Conservation challenges have been numerous and difficult throughout the past few decades and have occurred in various regions of the world. But presently conservation challenges have taken on an unprecedented level of urgency and complexity.
This is primarily because we are living beyond our means; we consume the resources of our planet quicker than we can replenish them. When we do so, we are doing it in ways that are often not only irreversible but also inequitable.
While much progress has been achieved — the world’s average Human Development Index has increased by 18 percent between 1990 and 2010 — not all countries have benefited in the same way. Striking gaps in income, education, and health remain between regions of the world and also among social groups within countries.
Moreover, the risk of inter-generational inequity, the notion that our generation is currently using up the planet’s resources at the expense of future generations, is undoubtedly real.
The damages to the ecosystem and loss of biodiversity are directly undermining the well being of humans. The poor governance of natural resources is exacerbating scarcity and disproportionately affecting the security of millions of smallholders and the rural poor. The effects of climate change will further aggravate these economic and environmental inequities.
Conservation has also become increasingly complicated due to emerging and volatile economic scenarios. The global economic system, which has remained relatively stable and locked in a division between two different visions of economics and society, has increasingly converged towards a global, interdependent system based on market principles and standard ways to measure wealth (GDP).
The system however, has been rattled by frequent crises related to labor, finance, social issues, and, more recently, the environment and climate. Economic growth and rising consumption are putting unsustainable pressure on the natural environment and the planet’s bio-capacity, which is its ability to continue to provide key environmental services.
The traditional economic powerhouses of the west are now being challenged by emerging economies in the South and East of the world. New trade and investment routes have opened, linking the so-called BRIICS+ countries — Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa.
High population growth along with increasing average consumption are fueling growth and contributing to economic transformation of these countries. As a result, the economies of developing nations are expanding more rapidly than those of high-income countries. The BRIICS are expected to become the most powerful economic players by 2050.
This shift in economic paradigm has obvious implications for conservation. This shift has raised many red flags for conservationists who have to face the daunting process of mitigating environmental depletion and halting biodiversity loss in these economic hot zones.
The rapid development and growing consumption are happening in countries that have traditionally provided the most important carbon storage, rich biodiversity and other natural resources. This situation highlights how interlinked these issues are. It brings to light, the double challenge of conservation and development, natural resources and growth.
Indonesia, for example, has committed to a 7 percent growth while cutting emissions by 26 percent and conserving biodiversity.
The double challenge is how to balance growth, sustainability, and equity. Frameworks are now being developed such as “Green Economies” to help bring us closer to achieving our mission.
There is no doubt that the current state of the world economy cannot continue at this rate without critical costs to our natural capital. We need to equip the system with tools to value and account for natural resources as a basis of sustainability.
At the same time, conservation also has to take a more holistic perspective and embrace social and economic dimensions, if the challenges of the environment, biodiversity and bio-capacity are to be overcome to secure a prosperous future for 9 or even perhaps 10 billion people who will be sharing the planet in 2050.
The path to secure more environmental, economic and social sustainability passes through the economic and policy choices of the emerging economies.
This requires fundamental changes in the way we think about development and its intersection with the environment. It raises the need to intensify and extend the ways in which policies and public and private investments can better foster sustainable development and advance a greener and more equitable system for our economies.
The increasing geo-political influence of countries like Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, India, and China as members of the G20 can shift the debate and influence global perspectives by taking the lead on green economies and sustainable development pathways, and a new vision of well-being.
Within World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and other conservation organizations, the emergence of the South is an intensely discussed topic, not only because of its growing footprint and environmental threats, but also precisely because of its potential significance for managing more effectively and fairly, the competing human demands on land, forest, seas, water, and habitats to secure prosperity.
This is the kind of solution that the South can bring.
The writer is CEO of WWF-Indonesia. He previously served as regional coordinator for South-East and East Asia for the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), chief technical adviser at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Malaysia, and project manager at the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) in Yokohama, Japan.