Biodiversity knows no ‘national boundaries’ and nations must protect species from rising consumption, dams and industry
Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk (http://www.guardian.co.uk/), Thursday 18 March 2010 18.00 GMT
Mount Kanchenjunga in the Darjeeling mountains in the Himalayas, a particularly environmentally sensitive area. Photograph: Frederic Soltan/© Frederic Soltan/Corbis
China and India could together decide the future of the global environment, a team of senior scientists warn today in a call for closer collaboration on conservation by the world’s two most populous nations.
Writing in the journal Science, the eight coauthors — including zoologists from both nations — warn of the security and biodiversity threat posed by rising consumption, dam construction and industrial emissions.
The ecological footprint of the two fast-emerging Asian economies has already spread beyond their borders and with future economic growth rates likely to continue at 8% for several years, the experts say the pressure on borders, resources and biodiversity could reach dangerous levels.
“The degree to which China and India consume natural resources within their boundaries and beyond will largely determine future environmental, social and economic outcomes,” say the co-authors headed by Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
The report notes that the two countries import 9m of crude oil a year and 64% of all the roundwood pine produced in Asia, adding to the problems of global deforestation and warming.
The impacts are becoming more obvious in the strategically sensitive Himalayan border area, where the authors say large numbers of troops are damaging the environment. Resources in the mountain region are so scarce, they note, that soldiers sometimes eat rare plants.
Melting glaciers that supply meltwater for half the world’s population and the constriction of rivers by hundreds of dams are also major problems, they say.
With the demand for energy in both nations growing, they predict a further rise in construction of hydroelectric plants and exploitation of other Himalayan resources, with alarming implications for regional security.
“The synergistic effects of decreasing water resources, loss of biodiversity, increased pollution and climate change may have negative social and economic consequences and, even worse, escalate conflicts within and between the two countries,” they warn.
Despite their growing global importance, China and India have conducted little joint research and engaged in only modest collaboration to mitigate the impact of their rapid development. There have been small signs of progress in recent years, including agreements to jointly monitor glaciers and study the interaction between the atmosphere and the ocean. But the authors say much more collaboration is necessary.
“More earnest cooperation between the world’s two most populous countries will be vital for mitigating biodiversity loss, global warming and deforestation,” the authors say.
They suggest turning disputed territory into trans-boundary protected areas, fostering scientific collaboration, working with the United Nations to manage natural resources and encouraging regional forums, such as Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), to focus more on the environment.
One of the authors — Zhang Yaping, the president of the Kunming Institute of Zoology — said it was rare for biodversity protection to span the two nations.
“We should certainly strengthen cooperation in this field,” he said. “China and India have done a lot of conservation work inside their own nations. What we need now is a joint effort. There should be no national boundaries in biodiversity protection.”