Beyond the Hotspot – What Vietnam Can Teach Us About Biodiversity

16 Sep
Central Annamites Mountains, courtesy of Indochina Legend

Central Annamites Mountains, courtesy of Indochina Legend

Biodiversity hotspots, according to Conservation International, are, “the richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life on earth.” These islands of natural abundance cover less than 3% of the Earth’s surface yet host a stunning array of plant and animal life. Imperiled by the twin threats of habitat loss and climate change, hotspots may be ground zero for the jump in extinctions that is widely believed to be looming.  Amid the busy schedule of upcoming summits such as COP-15, the best hope for prioritizing the preservation of biodiversity may hinge upon adoption of a more pragmatic approach to negotiation.  Stressing the favorable impact of forested land on reducing temperatures and providing food and economic security to the broader community, may prove a more persuasive argument than preservation for the sake of exotic plant and animal life.

Vietnam provides an excellent example of how biodiversity preservation may be tied to the larger climate change and economic policy debates. A WWF Vietnam study has found that the Central Annamites forests in Vietnam have been steadily losing biodiversity as they are degraded by climate change and human encroachment. As forests recede, loss of biodiversity creates a cascade effect that ultimately harms local rice, soybean, fish and fruit harvests thereby reducing the food security of the surrounding communities. It is these considerations, and not the plight of comparatively obscure hotspot species that will be in negotiators’ minds as they sit down at Copenhagen. Combined with the assertion, made by scientists such as Nguyen Ninh in this study, that biodiversity may be a powerful mitigation tool, policymakers and environmentalists need to confront the reality that hotspots, which capture the imagination, may be less useful for climate progress than the forests and fields that drive the global economy.

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