The International Year of Biodiversity: is it really worth it?

By Emma Brooks

In case you haven’t heard yet, 2010 has been decreed the International Year of Biodiversity by the UN. This means that throughout the world, conservationists environmentalists and other activists are making the most of the opportunity to spread the word about the loss of biodiversity and the urgency to save it. This is great news and has been quite a lot of buzz in the media. However, the question that can be asked is: do these “International Years of…” actually mean anything and achieve what they are supposed to? Or are they just passing through and not making any difference?

Working in the field of Ethical BioTrade myself and therefore closely involved with the conservation of biodiversity, I do feel that the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB) 2010 will make a difference to people’s awareness of what biodiversity is and hopefully result in a wake-up call on behalf of society as to the huge losses we are facing. We are putting a lot of hope into the fact that the IYB 2010 will have an impact. Biodiversity and its related topics: global warming, pollution, the environment, are all growing trends and seem to be promising for the future.

But what about 2011, the International Year of Chemistry? Or 2009, the International Year of Natural Fibres? International Year of Volunteers 2001, International Year of Eco-Tourism 2002, International Year of Micro-credit 2005 (really?) I could go on and on… The point is that since the theme changes each year, how valid do these years become? Is it something that people think about for a year and then promptly forget, or do they actually become transformed and adhere to the cause in question?

In fact, I think it mostly depends on the cause itself. If it is part of a growing trend (as is the case with biodiversity) then the chances that it will stick are greater. People will have heard of it before and will be curious, they will want to act and be part of what is happening at the moment. It also depends on whether the cause is one people can hold close to heart or not: the chances that many people got excited about the International year of Micro-Credit are few, on the other hand the chances that people will get excited or passionate about biodiversity are much higher.  This is what will make a cause take off and become popular, have people around the world campaigning for it and committing to making a difference.

Take the example of global warming: people are aware that the ice caps are melting, the polar bears are dying, we will have rainy summers and warm winters (although people claim this is not actually related to global warming)… People feel directly affected by the consequences of climate change and therefore are reacting to it. The problem for the time being with biodiversity (and other topics), is that people don’t see how it fits in to their daily lives. They don’t realise that they depend upon what biodiversity provides us, in order to survive. But once they do, we’re up off and away! I therefore doubt the capacity of Micro-credit to inspire people in such a way, and convince them that their fate is tightly linked to its outcome…

Essentially though, as I said about the 10:10 campaign, what we are really hoping for is a change somewhere in people’s consciousness, an increase of awareness, and a nagging idea at the back of their minds, which will eventually be translated by concrete action. So here’s to the IYB 2010, and all other future International Years: may they be as inspiring as they hope to be!

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