UN’s protected wilderness goal may harm rainforests, says expert

By Mason Quah

THE UN’s “30 by 30” goal for wilderness conservation is liable to cause harm to the rainforests and displace local populations, an expert has claimed.

The UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) is set to adopt a set of
goals designating 30 per cent of the Earth’s surface as protected land before the year 2030.

This will tightly restrict human access to the areas under the policing of the national bodies controlling them.

This could have the unintended result of worsening conservation efforts in
some affected areas, an expert told Redaction Politics.

Redaction Politics spoke to Dil Raj Khanal, National Policy Facilitator at the Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) about how the protected area legislation can be reformed to better suit its purposes.

“There are lots of possibilities to protect the conservation areas without interfering the community rights, though the conservation authorities or forest officers are imposing centralized rule and regulation to intervene in the customary practices and livelihood of forest dependent groups,” Khanal explained. 

The descriptions of land seizure by the government mirror the land grabs from Native Americans that were used in the establishment of US National Parks.

The premise that wilderness can only be preserved by isolating it from human involvement is colonialist in nature and runs counter to the generations of beneficial land cultivation seen under a wide variety of indigenous peoples.

So called “Fortress Conservation” has been condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz. 

Approximately 15.5 per cent of global forest in 2018 was under management of 1 billion local people, according to a study by Luintel et al.

This research also confirmed that community management was an effective tool for preserving biodiversity and controlling carbon.

When humans have been a natural component of a region’s agricultural cycle and food chain for thousands of years the removal of this key species is not a boon but a loss.  

Indigenous communities contribute to the ecosystem through sustainable agriculture and hunting.

They also serve as whisteblowers against illegal poaching and logging operations.

Khanal went on to comment that a method does exist for policies like Protected Areas to produce benefits, but they require cooperation with the local communities.

In Nepal it is possible for local communities to apply for stewardship over woodlands they occupy, taking on the duties of managing and policing it.

“[The] government can use the customary institutions of Indigenous Peoples
and community forestry groups of local communities to cooperate with native populations to assist them in environmental protection.”

He points to the 42 per cent of Nepalese Forest under community management, managed by over 22 thousand community groups orchestrating their maintenance and protection.

He believes the success of this program could be transplanted to other areas of ecological importance.

In contrast, areas of Nepal where communal forests were taken into
government stewardship the level of mining and forestry in those areas
increased, with permits issued by the government.

Khanal’s testimony on Nepal suggests that a centralised approach to environmental conservation does not work.

Without assurances that the handling of protected areas will be reformed the UN Convention be highly contested by indigenous organisations.

Outside of Nepal, a report compiled by Anthony Waldron, researcher of Conservation Finance, models the conservation industry as worth 140 billion dollars a year if the proposal is passed.

A large coalition of Conservation organisations have backed the 30 per cent target, citing the increased protections it would provide to vulnerable ecosystems on land and at sea.  

Conservation is, in principle a goal worth pursuing when handled well. 140
billion dollars a year is capable of achieving a great amount when used to fund ecosystem protections and scientific research.

A defeat of the 30 per cent goal at the UN could also be harmful, endangering marine ecosystems affected by overfishing and climate change.

While it should be allowed to pass, provisions should be included that allow for cooperation with indigenous people in the affected areas. 

Featured Image: Pixabay

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