The first plenary talk was given by the IUCN’s Chief Scientist, Jeffrey McNeely, about the issues surrounding biodiversity conservation in Asia. Dr. McNeely gave an interesting background to the human cultural history and diversity of the region, followed by a brief exposé of the conservation issues there (habitat loss, over-exploitation, invasive species, etc). Overall, however, I was disappointed by his lack of emphasis on the magnitude of the conservation crisis Asia is undergoing. There was no mention of the perverse subsidies buffering unsustainable forestry and fishing, the corruption driving habitat loss and habitat degradation, or the massive problems driven by human over-population.
We recently published (currently online) a paper regarding the conservation crisis facing this (and similar regions) in the tropics Tropical turmoil – a biodiversity crisis in progress (see related post), and several of my colleagues have recently outlined just how badly biodiversity is faring in Asia (e.g., see Brook et al. 2003; Sodhi et al. 2004). While I was happy to see Dr. McNeely mention the need for more research on these issues, his statement that he had “depressed [us] with the problems” was a major understatement. He did not nearly go far enough to ‘depress’ his audience of conservation scientists. We are squarely within a crisis in the region, and if the Chief Scientist of the IUCN who has intimate knowledge of Asia is not singing that song loudly and clearly, I fear it will get far worse before we see any real positive change.