Resolving conflict through a hierarchical socio-political framework
Area selection using the sequential approach typically identifies a potential reserve network that would efficiently take account of agreed values and conservation goals, at a given spatial scale. Human rights, responsibilities and interests, however, exist over a wide spectrum of levels, from individual through corporations and various layers of local and national government, to federal and global agencies. Because of the effects of spatial scale on biogeographical analyses, and of differing values apparent at the varying levels of human activity, conservation priorities assessed by people with different interests are almost invariably in conflict. If the advances made in area selection techniques are not to be vitiated, integrative approaches to assessing area-based conservation priorities are required.
Successful conservation largely depends, sooner or later, on the willing and voluntary actions of individuals. Once individual human beings have rights, however, they must accept responsibilities, and also be subject to the laws and other constraints imposed by local and national governments. Area selection is thus a government-like activity, whereby an overview is sought and a collective decision made that depends on a rational choice of sites for conservation action. Political decisions, however, typically take the form of a levels solution, in which all participants are required to make an 'equal' contribution, regardless of actual needs or resources. The differential (or structural) nature of area-selection (which is driven by the natural inequalities of geographical distribution of species, genes and ecosystems), is thus a primary cause of conflict over conservation action, as accidents of individual human location or ownership can lead to the imposition of new and often unexpected responsibilities, and create unwelcome individual economic consequences, once conservation priorities have been assessed.
A possible solution to this problem (ref 12) lies in the hierarchical nature of governments, from national assemblies (and even supra-national federations) down to regional and community levels (e.g. county, town and parish councils, 'barrios', etc.). With this power should come the responsibility, at each and every level, to implement laws, make recommendations, and take appropriate action regarding biodiversity (including its uses and benefits). Any ability to do so effectively will depend on biodiversity conservation funds being available at every level, from individual through to global. Such resources could be designated 'individual environmental funds', 'local environmental funds' (LEFs), and so on, right up to national environmental funds (NEFs) and global environmental funds (GEFs). At present, the Global Environment Facility (administered by World Bank) is the only well-established layer of biodiversity conservation funding. Critically, at the opposite end of the scale, widespread poverty ensures that many individuals have no resources available to 'pay' for biodiversity support; indeed, those who depend directly on nature for their living are often forced to pursue destructive and unsustainable practices, in desperate attempts to survive at all. Resources to promote biodiversity conservation are typically not widely available at intermediate government levels either.
Establishment of autonomous environmental funds (e.g. through environmental taxes) at each level of responsibility would not, however, be sufficient by itself. For such a system to manage conflict, at least two intertwined procedural principles would also be needed (ref 12): no legitimate lower level of responsibility could be bypassed in allocation of resources available from a higher level, and no conflicting priority established at a higher level could be imposed other than through negotiation (e.g., through payment of subsidies, incremental, or opportunity costs). Thus lower levels would also have the strong responsibility of negotiating funds made available 'higher up', and implementing their deployment through full and democratic engagement with their own constituents. This dual function would apply at all levels, except the global and, in part, the individual. Overall, it is envisaged that data, action plans, taxes and some delegation pass up from each lower level to each successively higher level, while information (processed data), debatable (transparent) counter-proposals, subsidies and empowerment flow down from higher levels to the level immediately below (ref 12).
Such a system means that all land-tenure or other area units should receive resources from one or more hierarchic levels, involving every administrative level up to where each is still perceived as a priority, and where agreement on action (conflict resolution) at all downward levels has been achieved. Thus an area seen as globally important should receive, provided that conflicts of interest have been successfully negotiated, GEF, NEF, and LEF resources, in addition to the agreed support of people who actually occupy and/or own the area. At the other extreme, an area not seen as even locally important should still be subject to good management by the people who live there and/or own it, as all areas contribute to (or potentially detract from) ecosystem services and the general landscape matrix. Thus even 'no priority' areas should be the subject of individual stewardship, intended to minimise negative impacts, and maximise the area's contribution to the persistence of biodiversity in general, all within the constraints of limited resources. Such ideas are already partly encoded within European Community law, where farmers may be required, for example, to demonstrate that their activities do not and will not reduce soil fertility.
The overall outcome should be creation of 'resource allocation profiles' (ref 12), whereby conservation funds disbursed at the various hierarchical levels supplement individual stewardship, in accordance with wider priorities for conservation action that have been agreed. Priorities thus need not be construed as all or none, but can build at successive levels to reflect local, national, regional and global perceptions of biodiversity value for each and every land unit. Such profiles can also be generated by idealised area selection and resource allocation procedures (ref 12), and compared with the actual profiles achieved. Outstanding misfits would be cause for investigation, and perhaps special efforts to achieve a closer match.
To ensure that all areas are considered, and that all identified resource allocation problems are retained on an up-dated agenda, the need for 'national biodiversity agencies' and 'action registers' must also be recognised. Suitable systems reflecting these requirements need to be put in place (ref 12), ideally by each and every nation state, as a part of a world-wide response to the Convention on Biological Diversity.