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Conservation, Protected Areas and the Global Economic System: How Debt, Trade, Exchange Rates, Inflation and Macroeconomic Policy Affect Biological Diversity

Listed author(s):
  • Tisdell, Clement A.

The global economic system is characterised by international specialisation in production, massive amounts of production and trade in goods and services and the presence of international flows of finance, capital and technology. The system is bound together by the use of money and markets which rely on and foster self-interested production and exchange of commodities. To some extent, the system is supplemented by international movements of labour and by official and unofficial aid. Major decision­ makers in the global system include private traders and financiers, multinational corporations, national (centralised) governments and international public service bodies such as the United Nations and its agencies. The system results in the replacements of ecosphere communities by biosphere communities and depersonalizes social, economic and environmental relationships. The system places great pressure on natural resources, results in the increased loss of natural areas and of biodiversity and adds to global pollution. Its major consequence is the much greater externalisation of environmental •effects of economic activity. The system is a threat to the sustainability of production in the long run, despite its economic advantages such as reduced economic scarcity as a whole in the short- to medium-term. Natural areas in isolated or relatively isolated economies are at particular risk when these economies are drawn into the global system particularly if significant economic growth in achieved. In such cases, natural areas must increasingly be officially protected or set aside for national parks if irreversible genetic loss is to be avoided. At this time, aid from developed countries for nature protection may be crucial. Once a country becomes 'developed' and integrated into the global economic system, conservation of nature and therefore biodiversity becomes heavily dependent on government maintenance and protection of natural areas. In. tum this relies substantially on political processes including lobbying by conservation groups. It has been claimed that free trade, e.g. implementation of GATT regulations can be expected to foster greater conservation as will .the structural adjustment policies recommended by the IMF and World Bank to debtor countries. These call for freer markets and smaller government sectors. But these policies do not ensure greater conservation and can reduce biodiversity. The position is complex but the safest approach is to target policies specifically to maintain biodiversity and natural areas. Thus if the above policies are pursued they should be supplemented by specific policies aimed at protecting natural areas. As far as biodiversity is concerned, it is dangerous to rely on broad generalisations about the beneficial effects on conservation of the above mentioned policies, especially if the meaning of 'greater conservation' remains undefined, as is common. Modern economic systems involve a serious employment-conservation conflict. They depend for the maintenance and expansion of employment on the growth of economic production. The 'need' for economic growth for employment-creation is especially apparent where population is increasing, labour-saving technological progress is occurring, when real wages (income) are inflexible downwards or creep upwards, and when reduction of hours of work or sharing of jobs by the employed with the unemployed is not an option. The global economic system continues to be locked into economic growth as a creator of employment. Reduced consumption in this system can be expected to result in growing unemployment and lack of income for the unemployed. Thus it is difficult to implement neo-Malthusian recommendations of reducing consumption levels in developed countries and achieving steady-:-state economies. Even less radical conservation policies are often thwarted by this issue which is still largely unresolved politically. The global economic system is subject to fluctuation and instability. In an economic recession or with a sudden deterioration in the economic situation of a country (for example, due to balance of payment problems), there is a temptation to draw on natural resources, e.g. log forests more intensely and to engage in unsustainable harvesting of living natural resources, to tide the country over its difficulties. This can be a source of considerable loss of genetic diversity and of natural areas. Furthermore, exports of living natural resources can be used to finance economic growth. This can obviously be a threat to genetic diversity and is of dubious value if the economic growth proves •to be unsustainable. . International capital and technology flows, multinational enterprises, devaluation of national currencies, foreign loans and aid can all havee an impact on the conservation of natural areas and the maintenance of biodiversity; As discussed, they can assist or hinder conservation depending on the circumstances. Debt-for-nature swaps have recently been much publicised as a means of easing the foreign debt burden of less developed countries and ensuring greater conservation of nature. But as discussed, debt-for-nature swaps do have some shortcomings. These swaps and environmentally dependent aid policies raise the question of who gains from conservation in less developed countries. How are benefits distributed between aid donors and recipients, that is between the developed and the less developed world? Some recipients of environmentally sensitive foreign aid claim that they are being disadvantaged. This possibility and others •are examined using a matrix of alternative international distributions of gains and losses from nature conservation. In conclusion, the spread and the development of the global economic system has increased and is increasing the need for more officially protected areas. The system is a threat to nature conservation• and biodiversity. Policies to encourage the .spread of- this system (such as freer markets, structural economic adjustments, replacement of subsistence communities by cash and market oriented ones) are likely to accelerate the disappearance of species unless they are combined with policies targeted specifically at ensuring greater conservation of nature such as increasing the protection of natural areas and the quantity of natural areas officially protected. In this context also greater attention should be given to economic mechanisms designed to finance and promote nature conservation.

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Paper provided by University of Queensland, School of Economics in its series Biodiversity Conservation: Studies in its Economics and Management, Mainly in Yunnan China with number 144208.

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Date of creation: Mar 1994
Handle: RePEc:ags:uqsebd:144208
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