The Global Climate Risk 2017 Index prepared by German environmental policy think-tank Germanwatch has identified Sri Lanka as the second most country affected by the impacts of climate-related loss events (storms, floods, heat waves etc.), the first being the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Since 2003, more than 200 people have lost their lives, 600,000 [...]

Sunday Times 2

A timely conference on bridging the elements of biodiversity


The Global Climate Risk 2017 Index prepared by German environmental policy think-tank Germanwatch has identified Sri Lanka as the second most country affected by the impacts of climate-related loss events (storms, floods, heat waves etc.), the first being the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico.

Montane biodiversity in tropical region countries like Sri Lanka are very high. (Photo courtesy Ruchira Somaweera)

Since 2003, more than 200 people have lost their lives, 600,000 displaced and 12 districts have been affected by heavy rains.  The most affected district was Ratnapura where more than 20,000 people faced flash floods.

These kinds of environmental catastrophes are now a common place world over as reported recently from the Amazon region and also in our own country in the Balangoda, Badulla and Moneragala areas where man-made fires have not only destroyed unknown numbers of existing flora and fauna, but also released an equally un-estimated amount of greenhouse gases to our already strained atmosphere.

Another equally disturbing global assessment report has been produced by the Inter-governmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in May 2019. In this report, the IPBES Chair Robert Watson says there is overwhelming evidence to conclude that the health of ecosystems, on which we and all other species depend, is deteriorating more rapidly than ever.  We ourselves are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.  This most comprehensive assessment of its kind carried out to date by the IPBES says more than 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction and that the current global response is sadly insufficient.

A ray of hope that this report brings out in to the public domain is, however, Watson’s optimism that it is still not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.  He says, “Through ‘transformative changes’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”  The report says opposition to these comprehensive transformative changes that may come from vested interests could be overcome for public good by creating and sustaining evidence-based strong opinions across the globe.

Strong global commitments to reducing greenhouse gases and restoring biodiversity and ecosystem services with re-establishing connectivity among fragmented landscapes are already in the forefront of global agenda.  It has been elevated to even a higher level of global attention as a result of recent fires raging in the Amazon.  The Paris Summit, the Bonn Challenge, the New York Declaration on forests and the United Nations’ recent declaration identifying 2021-2030 as the’ International Decade of Forest Restoration’ – a period during which 350 million hectares of degraded and deforested areas of the world  have been pledged to be restored. However, to achieve the expected results, technological, economic and social transformative changes that the IPBES report suggest need to be turbo-charged especially in their ground-level action.

Against this backdrop of a biodiversity crisis, the Asia-Pacific Chapter meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC-AP) is to be held in Sri Lanka for the first time.  It is a timely gathering of international and local scientists and other stakeholders to re-orient their vision and mission to incorporate the transformative changes to take us to a greener world.  One of ATBC’s main goals is to improve communication, cooperation and collaboration among researchers, educators, environmental managers and practitioners, and local communities. The theme of the ATBC AP 2019 is “Bridging the elements of biodiversity conservation: Save, Study, Use”. The theme is very much in line with the global, regional and local agendas for sustainable development.

Under this theme, more than 200 local and overseas participants will be presenting their findings on saving and sustainably using biodiversity, having studied them using the most appropriate methodologies some of which are known as ‘smart technologies’.  Therefore, this conference is set to address a number of issues, particularly those relevant to Sri Lanka and the Asia-Pacific region.  More details of the plenary presentations, and others spread over 30 or so different symposia and workshops can be seen at the conference web site (ATBC AP

Another important novel addition to this conference is to establish a partnership with Biodiversity Sri Lanka (BSL), a national platform which promotes strong leadership of the private sector in helping to raise awareness on biodiversity and sustainability issues amongst the Sri Lankan business community.  Through this partnership, the BSL will showcase the environmental conservation efforts of its members to a wider international audience.

Since there will be a wide cross-section of biologists, conservationists, environmentalists and the business community, attending this international event, the organising committee will launch a forum for ecologists (and bio-geographers) to provide a local platform to interact, discuss and collaborate with like-minded colleagues in Sri Lanka, in the region and indeed, worldwide.  The organisers are planning to launch the Sri Lanka Ecological Association (SLEA) as a professional body of ecologists during this symposium. The SLEA is expected to be the Sri Lanka’s institutional member of the International Association for Ecology (INTECOL).

The broad subject of ecology is taking the center-stage in most global agendas and consequently spilling over to regional and local agendas through legally binding agreements or otherwise, as the case may be, in our collective initiative to move towards a greener tomorrow.  The need for a professional body to address some of the major objectives is indeed timely, if not overdue.

Its main objective would be to promote cutting-edge ecological and biogeographic research while learning from globally recognised socio-culturally sustainable traditional agro-ecological systems in the country through international collaboration and capacity building of next generation of researchers. Establishing research linkages and collaboration with global and regional ecological networks to share befits, promoting ecosystem restoration and nature conservation projects with emphasis on biodiversity, ecosystem services and their valuation to move towards an era of green economic growth and providing advocacy towards policies are some of the other objectives of the Ecological Society.

Sri Lanka being an island sharing the same continental shelf with India and also a global hotspot of biodiversity with India’s Western Ghats, there is every opportunity to strengthen the existing collaboration and help initiate new collaborations on conservation issues common to both countries in the light of rapidly developing economic initiatives in them.  Ecology, biogeography and sustainability science of our shared biodiversity hotspot is an area that needs urgent attention of scientists in this changing climate.

Similarly, the biogeographic and ecological similarities of our rain forests with those of South-East Asia also need joint scientific investigations for their long-term sustainability and impacts on livelihoods of people in the face of climatic anomalies like El Nino and La Nina events.

This conference offers many opportunities, especially for next generation biologists and ecologists to learn from each other’s experiences to contribute our due share in making our region and the whole world a better place to live.

The ATBC conference, the first of its kind to be held in Sri Lanka, will take place at MAS Athena, Thulhiriya from September 10-13. Visit for details.

The writer is Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

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