Resettling costs for biodiversity conservation - GulfToday

Resettling costs for biodiversity conservation

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

India protest

Santhal women carrying firewood in the buffer area of Simlipal Tiger Reserve, Odisha. Credit: Eleonora Fanari

A latest report titled ‘Rights Based Conservation: The path to preserving Earth’s biological and cultural diversity?’ by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) points out that India needs over US $688 billion — nearly one-fourth of its annual gross domestic product (US $2.7 trillion) —  for resettling tribal people and forest dwellers to areas outside forests, for biodiversity conservation. This is huge compared to US $0.39 billion required for implementing community-led rights-based conservation by recognising their tenure rights on these lands.

According to the report, India has the largest number of people who would be affected due to factors such as the coexistence of high biodiversity areas with highly dense population. The second on the list is China. The estimated cost referred to in the report is, however, only limited to the official cost that the government would incur for rehabilitation.

Taking into consideration the projected costs required to settle forest dwellers outside biodiversity areas is important for India where there is regular debate on the presence of tribal communities and forest dwellers in protected areas like national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

With the UN, non-governmental organizations and conservationists advocating to place 30% or more of the planet’s terrestrial area under formal conservation by 2030, this new study cautions of the potential costs of using exclusionary conservation approaches to meet those targets. It also sets out how to achieve them: by empowering the Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and Afro-descendants who have customary land rights to at least half of the Earth.

The RRI report highlights that while not all protected areas or conservation approaches conflict with Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and Afro-descendants, many protected-area approaches have sought to preserve biodiversity by relocating people and prohibiting access or traditional use within protected area boundaries. The study estimates the cost of those public protected-area approaches, assessing the cost of relocating between 1.2 and 1.5 billion people living in unprotected important biodiversity conservation areas to range between US $4 trillion and US $5 trillion.

In the RRI’s press release, José Francisco Cali Tzay, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was quoted as saying, “Throughout conservation’s checkered history, we have seen exclusionary conservation as a gateway to human rights abuses and militarized forms of violence. We now have evidence that this approach is also economically devastating. Paying Indigenous Peoples to abandon lands they have historically protected better than governments and private entities is wasteful and furthers past wrongs.”

“This report reinforces peer reviewed findings that already show how Indigenous Peoples, local communities and Afro-descendants are far more effective than governments at protecting ecosystems and protecting forests, especially when given formal rights that allow them to continue protecting their territories,” said Thomas Worsdell, co-author and RRI researcher. “Supporting their agency and self-determination is the most cost-effective path to achieving global biodiversity goals.”

The study conducted by the RRI and produced in collaboration with the Campaign for Nature, shows that over 1.65 billion Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and Afro-descendants live in the world’s important biodiversity conservation areas. Another finding shows that 56% of the people living in important biodiversity conservation areas are in low-and middle-income countries; whereas only nine per cent live in high-income countries. The report builds on prior research showing that Indigenous Peoples, local communities and Afro-descendants have customary land rights to at least half of the world’s terrestrial area but legally own just 10%.

The study stresses that indigenous and local communities’ are integral to achieving the ambitious UN 2030 targets of having 30% of earth’s surface, across land and sea, as protected areas. It emphasises that for achieving the global conservation goals, community-led conservation is the best way forward as over 1.65 billion indigenous people and local communities worldwide, co-exist with biodiversity in areas significant for conservation and thus hold the key to stop the global biodiversity collapse. The authors project the cost of recognising the tenure rights of Indigenous and local communities at less than one per cent of that of resettling populations in biodiverse areas, based on data from Peru, Indonesia, India, Nepal and Liberia.

The RRI is a global coalition of over 150 organisations dedicated to advancing the forestland and resource rights of Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendants, local communities, and women within these communities. The RRI leverages the power of its coalition to amplify the voices of local peoples and proactively engage governments, multilateral institutions, and private sector actors to adopt institutional and market reforms that support the realisation of rights.

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