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3194 Views 4 Replies Last post: Oct 8, 2010 9:28 AM by ali48845 RSS
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Sep 14, 2010 12:22 PM

What can we do about biodiversity loss in countries other than our own?

Something which concerns me is the loss of biodiversity in other countries and yet somehow it doesn’t feel right to tell others what to do with their environment. I know biodiversity loss is a global issue which affects us all but what is the right way to make sure other countries look after their biodiversity hotspots and unique environments? All over the planet people need to make a living so who are we to tell them that cutting down a forest, draining a wetland, or drilling for oil is wrong? With issues of human poverty how can conserving biodiversity in these places ever win the argument?
  • You are absolutely right that you can't tell other countries and people's what to do with their environment (and we have dramatically changed ours in our history). However, what may make a difference is the realisation that sustainable development is only possible if the vital services offered by nature are protected. Without biodiversity there would be no clean air, its largely responsible for providing clean water, removing all degradable waste, maintaining soil fertility for crops, providing renewable fuels (and combating climate change by locking away carbon dioxide). It's the sources of our food, natural fibres and timber crops, it contains the natural pharmacopeia from which most medicines are developed, and the wild genes used to improve crops, and livestock varieties to protect them from new pests and diseases. Ecosystems buffer extreme weather to protect us from floods and droughts, and the list goes on, and on.

     

    Increasingly governments and economists are looking at the costs of all these 'free' services - if we had to pay for them it would cost the world Trillions of dollars per annum, more than the cost of climate change, and much larger than the global bank crisis. Perhaps as Governments realise what price they are paying for the neglect of their biological variety they will see they have to begin to operate differently.

    So we can do lots, by helping spread awareness of the issue, and particularly by trying to reduce our own carbon and ecological footprints - this has a positive impact at home and abroad.

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    • The services may be 'free' but the equation between areas of untouched environment and any particular service is difficult to come by.  So when a government is faced by a decision to (1) cut down forest of unquantified value (that may be supplied by another forest somewhere) so that oil palm can be grown and earn revenue or (2) preserve forest and gain no revenue, while people lack jobs, what is it to do?  The choice is between money and jobs now (popular with voters) and a notional value which may not be lost, or which if it does lead to increased expense these are some way away in time and may be overstated / solved by then / someone else's problem.  Of course a lot of environmental change is not done by governments but by people at a local level, who need to pasture cattle, or grow more food, or require timber for houses or fuel.  Discussion on environmental goods and services may work with them if those discussions can be held, but even so it leaves them with their starting problem: where to put the cattle / grow food / harvest timber?
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      • This is of course a major question - and no easy answers - at the heart of the solution though is recognising that the local communities, and governments need to have benefits for preserving biodiversity - and these often have to be monetised or tradable - there are many models for this, some traditional are already in place, others emerging...

        • Local communities have always traded biodiversity products - and this is only a problem if is not regulated or recognised - so many local economies rely on 'natural environments' for food, herbal medicines, fuel etc. Loosing the biodiversity ends up costing the communities and the governments who have to find alternatives - so people are wising up to this and getting more enlightened control over it.
        • In the emerging International Carbon Market a major development is taking international carbon transactions to support the restoration of degraded environments and the replanting of forests - the so called REDD (Reduced Emissions through Degradation and Deforestation) or REDD+ approaches. This would mean countries get international financial support for preserving ecosystems as carbon sinks - the key here will be seeing that some of this money gets to the local communities so they are beneficiaries.
        • Many areas of high biodiversity are important for ecotourism (and tourism in general) so getting local benefits to communities from this sort of activity is important. There are lots of examples where poachers become gamekeepers if they are enfranchised to be a part of the conservation effort and get benefits from it.
        • Governments need to recognise that entire economies rely on biodiversity and ensure that communities benefit from protecting it - for example without the montane forest in Kenya as a watershed, the tea, coffee, fruit, veg and flower industries would collapse, as would much ecotourism as this water also supplies the Masai Mara. In fact the value of the montane forest equals the country's GDP! The Kenyan government has seen this, and an all-party agreement has banned logging. Now the Kenyan Government needs to ensure local communities become custodians in caring for it - by receiving benefits - for maintaining this vital national infrastructure.
        • Many areas of private capital - such as international responsible investment funds from insurance funds are supporting forest protection, and for these to work on the ground benefits have to be engendered which are real for local communities.

        All of these mechanisms have one thing in common, biodiversity is crucial infrastructure and stakeholders in maintaining it must include government and local communities, but other stakeholders including landowners and private industries have to be part of the solution too.

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  • One of the best ways we can deal with biodiversity loss in other countries is to reduce demand for the things in our country that drive biodiversity loss.  Two examples of this are meat & dairy (the production of which relies on soy feeds that are often grown on deforested land in South America) and biofuels.  So some of the things you can do right away include:

     

    • Reduce the amount of meat and dairy in your diet.
    • Write to your MP asking them to back a Sustainable Livestock Bill that will require the Government to measure the impact of UK meat & dairy production and come up with a strategy to reduce it.  A good place to do this is on the Friends of the Earth website.
    • While you're at it, ask your MP to write to the Department for Transport and urge them to re-assess the impact on biodiversity (and food prices) of the target for 10% of transport fuels to come from renewable sources by 2020.

     

    Cheers,

     

    Ali

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