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Scientists must play their part

- By Kemantha Govender

The scientific community has a vital role to play in addressing biodiversity loss, said Professor Zakri Abdul Hamid, science advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Hamid asked scientists during his lecture on the Politics of Biodiversity loss at Wits University to ensure that their talents and knowledge were accessible to the global community.

“It must be the ability of the scientific community to convince politicians on the grave concerns of biodiversity loss. They must also provide scientific evidence to stakeholders – politicians and policy makers – to comprehend and initiate and sustain actions and programmes to halt biodiversity loss,” said Hamid.

He said issues around biodiversity may not be well known as climates change, but attention needs to be urgently drawn to this problem.

Hamid said that lofty goals such as conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and genetic sharing of resources negotiated are often negotiated by diplomats which are mainly politicians. He said that it is therefore not uncommon in spite of the rhetoric, commitment and voluminous decisions taken at global meetings such as the Conference of the Parties, that targets are not met.

One way of doing so is to “offer a compelling rational and demonstrate biodiversity relevance to wealth generation and job creation.” This forms part of his job as an advisor where Malaysia too, wants to be able to create jobs and alleviate poverty while addressing biodiversity loss.

One in eight birds, one of every four mammals and one of every three amphibians are threatened with extinction. Some 75% of genetic diversity of agri-crops has been lost. With three quarters of the world fisheries fully or over-exploited and global trends that indicate birds and mammal pollinators are falling victim to extinction, Hamid is concerned with the muted concern from the public to this threat, attributing it to in part biodiversity slow decline in human terms.

He is hoping that a proper assessment on the status and trends of biodiversity loss becomes available by 2018.

“This is worrying because pollination services are said to be worth more than $215 billion,” he said.

Hamid was hosted by the Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute at Wits. He is an Academy of Science of South Africa Distinguished Visiting Scholar and addressed audiences at several universities in South Africa. He is also the Chairman of the National Professors Council.

He is also Chairman of the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation and Joint Chairman of the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology. Hamid has extensive experience in biodiversity governance at the national and international levels.