Now that we have established why conservation is as important as restoration (if you haven’t read that, read Conservation vs Restoration: The key differences), let’s delve deeper into the steps the world has taken towards conservation of biodiversity.
After recognizing that the world’s biodiversity is under threat, the countries of the world under the banner of United Nations came together in 1992 to formulate the first worldwide protocol on biodiversity conservation. This was the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Subsequently, many national and international protocols were laid down, and they were implemented.
All of these, were based on a document called World Conservation Strategy that was jointly developed by UNEP, IUCN and WWF in 1980. It’s been the go-to document for implementation of conservation measures all over the world. It highlights the “intellectual framework and practical guidelines” for conservation measures. It also delineates the priority activities in our conservation efforts. It is specific, focused on efficiency and calls for global action.
It is intended not just for conservationists but also for the government and development proponents. It provides guidelines on policy framework and aids commercial units to take decisions in the best interests of ecosystems.
Objectives of WCS
There are three main objectives of the World Conservation Strategy-
- To maintain ecological processes and ecosystems that are of importance to human activities, like soil regeneration, nutrient cycling, water cleansing, etc.
- To preserve genetic diversity of species on Earth.
- To ensure sustainable use of species and ecosystems which support communities and industries.
Coupled with these objectives are the priority tasks undertaken under the conservation banner. It is extremely important for us to ensure that key ecosystem processes are not degraded to the point where that area cannot be used for any economical activity. Also, ecosystems like forests, rivers and coastal ecosystems directly contribute to our economies. Our homes are filled with objects that are directly or indirectly linked to these ecosystems. If we are to continue living with the current quality of life, these ecosystems need to be maintained.
The extinction of species occurs due to habitat fragmentation, invasive species, pollution and over-exploitation of resources. However, species can adapt to these environmental stresses if they are genetically capable to do so. In the “survival of the fittest” proposed by Darwin, he stated that there will be some individuals who, by sheer luck, have a genetic set-up capable of withstanding environmental changes such as the ones induced by humans. They can then transfer these traits to future generations and ensure the survival of the species. Greater genetic diversity in a population of a species will ensure greater chances for the survival of that species.
Finally, certain animals and ecosystems that contribute to our economic stability need to be sustainably used, ensuring the achievement of the first objective of WCS. This includes controlling the release of pollutants, effective waste management and smart utilization of resources. This can be achieved by understanding that animal/ecosystem’s capabilities.
There is urgent need to achieve this because-
- The planet cannot continue to support our numbers sustainably.
- Many people around the world are compelled to destroy the natural resources to escape starvation and poverty. A case in point is the poaching situation in Africa. People are forced to take up arms and kill the animals, even though they know better. They are simply hungry.
- The resource base of major industries like fisheries, meat, forestry is shrinking.
- The energy needs to meet our standard of living in increasing.
National and International concerns
The WCS also highlights actions to be taken at the national and international levels. Nation governments need to focus on ensuring that conservation measures do not ignore the short term needs of the rural communities. They are unlikely to be motivated to work for conservation if they are only told to expect long-term benefits that manifest over time. Administrators are the ones who face the brunt of this problem; how can you ask a village to not cut down trees of the national park they live next to, when that is their means for survival?
They need to allow all stakeholders to participate in the planning and implementation process of a conservation project. This will help them integrate conservation with the development of important stakeholders (local communities). It will also allow the stakeholders to be properly trained in the conservation activities. Strong legislation, participation and environmental education, proper training and rural development is key to conservation success at the national level.
At the international level, aspects of the environment that cross national boundaries need to be looked after. This includes drafting of legislation, monetary aid and education of the concerned authorities of various countries. Rivers, tropical forests and oceans have no care for human-made international boundaries. We need to recognize that and coordinate as a species and not as nationalities. There are certain problems like poaching, selling of animal products that transcends international boundaries. That also comes under international action plan for conservation. A large-scale, long-term plan for the collective sustainable development of the world is also part of the international plan.
The WCS is a template for all conservation strategies employed around the world. Governments are, of course, free to customize this to their needs but the essentials remain the same: protect the natural world.
For more, check the full document-World Conservation Strategy