21 July 2024

Empowering them in conserving our biodiversity

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By Dr. Azizi Abu Bakar

Malaysia’s biodiversity, a jewel in our nation’s natural heritage, is under severe threat. The recent discovery of a complete tiger skeleton in Rompin, Pahang, linked to an illegal poaching gang, underscores the urgent need for robust conservation efforts. This incident, uncovered during “Operasi Bersepadu Khazanah” (OBK), involving Perhilitan and the police’s Internal Security and Public Order Department, highlights the grave challenges we face in combating wildlife crimes. Earlier in the same week, three Cambodian men were arrested for illegal wildlife hunting in the Berkelah Reserve Forest in Maran, Pahang further demonstrating the persistent threat to our biodiversity despite global awareness efforts such as the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22.

Malaysia, a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and an active participant in the Conference of the Parties (COP), is committed to protecting its rich biodiversity. The upcoming COP 16 in Cali, Colombia, from October 21 to November 1, 2024, will be crucial for reviewing progress and setting future goals. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration aims to prevent, halt, and reverse ecosystem degradation globally. The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), adopted at COP 15, sets ambitious targets for 2030 and 2050 to achieve a world living in harmony with nature.

Malaysia is recognized as one of the world’s megadiverse countries, ranked 12th globally in the National Biodiversity Index. Our nation boasts an estimated 15,000 species of vascular plants, 306 species of mammals, 742 species of birds, 242 species of amphibians, 567 species of reptiles, over 449 species of freshwater fish, over 500 species of marine fish, and more than 150,000 species of invertebrates. Despite rapid economic development, approximately 60% of Malaysia’s land area remains forested, including permanent reserved forests, national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries. This commitment aligns with Malaysia’s pledge at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to maintain at least 50% of forest and tree cover in perpetuity. Additionally, 10.6% of the land area is designated as terrestrial protected areas.

Marine protected areas are equally significant, covering coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangrove forests. As of 2013, the Department of Marine Park Malaysia manages 248,613 hectares of marine protected areas, including 42 islands in Peninsular Malaysia and federal territories. Sabah and Sarawak also contribute significantly, with marine protected areas managed by Sabah Parks and the Sarawak Forestry Department.

Despite these efforts, Malaysia faces numerous threats to biodiversity, including land development, pollution, poaching, climate change, and invasive alien species. The 2008 IUCN Red List identifies Malaysia as home to 1,141 threatened species, emphasizing the urgent need for continued and enhanced conservation efforts.

The GBF’s four long-term goals for 2050 aim to increase natural ecosystems, halt extinction, sustainably use biodiversity, ensure equitable sharing of benefits, and secure adequate implementation resources. Achieving these goals will require concerted efforts from all sectors of society, particularly the youth.

Youth role as #GenerationRestoration for #MyBioD

In Malaysia, youth play a critical role in biodiversity conservation. The National Policy on Biological Diversity 2016-2025 aims to involve at least 500,000 youths in nature-based activities annually by 2025. Initiatives like strengthening biodiversity literacy in education, supporting environmental training for teachers, and expanding the Rakan Alam Sekitar programme are crucial for nurturing future leaders in conservation.

Urban biodiversity conservation is also essential. Actions to protect green spaces, establish urban habitats for wildlife, and support private landowners in enhancing biodiversity are vital for enriching the quality of life in urban areas.

Youth represent the creative, innovative, and talented segment of our global population. If we fail to mobilize and guide them on the right platforms and in the right direction, we risk wasting their incredible potential. The youth movement, by fostering peer awareness in our interconnected world, can greatly amplify efforts to conserve the planet’s biodiversity. When young people share best practices and ideas within their generation, it leads to more effective and coordinated actions. This collaborative spirit allows us to engage and develop solutions together.

Youth voices in international negotiations are crucial; without their input, we risk overlooking a significant segment of our global population. Intergenerational equity often relates to decision-makers today, as it allows future leaders to participate in making decisions for future undertakings by living on a healthy planet. It is not about talking in high energy or with pressure or protesting, but about acting in a co-building way that can really make a transformation or the change that we really need.

One key indicator suggested by several social scientists in dealing with conservation education effectiveness is the possibility of long-lasting changes in attitudes, behavioural intention, and ultimately behaviour. Research has shown that awareness and knowledge of nature conservation alone may not be enough to bring about behavioural change, but it does influence behaviour. This is because social, economic, and societal issues influence behaviour. This is where interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches in dealing with education for conservation are critical and important.

The Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) calls for ‘transformative education’ in their call for achieving the future, global biodiversity goals and defines this as ‘diverse approaches and strategies for education and learning that foster an active citizenry aware of their place in the web of life and their role in society, fully capable of stewarding society towards a sustainable, peaceful and equitable future in harmony with nature’. This discipline that deals with observing nature has now evolved to include socio-economic issues, policy, and politics as well. Changes are needed in defining how we view education for conservation in schools and universities.

The UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative, under the auspices of an International Commission set up by the Director-General, focuses on rethinking the role of education. Education should highlight the need for equitable and accessible education that is based on indigenous views, skill development, and access to technology by all students. Modern views suggest that education must be tailored to local needs, defined by local concepts, tools, and learning methods rather than national or global standards. Integration with new technology and multi-device-based delivery is the future of education for conservation. The reach and affordability of technology should be considered. Blended learning using virtual and augmented reality options is critical for future education in biodiversity conservation. It would be impactful if taught both in the classroom and in the field.

Assessment in education for biodiversity conservation should incorporate behavioural and attitude changes, not solely tests and examinations. Education is not just about understanding ecology and biological systems but linking it with social, economic, and ecological systems, central for sustainable development across sectors and disciplines.

The power of “viral” and AI in escalating awareness and conserving our biodiversity

Social media play a vital role in empowering youth to participate in biodiversity conservation efforts. Campaigns and initiatives that able to goes “viral” strong enough to raise awareness about biodiversity and conservation efforts can quickly reach a broad audience, spreading crucial information. Social media is a powerful tool for organizing and promoting petitions aimed at policy changes and corporate responsibility regarding biodiversity conservation. Sharing educational content in concise formats such as documentaries, short videos, infographics, etc., can reach a broader audience more quickly. Social media allows youth to join groups and communities focused on conservation, where they can share ideas, collaborate on projects, and support each other’s efforts. Conservation influencers and role models on social media inspire and motivate youth to get involved in biodiversity conservation.

In the realm of technology, the World Economic Forum has stated that in 2024, AI’s role in conservation is growing, with applications in habitat monitoring, wildlife protection, data analysis, and pattern recognition. AI-equipped drones and remote sensing technology enhance cost-effective conservation efforts. The synergy between AI and conservation has the potential to improve our ability to monitor and safeguard ecosystems, mitigate human-wildlife conflicts, optimize resource management, and foster sustainable coexistence between people and wildlife.

AI is not just a technological advancement but a catalyst for empowering conservation stakeholders, including local communities, and strengthening their capacity to protect the planet’s biodiversity and the livelihoods of people who depend on it. This technology can empower youth in citizen science projects, contributing data on local biodiversity through observations and photographs. Combining technologies like AI for species identification and sensors for habitat monitoring, along with drones requiring GIS and remote sensing technology, can help youth in mapping and analysing biodiversity data. These social media and technology tools can synergize to capture, analyse, and communicate biodiversity data, making youth more informed, engaged, and capable of driving positive change in biodiversity conservation.

Youth engagement is vital for achieving these goals. The Youth Societies and Youth Development Act 2007, which defines youth as individuals aged 15-30 years from 2026, highlights the importance of preparing young people for leadership roles in biodiversity conservation. By empowering youth and fostering their participation in conservation efforts, we can ensure the sustainability of our natural heritage for future generations.

The National Policy on Biological Diversity 2016-2025 outlines actions for creating awareness, nurturing youth participation, and supporting urban biodiversity. Implementing these actions will require collaboration among government agencies, educational institutions, civil society, and the private sector. Social media influencers and public campaigns can play a significant role in raising awareness and inspiring action.

As we approach 2025, it is crucial to intensify efforts to achieve the policy’s targets. By working together, we can build a sustainable future where Malaysia’s rich biodiversity is valued, conserved, and sustainably used for the benefit of all.

To this end, we call upon Malaysian youth to form a dedicated group for action to conserve our biodiversity. Actively participating and voicing out as Malaysian representatives on global platforms such as the COP CBD through the platform for example, Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) is indefinitely crucial. Historically, Malaysian youth representation at COP CBD has been lacking. This needs to change.

By uniting and advocating for our natural heritage, Malaysian youth can play a significant role in shaping a sustainable and biodiverse future for our nation and the world. The opportunity to make a difference is in our hands, and we must not let it slip away. The future of our biodiversity depends on the actions we take today.


The author is the research officer at Universiti Malaya Sustainable Development Centre (UMSDC) and may be reached at azizi.bkr@um.edu.my