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Across Asia, Rapid Economic Growth Threatens Biodiversity

FILE - A bed of corals off Malaysia's Tioman island in the South China Sea
FILE - A bed of corals off Malaysia's Tioman island in the South China Sea

Asia's rapid economic growth in recent decades has lifted millions of people out of poverty, but has also carried steep costs for the region's biodiversity. A gathering of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Bangkok warned this week that unless countries in the region can work together to better protect the region's shrinking ecosystems, scores of plants and animals will face extinction.

Asia now accounts for 40 percent of global economic output and two thirds of global growth. Also some 60 percent of the world’s population live in Asia with urban populations set to reach 3.3 billion by 2050 from 1.9 billion now.

But the region's rapid economic development has taken a toll.

More than 1,400 plants and animals are considered critically endangered. Some 95 percent of South East Asia’s coral reefs lie at risk. Mangroves, the vital wetlands that once covered tens of thousands of kilometers of shorelines around Asia, are disappearing faster here than anywhere else in the world.

IUCN President Zhang Xinsheng said the planet’s ecosystems were no longer able to manage the growing stresses and need renewed government efforts to stem the losses.

“Can we be sustainable with [existing] production pattern? Can we sustain with this [level of] consumption? So now it needs political will; it needs general awareness, it needs also change of values. We must review, we must reflect, we have change the production pattern, we have change the consumption model, we have to build inclusive societies,” he said.

The IUCN in a closing statement urged governments, the private sector and non-government groups to work much closer in building solutions for communities and the natural environment.

But the challenge said Yeshey Dorji, Bhutan’s Minister for Agriculture and Forests, was to overcome the short term economic considerations that usually thwarted long-term conservation efforts.

“It’s mainly going for short term economic gains. Yes I think that is the biggest challenge for conservation, like poaching, illegal trade, - this is for short term economic gains which are actually the main driving force,” he said.

IUCN Asia Regional director Aban Marker Kabraji said 2015 marked a turning point for Asia with an urgent effort to harness the innovation that fueled the past five decades of Asia's economic growth and use it to secure the well being of both nature and humans.

The three-day forum in Bangkok was a key step in the lead up to the World Conservation Congress of more than 88 state members due to be held in Hawaii in September 2016.