Indian Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, has stated India’s commitment to developing a robust digital infrastructure for biodiversity data.
His remarks came at the opening of the 21st meeting of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) governing board, held at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. Mr Javadekar also expressed the value to India of becoming a full Voting Participant in GBIF. India has been an associate Participant in GBIF since 2003.
While addressing the delegates who represent the countries and organizations that collaborate to share biodiversity data through GBIF, Mr Javadekar complimented the community’s leadership and observed that GBIF had been instrumental in developing capacities in biodiversity informatics.
The minister told attendees that India needed to sustain both its great wealth of biodiversity and its human population, second largest in the world. “It is essential that we develop an informatics-supported mechanism to efficiently manage and use these natural resources and recognize them as a natural capital,” he noted, “not as a calculating method, but as a real asset.”
Mr Javadekar called attention to the enormous number of specimens of Indian origin housed in natural history institutions overseas. Noting the difficulty Indian researchers have in accessing to these data, the minister asked attendees and the wider GBIF community to help “expedite and institutionalize the process of digital exchange”.
Additional Secretary of Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and head of the Indian delegation to GBIF, Hem Pande, noted that India had realized the importance of sharing of data to improve scientific understanding and to facilitate informed decision-making, having approving a National Data Sharing and Access Policy. “We now need to move beyond this legal framework and address the real challenges involved in efficient access to biodiversity data and its sharing and value addition”, he said.
In a message to the governing board meeting, the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Braulio Dias, emphasized the critical role that GBIF has played in improving the scientific knowledge needed in order to sustain healthy ecosystems.
“I therefore appeal, not only to this forum but also within the CBD constituency, to recognize the benefits of a viable, active and strong GBIF, primarily to benefit countries in having access to information to guide their own sustainable development agenda,” Mr Dias said (see full text of letter).
In his introduction to the three-day meeting in New Delhi, GBIF Governing Board Chair Peter Schalk said that India had a lot to offer to GBIF and the global biodiversity community in terms of data and biodiversity expertise. “In turn,” he noted, “GBIF offers a good value proposition to India in terms of open data resources, ICT tools and international collaboration.
Schalk said, “GBIF is the big data facility for biodiversity offering free access to biodiversity research irrespective of country: north and south, east and west—a true mega-science effort for sharing data, sustainable technology and capacity building.”
In his own opening statement to the meeting, the GBIF Executive Secretary Donald Hobern praised India for developing a National Biodiversity Information Outlook, to provide a road map for developing a national infrastructure for biodiversity information.
“We live in an age in which we all increasingly depend on instant access to up-to-date digital information on finances, weather, transport and air quality,” Hobern said. “We have just as much need to be able to track the status of biodiversity and how its patterns change over time. GBIF at the global level and GBIF nodes at the national level are all working together to create this infrastructure and to support our societies with immediate access to the best available knowledge of natural systems.”
In addition to the formal Governing Board meeting, the week’s event includes the GBIF Public Symposium on 17 September at the India Habitat Centre, including various examples of the way in which data shared through GBIF have been used in scientific research supporting conservation, food security, human health and understanding of invasive alien species.
GBIF and India
India has been an Associate Participant in GBIF since 2003
India is a significant user of the GBIF website, ranking third in the world in the latest analytics figures.
India has participated in a number of capacity enhancement activities supported by GBIF, including:
a mentoring project with Australia to help build a national biodiversity information system
14 training events
5 Asian regional node meetings
3 regional training events
India has participated in various GBIF-supported initiatives focussed on data mobilization, for example publishing the first peer-reviewed ‘data paper’ aimed at bringing academic recognition to those who share biodiversity datasets supported by detailed metadata
In addition, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) is currently engaged in an IPBES pilot capacity building project involving partners in Norway and the GBIF Secretariat, focused on mobilizing data from multimedia sources such as camera traps, and repatriating Indian biodiversity data from Norwegian institutions.
The WII also participated in a another GBIF-supported pilot project with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) to mobilize data from environmental impact assessments
A research fellow at the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions in Bangalore, Vijay Barve, is one of the two winners of the GBIF Young Researchers Award for 2014.