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Can a More Biodiverse World Equal a Less Poor World?

  • Tuesday, April 27, 2010

LONDON--The links between the environment and development have long been discussed, but only recently has this discussion focused specifically on the possible links between biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction. Even if conservation efforts are successful in stemming biodiversity loss, experts ask, can such efforts help ease poverty and, if so, how we can ensure that such an outcome holds across regions and population groups?

Earlier this week 200 experts gathered at a symposium at the Zoological Society of London to explore the nature and scale of these links and the most appropriate mechanisms by which to maximize them.

Co-organized by Joanna Elliott of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Dilys Roe of the International Institute for Environment and Development, and Matt Walpole of the United Nations Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the two-day symposium--entitled "Linking Biodiversity Conservation and Poverty Reduction: What, Why and How?" comprised a mix of academic papers, commissioned "state of the art" reviews, and case studies presented over two days.

Headlining the event were keynote speakers Bill Adams, a well-known British conservation ecologist, and Pavan Sukhdev, Special Advisor to the United Nations Environment Programme's Green Economy Initiative. Speaking to a packed room, each keynoter put the issues in a global context and set the stage for the wide-ranging presentations that followed, with Watson tackling the issues from an ecological perspective and Sukhdev looking at the economic angle.

Grouped into four sessions over two days, the subsequent presentations covered the state of knowledge in the field, the linkages between biodiversity and poverty for different groups, responses to biodiversity loss and their implications for poverty, and policies and practices that link biodiversity conservation with poverty reduction goals.

On Day 2, featuring AWF's field work and other case studies, AWF's Regional Director for East Africa, Daudi Sumba, presented a paper on the impacts of conservation enterprise on poverty alleviation. While reporting challenges due to issues such as governance and the unique needs of hard-to-reach rural populations, the paper concludes that the stance of enabling wildlife to 'pay its way' through flows of cash and other benefits from locally owned businesses is an important advance from the status quo of ensuring that conservation activities, at best, should 'do no harm' to the poverty reduction agenda.

"Where biodiversity and wildlife can demonstrate a clear value and contribution to national growth and poverty reduction strategies, this contributes to a favourable local, national and regional environment for conservation," Sumba concludes.

Also presenting over the two days were experts from the University of Cambridge, The Nature Conservancy, BirdLife International, the Center for International Forestry Research, the International Institute for Environment and Development, and other leading international groups and agencies.

The symposium marked the occasion of the International Year of Biodiversity, a year-long awareness-raising initiative declared by the United Nations and designed to celebrate life on earth and the value of biodiversity in people's lives. Notably, 2010 is the year for which world leaders set ambitious biodiversity targets through the Convention on Biodiversity, a treaty taking effect in 1993 and now signed by 193 countries.

"The declaration of 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity by the UN Secretary General is an important statement about where we are and where we need to be," says Elliott. "The world has roundly missed the goals set out by world leaders in 2002; with the rate of biodiversity loss continuing at an unsustainable rate, we cannot afford to be in that same position a decade from now."

The recent symposium is designed to help inform the fort as well as make clearer the contribution that biodiversity conservation can realistically make toward reducing global poverty levels.

Visit the symposium website here.

Learn more about the International Year of Biodiversity.

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