Can conservation lift people out of poverty? ‘Absolutely’

10 September 2012 | News story

The answer to the question posed in tonight’s World Leaders Dialogue: can conservation lift people out of poverty was a resounding yes as long as certain conditions are met.

People everywhere depend directly or indirectly on nature for their well-being. But the benefits we get from Nature are not equally shared. Richer countries often reap the benefits while poorer nations bear the cost of biodiversity loss and see little advantage.

Some recurring themes emerged from the discussion on how to strike a better balance: Focus on the people who depend on nature; involve them in decisions; seek their advice, and generate the political will at higher levels.

Ms. Victoria Tauli-corpu, Executive Director of Tebtebba Foundation said very often indigenous people know what to do - traditional knowledge is holistic. “We need to use bottom-up approaches if we want conservation to help lift people from poverty,” she said.

H.E. Mr. Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification enforced the need to conserve soil and restore degraded areas to protect incomes and build resilience.

We have all the institutions we need, it’s all about leadership and forming ‘coalitions of the willing’ - people who are simply willing to ‘do it’ – restore the oceans, coral reefs and so on, said H.E. Mr. Erik Solheim Former Minister of Environment and International Development, Norway.

There are severe trade-offs between conservation and poverty reduction said H.E. Dr. Suk-Chae Lee, Chairman & CEO, Korea Telecom, but we must continue with our efforts. He cited examples from Korea which took practical steps such as reforestation, land reform to give every farmer a parcel of land, and providing cheap fuel as an alternative to wood.

Examples from the Pacific were also cited, by H.E. Colonel Samuela A. Saumatua, Minister for Local Government, Urban Development, Housing and Environment in Fiji. By creating marine protected areas, local communities are seeing increases in fish numbers and associated increase in incomes.

“There are a huge numbers of examples, we must mobilise political will.” Some countries are combining environment and development such as Brazil, he said.

Mr. Richard Samans Executive Director of the Global Green Growth Institute said we need to move forward to a ‘transformational’ level of progress; put conservation at the core of national economic strategies and take natural capital into account in national statistics.

A steady stream of questions and suggestions came from the audience and from views watching the debate online. These included investing more in payments for ecosystem services, creating greater synergy across the United Nations environment conventions and paying more attention to migration from rural areas to cities.