The Great War or the First World War (1914-1918) was a military conflict played out largely in Europe amongst the Triple Entente (Britain, France, and Russia and their allies) and the Central Powers (Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary and Turkey) that resulted in 9 million deaths. Following the Treaty of Versailles (1919-1920), a League of Nations was formed in the hope of preventing such a conflict in the future. The Treaty of Versailles, the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations, the position in which Germany found itself, the spread of European nationalism and the break up of some empires led to the Second World War (1939-1945). World War II mobilised more than 100 million personnel from both the Allies and the Axis and resulted in between 50 million and 70 million deaths (historians differ on the statistics but Soviet Union lost 23.9 m, China 10-20 m, Germany 6.6 m, Japan 2.7 m, UK and USA 0.8 m). The United Nations was formed to prevent future conflicts, foster co-operation on laws, security, economic development, and social progress amongst the nations and establish human rights. However, like its predecessor League of Nations, the United Nations comprising “peace-loving nations” quickly became a piece of putty in the hands of superpowers who could manipulate weaker nations to agree with them.
As the world stands on the brink of an unimaginable holocaust, why has the UN become the great un-doer? The short answer is that there is a lack of true justice in international relations, be that on the legal, economic, social or security matters. Even some tiny insignificant states have learnt that they can hold superpowers to ransom because they wield immense lobbying power in the policy making of that superpower and as a result they can engage in war and ignore UN resolutions with impunity. With the five Security Council members enjoying veto powers, its proceedings have failed to deal with conflicts that continue to recur. Unfortunately, this malaise has begun to manifest itself beyond military conflict to even debates that affect the future of the human race on this planet.
The UN designated 2010 as an International Year of Biodiversity. Biodiversity is meant to be a science devoted to arresting the scale of change in life forms on the earth so that future generations can benefit from their continued existence. Since life began on the earth, many species have ceased to exist. In particular, after the emergence of humans, the rate of extinction has increased dramatically resulting in an unprecedented destruction of plant and animal life. Species are disappearing at up to 1000 times the natural rate of extinction. Population growth encroaching upon an ever-reducing flora and fauna, making way for the exploitation of natural resources, the deforestation of the Amazon, the haphazard way of waste disposal, the movement of animals from their natural habitat to far flung zoos and many other factors have contributed to the situation where we find ourselves. What your forefathers and ancestors ate or hunted, can only be depicted in two dimensional pictures to you and those who follow you.
In September 2010, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, implored world leaders to commit to reversing the alarming rate of biodiversity loss and rescuing the natural economy before it was too late. ‘Conserving the planet’s species and habitat … had the potential to generate annual economic gains worth trillions of dollars… Allowing biodiversity to decline was like throwing money out of the window,’ he continued. Warning that the 2010 deadline for substantially reducing the rate of biodiversity loss would not be met, Mr. Ban urged leaders to muster the political will to turn that goal into reality, as their legacy and “gift to generations to come”.
Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Yemen’s representative said: “It is the poor of the world who will suffer the most if we do not stop the loss of our biological resources, since the poor depend disproportionately on biodiversity for their day-to-day livelihoods.”
Sadly, the 2050 biodiversity vision expected to be adopted at the Tenth Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Nagoya, Japan, also lacked any meaningful commitment by the leaders of the world. Rather than worry what future generations will see of previous species, world leaders have far too many other important issues to face such as banning the Islamic veil, banning minarets, controlling a propped up financial sector paying itself huge bonuses, struggling with crumbling economies, and when not so engaged, how to cling on to the seat of power. The world is immersed in its material pursuits, every man for himself, and no one cares about the rest of creation. Even when we talk of biodiversity, we cannot move away from talking of dollar savings. Who has the time to co-operate and improve the condition of the others, restore peace and provide an environment of security?
The Biodiversity Convention’s three objectives are conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources, by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding.
The Heads of State and Government attending the World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in August/September 2002, agreed to substantially reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010. This commitment was confirmed by the 154 Heads of State. However, biodiversity continues to be lost at unprecedented rate, thus threatening the capacity of the planet to continue providing its good and services. If current loss rates continue, it is expected that an area of 1.3 billion hectares worldwide – about 1.5 times the United States – will completely lose its original biodiversity levels by 2050. This unprecedented loss is compounded by climate change. More than 30 per cent of all known species may disappear before the end of this century owing to climate change.
2010 was designated as the International Year of Biodiversity with a view of engaging the people all over the world in the fight to protect life on Earth to raise an awareness about the importance of biodiversity, to communicate the human costs of its ongoing loss, and to get the people, and in particular youth and children, involved in efforts to conserve and sustainably use our natural heritage and to protect our lives and the lives of our children.
The Year of Biodiversity will give way to the launch of the 2011 International Year of Forests but that is another story altogether.