An awards programme for outstanding achievement in biodiversity conservation and advocacy in South-East Asia has been launched to help boost public and political awareness of impending biodiversity loss.
The ASEAN Champions of Biodiversity awards will highlight the problems of the region's rich but threatened flora and fauna and the urgent need for governments to back conservation efforts.
The scheme has been launched by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Centre for Biodiversity in the Philippines together with several other international organisations. The winners will become 'ambassadors' for biodiversity — sharing their experiences through lectures and fora that aim to inspire young people and businesses and highlight biodiversity loss in local media.
Unlike climate change, political and public debates about biodiversity loss have been largely absent (see Biodiversity loss matters, and communication is crucial). Governments that signed the Convention on Biological Diversity at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 are unlikely to meet their 2010 targets to achieve a 'significant reduction' in biodiversity loss. And advocates of biodiversity conservation remain largely unheard in public and policy discussions.
Mike Shanahan, communications officer for the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, described biodiversity loss as the "invisible" threat.
"The biodiversity convention was set up in 1992 at the same time as the climate change convention but biodiversity is very much the poor cousin of climate change in the public's consciousness," he told SciDev.Net.
These new awards "could be a boost for biodiversity and could help to inspire young people," he added.
The challenge is to realise that biodiversity has relevance to human life and that it affects other environmental challenges such as climate change, Shanahan said.
"Biodiversity and intact forest ecosystems can provide a wide range of environmental goods and services both for local communities and the wider world. These are the key for sustainable livelihoods and to help vulnerable communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change."
South-East Asian countries comprise "only three per cent of the Earth's total surface, but are home to about 18 per cent of all known species of plants and animals," said Rolando Inciong, head of communications at the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity.
More than 1,000 of some 64,800 known species in the region are endangered and in need of concerted conservation efforts, he said.
The awards scheme is open to entrants from all ASEAN nations. Prizes will be awarded in October.