Biodiversity and Sustainable development – UPSC

In this article, You will read Biodiversity and sustainable development – for UPSC IAS(Environmental Geography).


In our biosphere immense diversity (or heterogeneity) exists not only at the species level but at all levels of biological organization ranging from macromolecules within cells to biomes. Biodiversity is the term popularized by sociobiologist Edward Wilson to describe the combined diversity at all the levels of biological organization.

The most important of them are-

  • Genetic diversity: A single species might show high diversity at the genetic level over its distributional range. India has more than 50,000 genetically different strains of rice and 1,000 varieties of mango.
  • Species diversity: The diversity at the species level. For example, the Western Ghats have greater amphibian species diversity than the Eastern Ghats.
  • Ecological diversity: At the ecosystem level, India, for instance, with its deserts, rain forests, mangroves, coral reefs, wetlands, estuaries, and alpine meadows has greater ecosystem diversity than a Scandinavian country like Norway.

It has taken millions of years of evolution, to accumulate this rich diversity in nature, but we could lose all that wealth in less than two centuries if the present rates of species losses continue. Biodiversity and its conservation are now vital environmental issues of international concern as more and more people around the world begin to realize the critical importance of biodiversity for our survival and well- being on this planet.

The importance of Species Diversity to the Ecosystem

For many decades, ecologists believed that communities with more species, generally, tend to be more stable than those with less species. A stable community should not show too much variation in productivity from year to year; it must be either resistant or resilient to occasional disturbances (natural or man-made), and it must also be resistant to invasions by alien species.

Although we may not understand completely how species richness contributes to the well-being of an ecosystem, we know enough to realize that rich biodiversity is not only essential for ecosystem health but imperative for the very survival of the human race on this planet.

Loss of Biodiversity

The biological wealth of our planet has been declining rapidly and the accusing finger is clearly pointing to human activities. The last twenty years alone have witnessed the disappearance of 27 species. Presently, 12 percent of all bird species, 23 percent of all mammal species, 32 percent of all amphibian species, and 31per cent of all gymnosperm species in the world face the threat of extinction.

In general, loss of biodiversity in a region may lead to (a) decline in plant production, (b) lowered resistance to environmental perturbations such as drought, and (c) increased variability in certain ecosystem processes such as plant productivity, water use, and pest and disease cycles.

Causes of biodiversity losses:

a. Habitat loss and fragmentation: This is the most important cause driving animals and plants to extinction. The most dramatic examples of habitat loss come from tropical rain forests. Once covering more than 14 percent of the earth‘s land surface, these rain forests now cover no more than 6 percent. When large habitats are broken up into small fragments due to various human activities, mammals and birds requiring large territories, and certain animals with migratory habits are badly affected, leading to population declines.

b. Over-exploitation: Humans have always depended on nature for food and shelter, but when ‘need‘ turns to ‘greed‘, it leads to overexploitation of natural resources. Many species extinctions in the last 500 years (Steller‘s sea cow, passenger pigeon) were due to overexploitation by humans.

c. Alien species invasions: When alien species are introduced unintentionally or deliberately for whatever purpose, some of them turn invasive, and cause the decline or extinction of indigenous species. The Nile perch introduced into Lake Victoria in east Africa led eventually to the extinction of an ecologically unique assemblage of more than 200 species of cichlid fish in the lake.

d. Co-extinctions: When a species becomes extinct, the plant and animal species associated with it in an obligatory way also become extinct. When a host fish species becomes extinct, its unique assemblage of parasites also meets the same fate.

Biodiversity Conservation:

Earth‘s rich biodiversity is vital for the very survival of mankind. Besides the direct benefits (food, fibre, firewood, pharmaceuticals, etc.), there are many indirect benefits we receive through ecosystem services such as pollination, pest control, climate moderation, and flood control. We also have a moral responsibility to take good care of the earth‘s biodiversity and pass it on in good order to our next generation.

Conservation of Biodiversity in the World

People make the use of terms preservation and conservation as synonyms but there is a difference of hemisphere in the meaning of both the term. In an ecological context, preservation means upkeep of rare and endangered species of plants and animals in specially protected areas so that their population may increase to the optimum level. No use of such resources is permitted. On the other hand, conservation is a process that aims at proper use preservation, and management of natural resources in such a way that they are always available for judicious use by humans, as well as ecological balance, is maintained.

Conservation is thus defined as the establishment and observation of economically, socially, and politically acceptable norms, standards, patterns or models of behaviors in the use of natural resources by a given society. Conservation is the planned management of natural resources, to retain the balance in nature and retain diversity. It also includes wise use of natural resources in such a way that the needs of the present generation are met and at the same time leaving enough for the future generations. The conservation of biodiversity is important to prevent the loss of genetic diversity of a species, save a species from becoming extinct and protect ecosystems from damage and degradation. Thus the conservation efforts can be grouped into the following two categories:

1. In-situ (on-site) Conservation: In-Situ conservation includes the protection of plants and animals within their natural habitats or in protected areas. Protected areas are land or sea dedicated to protect and maintain biodiversity. The in-situ strategy emphasizes the protection of total ecosystems for the conservation of overall biodiversity of genes, populations, species, communities, and ecological processes. The in-situ approach includes the protection of a group of typical ecosystems through a network of protected areas as recognized by the UNEP and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). In situ conservation of biodiversity is advantageous in that it is a cheap and convenient method that requires people‘s our supportive role. It maintains all organisms at different trophic levels from producers to top consumers such as carnivores. In the natural environment, organisms not only live and multiply but also evolve and continue to maintain their ability to resist various environmental stresses such as drought storms, snow, temperature fluctuations, excessive rains, flood, fires, pathogens, etc. In situ conservation requires only the elimination of factors detrimental to the existence of the species and allows the larger number of species to grow simultaneously and flourish in their natural environment in which they were growing since a long time. The only disadvantage of in situ conservation is that it requires larger areas and minimizes the space for inhibiting the human population which is increasing tremendously. The following areas may be set aside for in situ conservation:

  • National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries (terrestrial protected areas): the earliest national parks, the Yellowstone in the USA (established in 1872) and the Royal near Sydney, Australia, were chosen because of their scenic beauty and recreational values. Many similar areas throughout the world now protect rare species or wilderness areas. The United Nations has recognized 102102 protected areas covering more than 18.8 million km2 covering 11.5 percent of the earth‘s land surface and 12.65 percent including the marine areas during 2003. There are 41997 protected areas around the world that fulfill the norms of IUCN categories.
  • Marine Protected Area: since 1986 the IUCN has been promoting the establishment of a global system of marine protected areas. These are the areas of the intertidal and sub-tidal region taken together with their overlying water and associated flora and fauna which have been reserved by law or other effective means to protect it. The main objective of marine protected areas are protection and restoration of the depleted population of marine organisms, protection of endangered species and critical habitats, conserving and restoring marine ecosystem health for effective fishing management, to maintain biodiversity and ecological processes of marine and coastal ecosystems to use marine resources in a sustainable and equitable way. According to World Database on Protected Areas records, 4116 protected areas in the UN list contain marine and coastal elements, covering 4.3 million km2.
  • Biosphere Reserves: biosphere reserves are a special category of protected areas of land or coastal environments where people are an integral component of the system. These are representative examples of natural biomes and contain unique biological communities. The concept of biosphere reserve was launched in 1975 as a part of the UNESCO‘s man and Biosphere Programme dealing with the conservation of ecosystems and the genetic resources contained therein.

2. Ex-situ (off-site) Conservation: conservation of plants and animals outside their natural habitats. These include botanical gardens, zoo, and gene banks; seed bank, tissue culture and cryopreservation.

  • Seed Gene Bank: the crop species diversity have declined with the onset of modern agricultural techniques, which will have severe implications on food security of the planet given environmental degradation, pests, epidemics and climate change. Seed gene banks are the easiest way to store germplasm of wild and cultivated plants at low temperature in cold rooms. Preservation of genetic resources is carried out in the field gene banks under normal growing conditions in the case of plants which do not produce seeds for example banana and plantains.
  • In-vitro Gene Bank: these are short and medium term storage for a range of crops woody species, fruit trees and horticultural species using tissue culture techniques. Tissue culture systems allow the propagation of plants with high multiplication rates in an aseptic environment. The cells are grown on a gel and fed with suitable nutrients and hormones to give rise to entire plants.
  • DNA Bank Network: this is a worldwide unique concept. DNA band databases of all partners are linked and are accessible via a central web portal, providing DNA samples of complementary collections (microorganisms, protists, plants, algae, fungi and animals).

Conservation of Biodiversity in India

The country has taken significant steps for biodiversity conservation. Apart from establishing protected areas, a National Biodiversity Act was passed in 2002 which got the assent of President on 5 Feb 2003 and Biodiversity Rules were framed in 2004. A National Biodiversity Action Plan 2008 was released on 24 Feb 2009. India is the second most populous country, and therefore any plan attempting at conservation must consider socioeconomic development as the mounting
human pressure threatens the biotic resources of the country. Furthermore, ours is predominantly an agriculture country, and hence, policy makers should realize that conservation and sustainable utilization of biodiversity is the key to all developmental planning projects.

In-situ (on site)
  • Protected Area: The protected areas are biogeographical areas where biological diversity along with natural and cultural resources are protected, maintained and managed through legal and administrative measures. The demarcation of biodiversity in each area is determined on the basis of climatic and physiological conditions. In these areas, hunting, firewood collection, timber harvesting etc. are prohibited so that the wild plants and animals can grow and multiply freely without any hindrance. Some protected areas are: Cold desert (Ladakh and Spiti), Hot desert (Thar), Saline Swampy area (Sunderban and Rann of Kutch), Tropical moist deciduous forest (Western Ghats and north East) etc. Protected areas include national parks, sanctuaries and biosphere reserves. There are 37,000 protected areas throughout the world. As per World Conservation Monitoring Centre, India has 581 protected areas, national parks and sanctuaries.
  • National Parks of India: A National Park is an area of land set aside to conserve the scenery (or environment) and natural objects and the wildlife therein. Under sec. 35 of the wildlife Protection Act (1972), whenever it appears to the State Government that an area, whether within a sanctuary or not, is by reason of its ecological, faunal, floral, geo-morphological or zoological importance, needed to be constituted as a National park for the purpose of propagating or developing wildlife therein or its environment, it may, by notification, declare its intention to constitute such as a National Park. All kinds of destruction, exploitation and removal of wildlife and damage to the habitat of any animal are strictly prohibited inside a National park. Grazing of domestic animals is also prohibited. However, the Chief Wildlife Warden may, after prior approval of the state government, permit destruction, exploitation and removal of wildlife from the NP if necessary for the improvement and better management of wildlife therein. As of July 2018, there were 104 national parks encompassing an area of 40,501 km2 (15,638 sq. mi), comprising 1.23% of India’s total surface area. Some of the important national parks of India are namely; Biological Park, Nandankanan (Odisha), Corbett national Park, Nainital (U.P.), Kaziranga National Park (Assam), Hazaribagh National Park, (Hazaribagh, Jharkhand), Bandhavgarh National Park (M.P), Bandipur National Park (Karnataka), Kanha National Park (M.P), Keibul Lamjao National Park (Manipur) and Nawgaon National Park (Maharashtra).
  • Sanctuaries: Similar to the National park, a wildlife sanctuary is dedicated to protect wildlife, but it considers the conservation of species only and also the boundary of it is not limited by state legislation. These are the areas where only wild animals (fauna) are present. The activities like harvesting of timbers, collection of forest products, cultivation of lands etc. are permitted as long as these do not interfere with the project. That is, controlled biotic interference is permitted in sanctuaries, which allows visiting of tourists for recreation. The area under a sanctuary remains in between 0.61 to 7818 km. India has 543 wildlife sanctuaries referred to as wildlife sanctuaries category IV protected areas. Among these, the 50 tiger reserves are governed by Project Tiger, and are of special significance in the conservation of the tiger. Some important sanctuaries of India are as follows; Nandankanan Zoological Park, Chilika (Nalaban) Sanctuary, Nelapattu Bird Sanctuary, Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary, Darrah Wildlife Sanctuary etc.
  • Biosphere Reserves: the Ministry of Environment and Forest has notified 18 biosphere reserves in India which are also notified as National Parks. Eleven of the eighteen biosphere reserves are a part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, based on the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme list. Biosphere reserves or natural reserves are multipurpose protected areas with boundaries circumscribed by legislation. The main aim of biosphere reserve is to preserve genetic diversity in representative ecosystems by protecting wild animals, traditional life style of inhabitant and domesticated plant/ animal genetic resources. These are scientifically managed allowing only the tourists to visit. Some of the important biosphere reserves in India are located at Nanda Devi, Manas, Dehang Debang, Gulf of Mannar, Nilgiri, Sunderbans, Pachmarhi, Great Nicobar, Khanghendzonga etc.
  • Community Reserves can be declared by the State Government in any private or community land, not comprised within a National Park, Sanctuary or a Conservation Reserve, where an individual or a community has volunteered to conserve wildlife and its habitat. Community Reserves are declared for the purpose of protecting fauna, flora and traditional or cultural conservation values and practices. As in the case of a Conservation Reserve, the rights of people living inside a Community Reserve are not affected.
Ex-situ (off-site)
  • Botanical Gardens and Zoos: to complement in-situ conservation, exsitu conservation is being undertaken through setting up botanical gardens, zoos, medicinal plants parks etc by various agencies The Indian Botanical Garden in Howrah (West Bengal) is over 200 years old. Other important botanical gardens are in Ooty, Bangalore and Lucknow. The most recent one is The Botanical Garden of Indian Republic established at NOIDA, near Delhi in April, 2002.
  • Gene Banks: ex-situ collection and preservation of genetic resources is done through gene banks and seed banks. The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), New Delhi preserves seeds of wild relatives of crop plants as well as cultivated varieties the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources at Karnal; Haryana maintains the genetic material for domesticated animals, and the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources, Lucknow for fishes.
  • Cryopreservation: (―freeze preservation‖) is particularly useful for conserving vegetative propagated crops. Cryopreservation is the storage of material at ultra-low temperature of liquid nitrogen (- 1960C) and essentially involves suspension of all metabolic processes and activities. Cryopreservation has been successfully applied to meristems, zygotic and somatic embryos, pollen, protoplasts cells and suspension cultures of a number of plant species.

Biodiversity Conservation Council of India (BiCCI)

Biodiversity Conservation Council of India is a non-profitable public charitable trust formed with an intention to conserve and manage the biodiversity of India. One of its primary objectives is to document all traditional farming, pastoralist systems and livestock practices and create bio-cultural protocols for communities and ecosystems on the lines of established practices. The objectives of BiCCI include documenting the indigenous bio-diversity of flora and fauna, raising awareness on the biodiversity wealth and its importance in ecological balance. BiCCI aims to protect and promote traditional knowledge being practiced in farming, medicine, livestock keeping, food etc., impart training in the same, protect our ecosystem from invasion of non-native species of plants or animals and to work on eradication of the invasive alien species. BiCCI endeavours to support in-situ conservation, ex-situ and crypto preservation of native livestock, promote research in the indispensability of native livestock/plants in farming, food security of the country, economical freedom of rural households, and empowerment of women through sustainable means.

Sustainable Development

Humans have made a very impressive economic progress, especially during the past two centuries, in creating material and luxuries of life style. This progress has been achieved at a tremendous cost to the environment. Ever increasing exploitation of natural resources coupled with environmental degradation has reached a point that now threatens the wellbeing and future of mankind. Human greed must be controlled and human wants and needs must be restricted. We must treat our environment and resources with respect and stop their reckless exploitation of natural resources.

Sustainable development emphasizes that rate of consumption and use of natural resources must balance. The World Commission on Environment and development defined sustainable development as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”

This definition emphasizes two important points. One, the natural resources are important for our present day survival as for the survival of our future generations. Two, any present developmental activity or programme must take into account, its future consequences.

The main cause of unsustainability is in ever increasing human population and over exploitation of resources. Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of ―enoughness‖ in his saying “the earth provides enough to satisfy every persons need but not for every person’s greed” is perhaps more relevant at present time than when it was said.

The damage and destruction of the environment is so clearly visible now as never before. In short we have damaged and destroyed our environment in the name of development. There is very little time left for talking and discussing the matter, we have to do and act now to recover the lost environment and conserve the natural resources.

Some steps in that direction are:
  • adoption of energy and resource saving methods;
  • new technology for minimization of wastes and toxins;
  • biodegradable, renewable and recyclable products;
  • Education and awareness about environment in people.

Dimensions of Sustainable Development

  • Environmental Sustainability – The basic functions of the environment that defines the capacity to preserve over time are such as wisely use of resources, complying by the laws, minimizing the facilities impact by operating efficiently and responsibly thus reducing the adverse impact of the products in use. Here recalling the first principle of from the Rio Declaration “Human beings […] are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature”. This principle entails that in an area the environmental sustainability assures the protection of environment and the renewal of natural resources by the means to increase the capacity and bring value to the environment and it peculiarities.
  • Economic Sustainability – This concept of sustainability focuses mainly on the living environment, i.e. local / global natural and nonrenewable resources which are necessary for our well- being without compromising the quality of life. Further reducing the financial burden and reversing the nuisances produced by the economic activity, potentially eliminating through a better management thus generating the constant growth capacity of the economic indicators. Hence in a territory, the Economic Sustainability represents the ability to maintain the highest added value by the efficient mix of resources and enhancing the product/service range capacity to generate employment and incomes for the populations to sustain.
  • Social Sustainability – The ability to give assurance for the welfare of the masses (security, health, education), and equitably distributing it among the social classes and gender. Hence in a territory, Social Sustainability entails the capacity of the different social stakeholders to interact efficiently, aiming towards the same goals and encouraged by the close interaction of the Institutions at all levels.

In September 2015, all the 193 Member nations of the UN adopted an action plan for the next 15 years, achieving better future for the people, environment and our planet earth to eradicate extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, tackle climate change and protect our planet.

Sustainable Development Goals

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and169 targets comprise the AGENDA 2030 that defines the world we want – while ensuring no one is left behind. This AGENDA 2030 came into force officially on 1 January 2016. These 17 SDGs and 169 targets are indivisible and can be integrated balancing the three dimensions of sustainable development that underlines a global commitment to achieving them.

Sustainable Development Goals and Interlinkages

Three basic interlinkages strengthen this cohesiveness, and can be used as a “filter” to assess the completeness and robustness of the future goals, targets and indicators are:

  • To leave no one behind and providing dignity of life for all: Creating and ensuring sustainable opportunities such as livelihoods, basic standard of living and social/environmental protection, for those who are affected by extreme poverty and chronic unemployment, by lack of access to services (water, sanitation, energy, markets, health, education, shelter), by racial discrimination, by lack of law, and unable to live in a clean and healthy environment. Making this as the focus of the future sustainable development agenda, we need affordable solutions for breakthrough the poverty trap and assuring basic livelihoods without further degrade the environment. Thus simultaneously increasing employment opportunities, upscaling provision of basic services, fostering better use of science and traditional knowledge, protecting the environment through innovative and green technologies.
  • To achieve greater prosperity in an inclusive manner within the capacity of the earth’s life support system: Future prosperity requires that economic growth no longer degrades the environment for the continued well-being of humanity, smooth functioning of the economy, managing natural resources as well as protection of social and cultural heritage. We need to move towards a universal transition of inclusive green economy and sustainable consumption & production. Sustainable consumption is not necessarily about consuming less, but about how we are consuming better to live sustainably intelligent and environmentally safe way. It can yield a variety of interlinked economic, social, health benefits and civil society empowerment. The improved and wise use of the global life support system is needed in order to check to reverse of development gains not crossing ecological or social thresholds.
  • To increase capital to achieve greater resilience and secure future generations’ livelihoods: Sustaining long-term development and improvement capacity of our planet from the present degrading state requires efficient investment in natural, social, and economic infrastructure capital of any nation. Thus enlarging our life support systems in order to achieve living aspirations of leaving no one behind, achieving greater well-being, prosperity for all, and securing our future generations. Managing effectively the disruptive changes along with achieving human resilience to social, economic, and environmental shocks will enhance our ability to adaptation. Sustainably managing the natural resources that can be the drivers for promoting peace and economic well-being. However, the targets and indicators in achieving the above should be scientifically reliable, verifiable, and measurable based on the best available information and evidence.

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