The paradigm that conservation is the anti-thesis to development needs to change; conservation is central to development in the Global South
Construction of massive engineering structures modifying the flow regimes of streams and rivers, and extensive land-use change from natural vegetation to agriculture and urbanisation were treated as hallmarks of development.However, this perception began to shift in the 1970s as knowledge and scientific understanding of the intersection between nature, economy, and society improved. The significant advancements in this field of science led to the realisation that there is a mutual cause-and-effect relationship between ecosystems and the economy. The Club of Rome's The Limits to Growth thesis in 1972, which predicted an impending apocalypse, triggered extensive research, global assessments, and conventions in response to the approaching crisis. In 1992, the Earth Summit embraced the concept of “sustainable development”, as defined in the Brundtland Commission Report, Our Common Future. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), for the first time, recognised the conservation of biological diversity as an integral part of the development process under international law. On the other hand, the term “Circular Economy”, introduced by David Pearce and Kerry Turner in 1989, gained popularity rapidly in discussions around the interplay between the environment and development. The Circular Economy represented a departure from the linear growth mindset of “take, make, dispose” and embraced a more holistic approach, considering the economy to be embedded within the ecosystem. Consequently, the bi-directional causalities between the economy and ecology were better acknowledged. In 1997, two major scientific publications stood out: One was Gretchen Daily’s Nature’s Services and Bob Costanza’s seminal paper in Nature. While the former talked about human dependence on ecosystem services, i.e., services rendered by the natural ecosystem free of cost to the human society through its organic processes; the latter was the first study to estimate the monetary value of the ecosystem services to be three times the global domestic product. In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) further enhanced our understanding of the ecosystem's unique functions in providing essential ecosystem services to human society. These services included provisioning services (e.g., food, raw materials, water, energy), regulating services (e.g., climate control, pest management), cultural services (e.g., tourism, spiritual value), and supporting services (e.g., nutrient cycling, soil formation)—all of which are necessary for the production of other ecosystem services. With a clearer delineation for ecosystem services, the link between the economy and the ecosystem became more apparent.
The Circular Economy represented a departure from the linear growth mindset of “take, make, dispose” and embraced a more holistic approach, considering the economy to be embedded within the ecosystem.
South Africa witnesses an increase in IW by 1.6 percent and a consequent decline in NC by 0.1 percent during the same period.Why does biodiversity conservation hold a special significance for the Global South as compared to the Global North? This is because of the inextricable ecosystems-livelihoods linkage, especially for the poor of the underdeveloped regions of the Global South. Pawan Sukhdev’s paper Costing the Nature in 2009 interpreted ecosystem services as the “GDP of the poor”. The author’s own assessments in South Asia, where he developed the notion of Ecosystem Dependency Index (EDI)—with EDI being defined as the ratio of the income of the human community and the value of the ecosystem services—reveal that the ecosystem dependency of the poor is not only significantly higher than average per capita income-earning household, but the poor earn more from the natural ecosystem than from their formal and informal engagements in the economy. This is exhibited by the fact that in many cases, the EDI has been more than one. Therefore, land-use change that destroys the natural ecosystem or development of physical and manufactured capital at the cost of natural capital simply diminishes the capacity of the ecosystem to provide its services thereby diminishing the GDP of the poor.
Climate change is largely a developmental problem emerging from humanity’s unbridled developmental ambitions defined through an unabated penchant for short-term economic growth.This shows that conservation should not be treated as a normative ethical statement emerging out of the books of morality. In this era of Anthropocene, i.e., the present epoch when anthropogenic activities are the prime drivers and stressors of the climate and the natural ecosystem, long-run human development and livelihoods are intertwined with conservation goals. It is the lens through which we look at development that needs to change: We, the humans, need to look at development more holistically on a spatial scale, and at a longer term on a temporal scale. Only with this integration over time and space would we realise that conservation is necessary for development, and there is no trade-off between them. In other words, conservation is a selfish human need in the Anthropocene.
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Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh is a Director at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India. In that capacity, he heads two centres at the Foundation, namely, the ...Read More +