Guest Editoral (February 10 Newsletter)

Restoring biodiversity, building resilience

Jennifer C. Mohamed-Katerere

Biological diversity is being lost at more than 1000 times its natural rate and with it opportunities to improve human security. Reversing this trend is imperative.

At both national and global levels we are falling short. The reports of more than 100 countries to the CBD show that biodiversity loss continues unabated. We will not achieve the 2010 biodiversity targets. Copenhagen's failure to agree to mitigation targets that will slow climate change and reduce the stress on already-vulnerable species and ecosystems reduces long-term prospects for recovery.

The full implications of these failures is only evident when biodiversity's role as livelihood anchors, cultural beacons, pillars of health, and safeguards for the future is acknowledged. The impacts on food, health and energy systems and the run-on effects for human well-being and future options are well documented. The evidence suggests far-reaching changes, with for example the loss of 25-40% of Africa's fauna species that underpin tourism. Capacity in developing countries is also expected to decline as economies shrink: according to the UNEP/GEF Economics of Adaptation Group, they face GDP declines of up to 19% by 2030. In these circumstances, populations will lack the assets (and support) needed to mediate climate-related risks and uncertainty. Without effective governance to reconcile differences and to fairly allocate benefits, this disruption to social and economic systems runs the risk of triggering, aggravating, or perpetuating conflict, especially where tenure is disputed. In turn, conflict can reduce coping and adaptive capacity and adversely affect biodiversity.

This International Year of Biodiversity Ensuring provides the ideal opportunity for re-examining climate adaptation and mitigation strategies and ensuring they interact with biodiversity in ways that advance its recovery and build human resilience. Avoiding conflict, strengthening cooperation, and empowering local users can be decisive in this. Greater attention to legitimacy and equity – and the rights inherent in these concepts – is needed. By focusing on rights, the understanding of targets shifts from averages to specific needs and realities of affected communities. Inherent in this approach is the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil rights.

A serious challenge to ensuring that “common” environmental resources are managed to strengthen local resilience is the growing global interest in biodiversity and ecosystems for mitigation and adaptation. Increasingly livelihood resources are wrestled from local users by state and international stakeholders. According to the UN, foreign governments and investors acquired 74 million acres of farmland in developing countries over the first half of 2009. In the aftermath of Copenhagen, the demand for land for REDD initiatives is likely to increase. This could disrupt local production systems and marginalizing populations, creating new levels of governance stress as collaboration-competition dynamics change.

Strengthening legitimacy – how outcomes are negotiated – in mitigation and adaptation can ensure that decisions don't generate hostilities. Legitimacy requires more than commitment to disclosure, transparency and accountability; processes need to be fair and inclusive. Applying Free, Prior and Informed Consent and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will reduce the risk of extinguishing (1) multi-use land and forests systems that encourage conservation of diverse species and (2)fundamental rights, such as to land and food. In addition recognizing the rights of other vulnerable groups, such as women, can strengthen resilience. As initiatives grow, ensuring the effective participation of multiple rights holders across vast spatial domains can be daunting; using rights as a check on decision-making can reinforce legitimacy.

Outcomes may be considered as equitable where benefits and opportunities are distributed in accordance with agreed principles or values. Where diverse groups are involved, achieving this can be difficult. In part, success depends on institutional design. The design and practice of climate initiatives are primarily driven by the values and priorities of state and international parties. Although the rights of communities to benefit are likely to be recognized, local power dynamics and tenure forms may reinforce exclusion of socially and economically weak groups. The carbon sequestration project of Fondo Bioclimaico, for example has been successful in achieving positive carbon and development outcomes, but some farmers expressed concern about “locking up” land use systems for carbon sequestration. In some contexts this could be tantamount to remove vital assets from local coping and adaptation strategies. Improving equity would also be good for biodiversity recovery where it is valued by local users.


  • Jennifer C. Mohamed-Katerere

    Jennifer C. Mohamed-Katerere