Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Conference reflections - biodiversity

One of the sessions I went to at FoE's national conference this year was on "biodiversity in decline", which I felt to be a really important topic that I'd never properly got to grips with. We all know that chopping down rainforest is bad and get the pictures of large mammals thrown at us all the time, but how do we make sure that all the links are there to maintain a biodiverse natural system all over the world, so our eco-systems don't collapse and the land remains fertile enough to support life as we know it?

To start off with we were bombarded with acronyms, as understanding them is part of every bit of campaigning on environmental matters, it seems. Go on then, do you know what TEEB is? How about REDD, NEA or LSC? Once you've learnt the shorthand (or read up on what they are), it does make it easier to talk about these things more quickly, honest.
This is the International Year of Biodiversity, in case you didn't know, and, unfortunately, it's also the year by which the UK had promised to halt biodiversity loss and will acknowledge failure to meet these targets (as mentioned here by the government minister).

So, what did I learn? Well largely that it's an incredibly difficult subject and that no one measure is going to solve this on its own (I guess that's not a shock to anyone, is it?). Is the answer to try and give trees or habitat an economic value in order for them to be offered protection in our market-driven world? That certainly seems to be where a lot of people see salvation for nature, but how can you put a value on something that is so obviously invaluable? Also, in many places land rights are a very tricky subject and laws are not representing the rights of indiginous people sufficiently. However, starting a conversation on how valuable these things are must be a good thing in itself in terms of stimulating more action on protecting and promoting natural habitat.

The Stern report had a huge effect in creating a different view on the value of acting on climate change and although there was some coverage of the report on The Economics of Eco-Systems and Biodiversity (that's the TEEB I mentioned earlier), it hasn't caught on quite as much as some were hoping.

What is most difficult is the whole international financing of protecting forests and focusing purely on deforestation as a carbon emissions issue (that's the REDD I mentioned earlier). Forests are people's homes and trees are worth a lot over a long period of time, both to people and to the planet, which short-term financial models are unable to deal with. Some of the carbon markets seem to benefit the countries that have been deforesting quickest the most by paying them more, whereas the ones which haven't started get less because you're not stopping them from doing it if they're already being good - that makes them think they should start planning to chop it down to get their slice of the cake!

There is a government consultation happening now on the natural environment white paper and everyone should be having a look at that to ensure it's as good as possible. Too much emphasis has been put on protecting small pockets of land in isolation (this is called fragmentation) rather than the whole of the landscape (LSC and NEA both got into this bit). Friends of the Earth are responding to the consultation as are a lot of other environmental NGOs, but it would be good for the responses to come from as wide a range of individuals as possible so that it's not just a few organisations looking at it.

Our campaign on Fixing the Food Chain would help to solve some of the deforestation issues in South America that are caused by factory farms here being reliant on soy feed (often GM) that is grown in that region. Even if we can get the sustainable livestock bill through parliament, there is still much work to do to halt the alarming decline in biodiversity throughout the world on land and in the seas.

Markets and the need for continued economic growth will never show the same concern for the natural environment as people do and from all the things I heard from members of FoE all over the world, what is needed is justice, equity and more of the passion for the environment shown at the peoples' conference in Cochabamba earlier this year. In this country we need to take a lead and show that we can halt the decline in habitat and species loss here, putting in place the kind of policies that can be successfully replicated all over the world.

Joe Peacock

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