The poorest people are the most affected by environmental degradation and must be part of the solution.
Social justice and environmental protection are interlinked. The World Health Organization predicts that around 250,000 additional deaths a year will occur between 2030 to 2050 because of climate change
Successful initiatives combining local empowerment with conservation benefit biodiversity, the environment and local development
Community-led initiatives that recognise the rights of indigenous communities and devolve decision-making to the lowest level spur the sustainable use of natural resources
EU co-funded projects in the African, Caribbean and Pacific region, such as the CAMPFIRE initiative in Zimbabwe, have demonstrated that devolving rights to natural resources to the local community can help protect wildlife. Kenya’s community-ownership model has emphasised the need to focus on local governance. Building the capacity of local populations to form their own organisations and conservation groups can prevent conflicts by forging strong relationships and interdependencies that improve a community’s resilience to climate change and other threats.
A community-based approach to conservation is in fact a traditional approach. The key is to ensure that costs and benefits are distributed equally. Otherwise certain sectors may become discouraged and reduce their participation. Tiger conservation efforts are being carried out in the Myanmar/Thailand border region, an area that is now stabilising after conflict that has displaced indigenous peoples.
Returning populations have a role to play in the ecosystem that supports the presence of tigers. They are being encouraged to participate in regulatory bodies that lay down hunting restrictions and harvesting periods, for example. Such involvement ensures that these communities benefit from the sustainable management of the land, while respecting emblematic species. Eco-tourism offers another significant economic boost to protected areas.
Conservation needs to have a development outcome, and development needs to have a conservation outcome. Win-win scenarios are achievable and should be encouraged. One example is the market for wild meat, which is unsustainable and is threatening around 280 mammals. An EU-supported project is raising awareness of the problem of hunting for wild meat among city dwellers where demand is highest as well as promoting sustainable livestock farming that provides an alternative to further depleting natural resources. The free consent of the community is paramount and women, as often the chief food providers, are especially important. Their soft skills can also be harnessed to stop poaching.
But it is not sufficient to simply halt habitat deterioration; restoration is also vital, not just as an environmental measure, addressing climate change and boosting biodiversity, but also as a way of increasing natural resources that can be sustainably used. The General Assembly of the UN recently acknowledged this need by declaring a decade of restoration from 2021.
Bottom-up approaches that devolve decision-making to the local level have proven to be successful in protecting natural values along with the livelihoods of land users.