Asia biodiversity threat

C&I Issue 3, 2023

Read time: 3 mins

Shem Oirere

Asia is rated as the ‘the most underperforming continent in meeting a global target to protect 17% of land by 2020,’ according to a new study by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, UK. Only 13.2% of land on the continent is designated as a terrestrial protected area.

This target, set by more than 196 countries at the 2010 UN Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Nagoya, Japan, is to support global efforts to address the worsening biodiversity crisis.

Only 40% of the 48 Asian countries hit the targeted minimum of 17% coverage for protected areas at the end of 2020. In fact, 14 of the 19 countries in West and Central Asia failed to achieve the target, according to the study.

‘Countries that had a higher proportion of agricultural land in 2015 had a lower protected area coverage in 2020,’ the study notes. ‘This may imply that rapidly expanding agriculture may be hindering the establishment of new protected areas.’

Worryingly, more than 93% of the areas classified as protected in Asia did not have ‘any kind of assessment for their management effectiveness’. Poor management of these protected areas explains why, despite the areas encompassing national parks, natural monuments, nature reserves, wildlife sanctuaries and protected landscapes, nearly 84% of Asia’s 241 highly at-risk mammal species ‘fell outside protected areas’.

‘Under current trends, the outlook for achieving the Global Biodiversity Framework’s 2030 target to protect at least 30% of land is bleak, with Asia set to miss this by an even greater margin,’ the study notes.

Asia’s estimated 4.75bn population is fast growing and driving rapid habitat loss, threatening wildlife such as giant panda, snow leopard, and Asian elephant.

‘Asia is a challenging continent for setting targets for protected areas, since areas of high biodiversity typically conflict with dense human populations and rapid economic growth,’ said lead study author Mohammed Farhadinia of the Department of Biology and Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford. ‘While this research demonstrates the need for more investment in protected areas in Asia, it also shows the importance of establishing realistic, achievable goals that take into account socio-geographical restrictions.’

However, it is not all gloom and doom for Asia’s biodiversity as some countries such as Nepal have surpassed the 17% target for terrestrial protected areas. This country of 30m people, with an estimated 40% of its 147,000km2 of land area under forest, increased its coverage of protected areas also by 40%, with it now covering more than 24% of the Nepalese territory.

‘The political will to preserve the country’s biodiversity, favourable environmental policies, and international commitment made under Aichi targets by the government made this significant achievement possible,’ said Gopal Khanal, a conservation officer at Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment, and co-author of the study.

The study findings coincided with the COP15 meeting in December 2022 in Montreal, Canada, to review the achievement of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets as well as discuss strategies for meeting the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework targets. The complexity of the Asian continent, in terms of human population, biodiversity richness and geopolitics makes it difficult to have a ‘one size fits all’ solution to the challenges facing sustainability of the region’s biodiversity according to Aishwarya Maheshwari, an India-based co-author of the study. What Asia requires to improve the coverage of protected areas in line with the post-2020 biodiversity targets, he says, is ‘careful and targeted planning while balancing human demands’.

Meanwhile, the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Living Planet Report 2022, says the twin issues of loss of biodiversity and Climate Change have to be addressed together if sustainable use of the earth’s resources is to be achieved.

The report identifies biodiversity losses to be highest in Latin America at 94%, ahead of Africa’s 66%. Asia Pacific, North America and Europe and Central Asia biodiversity losses are estimated at 55%, 20% and 18%, respectively. The global average of protected areas is estimated at 15.2% with a separate, previous report by UNEP, showing the African continent currently has on average 19% of its land and 17% of the seas covered by protected and conserved areas, though the figures may vary from one country to another.

Indonesia, Cambodia, Japan, and South Korea were reported to have expanded their protected areas by more than 10%.

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