International Biodiversity Day 2024: Be part of the plan

INTERNATIONAL Biodiversity Day, observed on May 22, 2024, highlighted the critical need for collective action to protect the planet’s biodiversity. This year’s theme, “Be Part of the Plan”, calls on individuals, governments and organisations to join forces in safeguarding the intricate web of life that sustains us all. 

Biodiversity encompasses the variety of life on Earth, including human, animal and plant species, and is fundamental to environmental health, food security and overall biosecurity. Effective regulation and governance are crucial to preserving biodiversity and ensuring sustainable development. 

Biodiversity is the cornerstone of a healthy environment and is essential for food security. It supports ecosystem services such as pollination, soil fertility and pest control, which are vital for agriculture and food production. The loss of biodiversity can disrupt these services, leading to decreased crop yields and increased vulnerability to pests and diseases. Protecting biodiversity ensures resilient ecosystems that can adapt to changing conditions and continue to provide the resources necessary for human survival. 

While common areas of concern when discussing biodiversity include sustainable development, environmental degradation, climate change and so on, the more important concerns of biosafety and biosecurity are often overlooked. Biosecurity and biosafety are important concepts for preserving both human health and the environment. 

Biosecurity in general encompasses measures to prevent the introduction and spread of harmful biological agents, including pathogens that cause animal and plant diseases. Biosafety involves the safe handling and containment of these agents to protect human health and the environment. 

The regulation of transboundary movements of living modified organisms (LMOs) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) through protocols such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention of Biological Diversity is essential. These protocols ensure that risks and benefits are assessed, and appropriate measures are in place to manage potential hazards. Effective regulation of LMOs and GMOs requires a balanced approach that considers both scientific risk assessments and socio-economic factors. 

Command-and-control regulations, which rely on strict enforcement of specific rules, must be complemented by smart regulation that is adaptive and responsive to new challenges. This approach to environmental governance ensures that regulations are both effective and flexible, allowing for innovation while safeguarding public health and the environment. While Malaysia ranked as the world’s 12th mega biodiversity in the world, the importance of these concepts should not be underestimated.

Biosecurity extends beyond the threat of biological weapons to encompass human security in general. The unintentional release of hazardous biological agents, as highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, underscores the importance of robust biosecurity measures. Lessons learned from Covid-19 emphasise the need for preparedness and responsive regulations to prevent and manage outbreaks of infectious diseases that could start from biodiversity such as animals, and plants, and then infect humans. The re-emergence of Covid-19 and other potential pandemics requires continuous vigilance and a strong legal framework. 

Ensuring that biosecurity measures are grounded in the rule of law and justice is crucial. Regulations must be fair, transparent and enforceable to gain public trust and compliance. Biosecurity frameworks should cater to the protection of biodiversity, human health, animals and plants, ensuring a holistic approach to safeguarding life on Earth. 

Public education and awareness are vital components of biosecurity. Governments and experts must work together to inform the public about the dangers of biological threats and how to prevent and respond to them.

This includes educating people on the risks associated with poisonous algae, animal diseases, human viruses and other pathogens. Empowering communities with knowledge enhances their ability to contribute to biosecurity efforts and respond effectively to biological incidents. 

Research and development (R&D) are critical for building capacity to detect and address biosecurity threats. R&D investments enhance our ability to identify and mitigate risks associated with climate change, which can alter ecosystems and introduce new biological threats. For example, climate change may lead to the proliferation of poisonous algae, affecting marine life and human health. Ensuring food security in a changing climate requires innovative solutions and robust scientific research. 

International Biodiversity Day 2024 calls on all of us to “Be Part of the Plan” in protecting our planet’s biodiversity. This involves comprehensive regulation, strong biosecurity measures, education, and continued research. By working together, we can ensure a sustainable future where biodiversity thrives, ecosystems are resilient and humanity is well-prepared to face biological challenges. Let’s commit to safeguarding our planet for future generations. 

  • Dr Noor Dzuhaidah Osman Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Shariah and Law Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition