The Darwin Initiative: Addressing Rio+20’s critical issues
Launched after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the Darwin Initiative supports work on biodiversity around the world.
In an article written for the forthcoming Rio+20 UN sustainable development conference, the initiative looks to the future, identifying seven critical issues and highlighting some of its work to address them through illustrative case studies.
Supporting sustainable use of resources for 20 years
20 years of the Darwin Initiative
In 1992, the world’s leaders came together at the Earth Summit in Rio and made momentous agreements to make changes to the way we interact with our environment. Three environmental conventions were opened for signature, one of which was the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The Darwin Initiative was launched by the UK Government in 1992, to support developing countries meet their objectives under the new Convention on Biological Diversity. Since 1992, the Darwin Initiative has provided over £88 million to over 750 projects in over 150 countries. It was further expanded in 2008 to include the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).
Updating the agenda at Rio+20
In 2012, 20 years after the first Earth Summit, the world’s leaders are coming together again in Rio for a similar summit, Rio+20 as it is known. The Darwin Initiative has clearly contributed to the Rio principles in its own 20 years, addressing the links between biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and the economic, social and health prospects of human populations. Here we highlight just some of the Darwin Initiative work focusing on 7 critical issues that will drive debate and shape agreement at Rio+20.
The Future We Want
We’ve come a long way since the first Earth Summit 20 years ago – and it’s important to acknowledge some of the great progress that has been made in environmental protection. The achievements of the Darwin Initiative are a great example, and should be a rich source of pride and inspiration.
At Rio+20 it is important that the principles of Darwin Initiative projects are followed. The links between economies, individual livelihoods and the natural environment must be made – and acted upon. If we are to eradicate poverty and hunger we need stable, inclusive green growth factoring sustainability into everything we do.
At Rio+20, we need to create mechanisms that will embed this kind of thinking throughout society – across sectors, regions, and markets. We need to ensure universal understanding that if we fail to protect our natural resources we will make long term economic growth impossible. Sustainable development is not yet mainstreamed into economic policy on an international scale.
Evolving the Darwin Initiative
Recognising the need to mainstream biodiversity conservation into human development, the Darwin Initiative is strengthening its commitment to development assistance. In 2010 the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) recognised the development success achieved by the Darwin Initiative. DFID announced their commitment to work alongside Defra and pledged funds to support the Darwin Initiative. After 20 years of true success, the UK Government remains fully committed to the Darwin Initiative.
Applying for funding
Going forward, a proportion of the Darwin Initiative will count as Official Development Assistance contributing to the UK’s commitment to provide 0.7% of its GDP in aid by 2013. All projects applying for funding in 2012 will therefore need to be fully ODA compliant. Full information on how to apply to the Darwin Initiative is available on the Darwin website.
Critical issues and case studies
Critical Issue 1: Jobs
Green jobs and social inclusion
The Darwin Initiative recognises that biodiversity conservation in isolation from people’s needs does not work – either for conservation of ecosystems or for the people affected. Evidence from the Darwin Initiative highlights that local people must be central to any biodiversity conservation strategy.
Good science supporting traditional livelihoods in Bhutan
Ophiocordyceps sinensis is a parasitic fungus found on Himalayan ghost moth caterpillars and is the most valuable fungus in the world, with retail prices of over US$30,000 per gram for traditional Chinese medicine. Working in extreme conditions, a Darwin project established a monitoring scheme which has given the Royal Government of Bhutan the data on which to base regulations regarding the harvesting of the fungus. This ensures that despite high market prices, Bhutan maintains a sustainable harvest of cordyceps, protecting these rural communities from a loss of future income.
Critical Issue 2: Energy
Sustainable energy for all
Biomass, such as charcoal, as an energy source is a key driver of biodiversity loss in many countries. Sustainable harvesting of energy-rich biomass materials is a key feature of many Darwin Initiative projects seeking to find that difficult balance between a thriving rural economy and biodiversity protection.
eveloping a new model of collaborative forest management
Indonesia has one of the highest rates of tropical forest loss globally, with the demand for biofuels, including palm oil, perversely often driving this forest loss. A Darwin project is working with forest communities that are fearful for the loss of access to forest resources if they are allocated to private sector plantation concessions. The project is developing a legal basis that will ensure that areas designated as Village Forest are acknowledged by both local and national government. These areas will be protected from private sector concessions that could result (frequently illegally) in devastating conversion of High Conservation Value (HCV) forest to monoculture agribusiness, especially palm oil, and pulp and paper plantations.
Critical Issue 3: Cities
Improving resource use and reducing poverty
Sustainable use of resources is critical to developing nations whose urban populations are growing. Addressing biodiversity issues of an urban nature are vital for sustainable growth, including boosting the skills and expertise in universities and national research institutions, which will support government to manage natural resources in a more sustainable manner.
Building Cambodia’s Universities to support conservation
Despite all its wealth in biodiversity Cambodia has few scientists to understand and protect this biodiversity. The Pol Pot regime specifically targeted the educated and wiped out nearly all of its scientists and teachers. A Darwin Initiative funded project successfully established Cambodia’s first MSc course in conservation and trained 108 Cambodians in advanced biodiversity conservation from more than 20 national organizations including government departments and national conservation
Critical Issue 4: Food
Food security and sustainable agriculture
Agriculture and unsustainable harvesting are major drivers of biodiversity loss in the world. Therefore to deal with biodiversity conservation it is important to deal with these drivers in a way that allows human communities to lift themselves out of poverty whilst protecting biodiversity.
Addressing long term food security to conserve forest biodiversity in Comoros
Deforestation in Comoros is a critical issue. With high population and a limited area, forest conservation is only feasible if food security for the local population is achieved and issues are tackled at the landscape level. Using a participatory approach to analyse problems and identify solutions, a Darwin project has developed packages of agricultural techniques adapted to Comoros. These improve production sustainably and ensure that boosts the fertility of existing fields, thus reducing pressure on the forest for fertile land.
Conservation agriculture techniques that use a permanent cover of vegetation, developed first in Brazil and now used widely in Madagascar, are being introduced to the Comoros for the first time.
Critical Issue 5: Water
Clean, accessible water for all
Water is an important resource, capable of stifling the economy of developing countries if not managed well. The Darwin Initiative recognises the importance of watershed and wetland management for the well-being of the world’s poor. A strongly functioning ecosystem is capable of providing clean water for all.
Managing wetlands for sustainable livelihoods
Koshi Tappu wetlands in Nepal is an important ecosystem for migratory birds. In addition, local communities are heavily reliant on Koshi Tappu for their livelihoods. A well functioning ecosystem is important both for biodiversity conservation as well as human well-being.
A Darwin project has assisted local communities to improve their fish farming and other forms of income generation. The project worked with communities to highlight the link between environmental sustainability and livelihood protection. From this project, local communities are more aware of the links between a functioning wetland ecosystem and their personal well-being.
Critical Issue 6: Oceans
Careful management of a global resource
Comprising 72% of the Earth’s surface, oceans constitute a major part of the planet. They support life, drive the climate and hydrological cycles and provide vital resources. Oceans, seas, islands and coastal areas are critical for global food security, sustainable economic prosperity, and the well-being of many national economies, particularly in developing countries.
Managing fisheries resources
A Darwin project in Rodrigues, Mauritius, was introduced to strengthen its marine resources and protect against unsustainable use. The project supported the Rodrigues Regional Assembly to establish a network of 4 marine protected areas and evaluate further resource management strategies to conserve the unique marine biodiversity of Rodrigues.
Critical Issue 7: Disasters
Reducing risk and building resilience
Reducing disaster risk and building resilience is an important issue in developing countries which have limited capability to deal with catastrophic changes due to natural (and man-made) disasters. Climate change and ongoing environmental degradation contribute to both the increasing occurence of disasters but also a nation’s resilience to such incidences. Developing countries are often the hardest hit by such disasters.
Responding to change
In 2004, the Cayman Islands suffered catastrophic damage by Hurricane Ivan. A Darwin Initiative project application was underway when the hurricane hit and was swiftly modified to allow incorporation of acute biodiversity assessment needs. The project helped the Cayman Islands Government to understand the extent of the damage and its impact on the local economy. As for most small islands, the natural resources are of vital importance to the tourism industry in the Cayman Islands.
A major output of this project is a Biodiversity Action Plan for the islands. This is a living document acting as a blue print for all environmental activity in Cayman. The Darwin Initiative supported a Post Project to support the Cayman Islands Government to implement the Biodiversity Action Plan for the Cayman Islands (see http://www.caymanbiodiversity.com/).
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