The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) identifies a fundamental link between the conservation of biological resources and their longer term sustainable use. The term sustainable use – based upon ecological capacity – implies a revision of economic approaches to the environment, away from exploitation, to a balanced level of use, conserving biological resources for future generations. Changing the exploitative economics of the 20th century lies at the heart of biodiversity conservation.
The CBD presents this economic approach as a series of new deals: (1) between the North and South (2) between the public sector and private sector (3) between national governments and local communities (4) between present and future generations. However, it is clear that government strategies alone cannot achieve biodiversity conservation; business and the private sector are the key players, where new business approaches to the environment must be developed and where old exploitative practices must be stopped.
The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity is one of the three objectives stated in Article 1 of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). Its implementation needs to be consistent with achieving the other two objectives of the Convention – conservation of biological diversity and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. Article 2 of the CBD defines sustainable use as: The use of components of biological diversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations.
Financial innovations for implementing the biodiversity conservation agenda are crucial. These innovations need to be developed as part of the broader framework of enabling conditions which include clearer definition of property rights, strengthening of the legal system, reform of fiscal policies, increased public awareness, and new partnerships between public agencies, private companies and NGOs. Innovations are a necessary component of any national or corporate biodiversity strategy and are more likely to succeed if they are focused, initiative-based, locally-driven, vertically-integrated, based on good science, provide the right incentives, are culturally acceptable, and are socially appropriate.
One approach to developing new economics is by considering the public good and private good aspects of biodiversity. Private benefits of biodiversity can be traded in markets. Property rights can be established which will facilitate the emergence of biodiversity markets. One example is the introduction of individual transferable quotas in the fisheries sector. On the other hand, public benefits of biodiversity are more complex, such as the value of biodiversity for research or the existence values of unique habitats. Public benefits are thus more difficult to market and to finance. Since benefits from biodiversity have both public and private aspects there is a need for the innovation of financial instruments and processes which address both aspects. Such a strategy can be termed market plus - hybrid instruments that combine economic incentives for private actors with conditionalities to ensure the provision of the public good aspects of biodiversity.
Sustainable use means use that does not interfere with the ecological integrity of any living things or their ecosystems and which is socially equitable to people. This implies that: (1) All members of present and future generations receive a socially equitable share of and access to the benefits of natural resources; (2) The basic structure of genetic resources and their ecosystem is not depleted by the use of its components; and (3) All life forms are treated in a way that respects their intrinsic, social, aesthetic, cultural, traditional, spiritual and other values and that our activities do not cause suffering of any living thing.
Biodiversity is used by many different sectors in many different ways. At a broad level, these can be divided into economic sectors which: (1) directly use biological resources, are dependent upon the renewal of such resources, and which by overuse may impact on biodiversity (e.g. fishing, hunting, grazing); (2) those which depend upon ecological processes, but which require the direct transformation of natural systems, and actively impact on biodiversity (e.g. cultivation, afforestation); and (3) those which do not directly depend upon ecological processes, nor on the consumptive use of biological resources, but which may inadvertently have impacts on biodiversity (e.g. mining, tourism).
Culturally-appropriate financial measures are necessary to bridge the gap between the private costs and benefits of biodiversity conservation at the local level and public benefits at national and global levels. These measures need to be developed as part of a broader framework of enabling conditions which include: public awareness, clearer definition of property rights, strengthening of the legal system, and reform of fiscal policies such as taxes and subsidies.
As long as it is more profitable to kill an elephant than to protect one, or to cut down a forest than preserve it, biodiversity conservation will remain unrealistic wishful thinking.