The International Day for Biological Diversity, more commonly referred to as International Biodiversity Day (IBD), was created by the United Nations (UN) in 1992. The purpose was to promote, through awareness and action, the objectives of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which had newly come into force at a UN conference held in Rio de Janeiro that year – a historical global meet that has come to be known as the Earth Summit.
Currently, IBD is celebrated on the 22 of May each year. But, interestingly, for the first few years since its creation, it used to be celebrated on 29 December to mark the day the CBD came into force. However, many nations found it difficult to organize official IBD celebrations owing to the holiday season around 29 December. Hence, in 2001, the UN proclaimed that henceforth IBD would be celebrated on 22 May instead, to give it more visibility worldwide.
As you know, biological diversity or ‘biodiversity’ refers to the diversity of life at 3 levels – the diversity within a species, such as varieties of rice, mangoes, cows or dogs; the diversity of species, including each of the approximately 9 million types of organisms that inhabit Earth; and the diversity of living spaces or ecosystems, such as desert, grassland, forest, wetland, river or sea.
The main objectives that IBD is expected to promote are:
• conservation of biodiversity
• sustainable use of biodiversity
• fair and equitable sharing of biodiversity benefits directly used by humans, such as varieties of crops/livestock and medicinal plants
Recent studies indicate that unless humans conserve and sustainably share biodiversity, it is not possible for all humans to fulfil even the most basic human needs, such as sufficient food or access to medicine. Recent studies are also suggesting that human encroachment into natural habitats has enabled pathogens, from Ebola to Covid-19, to enter humans and their livestock. These findings seem to be telling us that leaving biodiversity as inviolate as possible is probably good for overall human well-being.
The theme selected for IBD 2020 is “Our solutions are in nature”. This theme highlights how, despite impressive technological advances, humans remain completely dependent on biodiversity for water, food, medicines, clothes, fuel, shelter, energy and so much more. This theme also emphasizes the importance of working together at all levels, from individuals to nations, to build a future in which humans can live in harmony with nature.
A simple but effective way in which we, as individuals, housing society members, institutional heads or town-planners, can support biodiversity, is by creating greenery in the spaces available around us. But, to support healthy and ecologically valuable biodiversity, it is important to choose well the species we plant.
An important consideration while choosing species to plant, is to opt for native species. Native species are those which have occurred naturally in an area over very long periods of time, usually thousands of years, during which they have forged complex relationships with other native species of that area. So, we find that such plants invariably provide many services – food, tools, nesting materials, shelter-sites – to the other native organisms that share their habitat. Thus, though all plants may play some common roles – such as binding soil, keeping the land and air around them moist and cool and maintaining the balance of gases in the air – native species of plants provide a lot more, especially to the wild fauna of an area, from microbes to mammals.
The other important consideration while choosing species for plantation is diversity – of plant species, as well as, plant forms. The more the diversity of plant species, the more will be the overall diversity supported by the greenery, making it resilient to natural or artificial disturbances. Similarly, the more the diversity of plant forms, the more layered will be the greenery, helping it absorb more sunlight, heat and rainwater, making it productive and robust.
So, please do plant whenever and wherever you can. And please do choose as many types and forms of natives as possible – large trees, small trees, shrubs, climbers, creepers, herbs… Happy Biodiversity Day!
Experiential Learning, Somaiya Center for Experiential Learning