usually I work in New Zealand on the climate campaign but right now I’m in Hyderabad, India, helping out the team here on a big push around the Convention on Biological Diversity.

It’s hard to throw a party and expect your guests to behave better than you do. Yet that is exactly what the Indian government is doing as it hosts a major international conference on biodiversity in Hyderabad. There’s a word for that I think its hypocrisy.

The Convention on Biological Diversity opened on Monday 8th October for two weeks, and is an international get together of thousands of government representatives, media and non-government organisations to discuss the state of the world’s biodiversity and how to protect it.

Yet despite being the host, the Indian government is charging ahead with an aggressive policy to increase coal mining that is destroying the environment including the habitat for the endangered Indian tiger. It is also forcing tens of thousands of its own citizens to leave their homes.

Instead of showing leadership as the host of this prestigious conference, the government is leading the way on the destruction of tens of thousands of hectares of forest.

13 coalfields in the Central Indian landscape alone will destroy more than 1.1 million hectares of pristine woodland. As a consequence of this environmental vandalism over 14,000 people dependent on forests, in one region alone will lose their homes and livelihoods, with many indigenous communities being forcibly removed and placed into a so called ‘rehabilitation centres’ with no way to earn a living.

But it’s not just the land that is under threat. The oceans connect all nations. They are truly our global commons yet are under increasing pressure from unsustainable human development.

Reflecting this, one of the major areas of discussion at the conference will be how to protect and sustainably manage our oceans in national and international waters. On the agenda will be ways to identify the most important areas globally that deserve protection, sustainable fisheries and human impacts on coastal and marine biodiversity.

At the first working group on the subject, India’s stand did not inspire faith. By hiding behind reasons like national circumstances, the host country did nothing to put an end to the present free-for-all that is depleting the world’s fishing stocks. We need urgent action now to protect marine life before it is too late.

Marine bio-diversity Abhijit Pal / Greenpeace

The failure to protect biodiversity is not exclusive to the Indian government. However, as the host of this important international conference India must lead by example.

This conference offers the Indian government a unique opportunity to show it is committed to protecting the oceans by stopping destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling, reducing overcapacity of fishing fleets and introducing and enforcing laws to ensure the illegal fishing industry is hunted down.

The rights of traditional fisher communities need to be strengthened and marine reserves created, in consultation with local fishing communities.

Greenpeace is demanding that the Indian government relook its massive expansion of coal mining in forest areas by immediately introducing a moratorium for new coal mines, protect the forest communities and immediately revoke mining clearances already granted in known biodiversity hotspots.

Further India needs to open to public consultation, the process to declare forest areas off limits to coal mining based on their biodiversity value, hydrological importance, forest density and livelihood dependence for local communities.

If the Indian government took these actions it would be many steps towards getting its own biodiversity house in order. Only then would India be the truly worthy host we know she can be.

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