1. The Barcelona Forum: A Diverse and Sustainable World

Life is resilient. It has persisted for more than two billion years, through five or more mass extinction crises, the most recent of which exterminated the great dinosaurs, leaving birds as their only descendants. Nature, in some form, will likely survive the rash actions of today's human societies that are based on ever-growing consumption of resources. But whether that pattern will enable modern societies to continue in their current form is not at all certain, even highly unlikely.

This book is a collection of challenges and strategies discussed at the World Conservation Congress (WCC) in Barcelona, Spain, in October 2008. The Congress theme was A Diverse and Sustainable World and discussions within the Conservation Forum focused around three broad themes (Box 1.1). The book is not meant to be comprehensive, which would have required working groups to spend months working on each chapter. Rather, we have sought to capture the essence of the issues, reflect the views of our membership, and bring in additional perspectives from the latest work in the field in an effort to catalyse conservation efforts in the coming decade.

The World Conservation Forum benefited from the active presence of participants drawn from across a wide spectrum of society including conservation organizations, indigenous and local communities, governments (local to national), and businesses. In keeping with this spirit of broad-based interest in conservation, we include actions that this expanded conservation community may consider pursuing in the future. While the chapters of this book reflect the diversity of themes discussed, it will be helpful to highlight a few overarching issues from the start, including the 2010 Biodiversity Target, the link between biodiversity and sustainable development, and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and dealing with rapid demographic change.

Box 1.1 World Conservation Forum streams

Safeguarding the diversity of life

Our planet's rich variety of genes, species and ecosystems is the foundation which underpins social, economic and cultural diversity. For 60 years, IUCN has been the unifying force for biodiversity conservation and IUCN's Members continue to strongly support and pursue the importance of nature, both for its own sake as well as for humanity. But despite this long history, many issues remain unresolved, from the ethical (how should we decide whether people or nature take precedence when trade-offs are required?) to the practical (can we feed 9 billion people and also stop biodiversity loss?). While recognizing the fundamental importance of biodiversity to humanity's future, we still don't allocate the resources to effectively conserve it, so to whom and how do we reach out to make a difference?

A new climate for change

Evidence indicates that the environment is changing more quickly than at any time in human history. Over the next 40–50 years, the world's population is projected to reach 9 billion, up from 6.8 billion today. At the same time, changes in the global climate system are accelerating, and we now face the dual challenges of significantly and urgently reducing emissions to avoid dangerous climate change, and adapting to the impacts of climate changes already underway. In this changing world, people are becoming increasingly connected – through communications, transport and trade, but also through culture, politics and the environment. Such “globalization” brings tremendous opportunities but also brings risks. Finally, the drive for continued economic growth is fuelling rapidly increasing energy demands, requiring that we move away from an economy dependent on fossil fuels to energy mixes that are more sustainable.

Healthy environments – healthy people

Sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity can make meaningful contributions to poverty reduction and peoples' health and well-being; conversely, improved human well-being is a fundamental condition for sustainable conservation. Reconciling rural development, poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation is a key challenge facing societies today. Sustainably managing natural resources, such as fisheries, agricultural soils, and timber, provides another set of challenges. Promising steps forward include improved laws and regulations, long-term participatory planning, and new tools such as marine protected areas. One key question for the future is “What kind of potential can protected areas – established primarily to achieve conservation objectives – have for improving human well-being and reducing poverty?”


Many global environmental agreements and conventions have integrated targets into their strategies and planning. Among these, the most important from the biodiversity perspective is the 2010 Biodiversity Target. The general target of reducing biodiversity loss by 2010 has been adopted in international fora from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), albeit in somewhat different forms (Box 1.2).

Box 1.2 The 2010 Biodiversity Target

The 2010 Biodiversity Target has been adopted in several forms as part of many international policy instruments:

The need to measure progress towards this target and beyond has stimulated the development of a framework of 17 “headline indicators” which were first reported upon in the Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 (GBO2) (CBD, 2006) (Table 1.1). GBO2 summarized the situation by noting that:

In 2006, recognizing that the science underpinning many of these indicators still required considerable attention, 24 organizations working on indicators (including IUCN) established the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership (BIP) as a global initiative to further develop and promote indicators for the consistent monitoring and assessment of biodiversity (http://www.twentyten.net/Home/tabid/38/Default.aspx).

Drawing from the information in the report plus information from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) (2005d), the GBO2 concludes that biodiversity loss “is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, and certainly beyond 2010”. Nevertheless, GBO2 recognizes potential successes in biodiversity conservation, including:

1) at national, regional and global levels, with appropriate responses it is possible to achieve, by 2010, a reduction in the
    rate of biodiversity loss for certain components of biodiversity or for certain indicators, and in certain regions;

2) the majority of the targets that the Convention has established as part of its framework for assessing progress towards
    the 2010 target are achievable, provided that the necessary actions are taken; and

3) for the most part, the tools needed to achieve the 2010 target, including programmes of work, principles and
    guidelines, have already been developed.

TABLE 1.1 Status and trends of biodiversity-related parameters according to the 2010 indicators

Efforts to achieve the 2010 target have been important means to set in place awareness, capacity and political will towards biodiversity conservation. The global community should build on this progress through adoption of a post-2010 framework that is visionary, achievable and measurable.



Our environment, the services provided by ecosystems and human well-being are all the result of a complex web of interactions and responses. From a pragmatic perspective, whichever entry point into the system we use, be it species conservation or ecosystem management or supporting delivery of ecosystem services, we are ultimately talking about the same imperative: supporting the system within which we live (Figure 1.1).

In 2008, the World Bank estimated the number of people living in extreme poverty at 1.4 billion, with the majority in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. While the percentage of those living in poverty has decreased in recent years in most parts of the world, it has remained stable in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Development Report 2008 notes that poverty reduction solutions vary from region to region (World Bank, 2008). For sub-Saharan Africa, increased agricultural productivity is the key to growth while in Asia reducing the ever increasing gap between urban and rural well-being will be the key to success.

Conservationists understand the importance of nature for nature's sake. But they also recognize that biodiversity can play an essential role in supporting and improving people's livelihoods. Conservation can contribute to poverty reduction, particularly through restoring ecosystems and by improving the access of the poor to ecosystem services, thus contributing to secure livelihoods for the people who depend on them (Fisher et al., 2005). But articulating the link between biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction/development remains a challenge.

The popularization of the idea of ecosystem services (Chapter 4) by Gretchen Daly (1997) and the subsequent release of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment just under a decade later in 2005, have helped to inspire a way of thinking that promotes collaboration and cooperation among conservation and development professionals. The concept of ecosystem services highlights the important role of species conservation and ecosystem management in our day-to-day lives. By speaking of ecosystem services we are, of course, also speaking of the genes, species and ecosystems that support and deliver these services.


The clearest links between poverty reduction and ecosystem services lie with the provisioning services that support delivery of food (Chapter 20), medicines (Chapter 10), forest products (Chapter 16), and, ultimately, income (Chapter 12).

In 2008, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) (FAO, 2008c, d) reported that world hunger is increasing and that the distribution of those hungry people is focused largely on sub-Saharan Africa. The number of hungry people was estimated to be 950 million in 2008, an increase of more than 80 million since the 1990–1992 base period. Long-term estimates (available up to 2003–2005) show that some countries were well on track towards achieving MDG 1 of halving hunger by 2015 (Table 1.2). But the current period of high food prices is causing setbacks in progress, hitting the poorest, landless and female-headed households hardest.

Underlying this food insecurity, especially in Africa, are changing trends in precipitation leading to decreased productivity for small farmers who depend on rain-fed agriculture. This calls for new approaches to agriculture. Ecoagriculture is one example of an approach to land use that incorporates three main objectives – biodiversity conservation, increased agricultural productivity and sustainable rural livelihoods (McNeely and Scherr, 2003). Investing in ecosystem-based agricultural development along the lines of ecoagriculture approaches and adaptation to the impacts of climate change will be vital to solving the challenge of hunger in rural Africa (Ecoagriculture Partners, 2009). Similar approaches will be needed in other sectors; ecosystems and the technology and practice are already available to deliver forest, water, coastal and drylands conservation at landscape scales (see relevant chapters for more information).

Reliable delivery of natural resources is a source of employment (and income) for millions of people around the world. For example, globally more than 1.3 billion people were engaged in agriculture in 2002 and 34.5 million people were employed in fishing and aquaculture in 2000 (www.earthtrends.org). At the micro-scale, local natural resources represent an important portion of household incomes beyond subsistence needs. At national level, natural resources also figure large; in Tanzania the use of the environment and natural resources accounts for 66% of gross domestic product (UNEP, 2008a).

Box 1.3 Five reasons to include environmental conservation in development and poverty reduction activities

  1. Poor countries depend on fragile environmental resource assets. Such assets, privately owned or in the form of access to the commons, constitute the main source of income and survival for the poor.

  2. While most manmade assets depreciate over time, some rather quickly, most natural resources can be sustained and even enhanced with rather modest efforts if properly managed.

  3. 17% of all lost disability adjusted life years (DALYs) in developing countries are due to a poor state of the environment, against only 4% in OECD countries. Lack of safe water and adequate sanitation constitute by far the most important cause, accounting for 40% of the environmentally-induced loss of DALYs in developing countries; poor indoor air quality is the second worse cause.

  4. There is currently severe underinvestment in agriculture, which results in loss of valuable nature-based income-generating assets (e.g. biodiversity, fertile soils due to water logging and salination, reefs and shorelines) of particular importance for reducing poverty and enhancing economic income growth.

  5. Sound environmental management will reduce vulnerability to extreme natural events and the impacts of change.

Adapted from Hansen, 2007

The importance of natural resources in national economies, especially in the developing world, is an important motivation for ensuring that sound environmental management is integral to national development and growth strategies. Developing country governments and development assistance agencies are already recognizing the crucial role that sound environmental management will play in successful poverty reduction action (Hansen, 2007) (Box 1.3).

The current challenge for development support is how best to incorporate the environment in the process of improving human well-being. Environmental mainstreaming needs to happen both at the planning stage and when activities are being implemented. Bojo et al. (2004) reported that the degree of mainstreaming environment in 53 poverty-reduction strategy papers reviewed was highly variable but that the overall level was improving compared to earlier reviews. As with any environmental management programme, poverty reduction efforts must include an adaptive management approach to ensure timely response to environmental and social changes.


The conservation community itself has actively debated whether and how much conservationists can really contribute to global development and poverty reduction efforts. Integrating the needs of increasingly vocal local communities into conservation projects is an additional challenge to those working in the field. Roe (2008) has summarized the evolution of the conservation/poverty reduction debate, noting that over the years the conservation and poverty reduction communities have converged and diverged. She found that some of the areas most in need of conservation actually have few people living in them, but these people are often very poor and suffer greatly if they are denied access to resources. Further, these people have often lived in the area for many generations, and the fact that the area is valuable for conservation indicates that their activities are not contradictory to conservation. On the other hand, the pressures of modern development can overcome traditional conservation and resource management practices, leading to the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. The relationship between conservation and development in areas containing biodiversity of outstanding national or global value is highly complex, always requiring solutions specific to the site.

Table 1.2 Key links between Millennium Development Goals and the environment

Sources: Taken from UN Millennium Project, 2005; DFID et al., 2002; UNDP, 2002
Millennium Development Goals Examples of links to the environment
Goal 1
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Livelihood strategies and food security of the poor often depend directly on functioning ecosystems and the diversity of services they provide.
  • Insecure rights of the poor to environmental resources, as well as inadequate access to environmental information, markets, and decision-making, limit their capacity to protect the environment and improve their livelihoods and well-being.
Goal 2
Achieve universal primary education
  • Time that children, especially girls, spend collecting water and fuel wood can reduce study time.
  • Additional income generated from sustainable management of natural resources is available to be spent on education.
Goal 3
Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Time that women spend collecting water and fuel wood reduces their opportunity for income-generating activities.
  • Poor rural women often depend heavily on natural resources, but inequity and lack of secure rights limit their access to decisionmaking and resources.
Goal 4
Reduce child mortality
  • Improved management of local watersheds can reduce child mortality related to water-borne disease.
Goal 5
Improve maternal health
  • Indoor air pollution and carrying heavy loads during late stages of pregnancy put women's health at risk before childbirth.
Goal 6
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Environmental risk factors account for up to one-fifth of the total burden of disease in developing countries.
  • Preventive environmental health measures are as important, and at times more cost-effective, than health treatment.
Goal 7
Ensure environmental sustainability
  • All of the other goals are linked to environmental sustainability, often in very direct ways (as described elsewhere in this book).
Goal 8
Develop a global partnership for development
  • The complex interaction between human well-being, ecosystem services and biodiversity requires an integrated approach including partnerships between civil society, the private sector and government.


In 2000, the Millennium Declaration recorded the commitment of the members of the United Nations to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and to build a secure and peaceful world conducive to human development. Broad targets were set under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and indicators were developed to assess progress. Listing the MDGs and accompanying targets may seem to imply that these are a sort of checklist of items that can be accomplished one by one. However, it is far better to consider them as an integrated set, with progress in achieving one MDG or target depending on also achieving others. While MDG 7 is the only goal explicitly targeting the environment, achieving each of the goals will require the support of a functioning ecosystem. In turn, achieving the other MDGs will support delivery of MDG 7 (Table 1.2). As the links between the environment and human well-being become more clearly articulated, so too do the threats to both. In particular, climate change, invasive alien species and unsustainable resource use are emerging as key issues that must be addressed in both conservation and poverty reduction planning.

A review of progress towards achieving the MDGs, essentially at the halfway point between the year the targets were established and the deadline for attaining the goals themselves, reported that while some successes had been achieved, much remained to be done (UN, 2008). The report identified many issues for which “greater effort” was required, including:

Given the important role of the environment in achieving all the MDGs, clearly greater attention to the environment is essential in efforts to achieve the MDGs.


In addition to the 2010 target and discussions about the link with sustainable development, change was a common thread linking many of the Barcelona discussions. Changes in climate, technology and human demography all affect what we do in biodiversity conservation. While climate (Chapter 5) and technology (Chapter 13) are the subjects of specific chapters, the issue of human demography is one worth exploring at the outset as it influences so many other issues.

The human population quadrupled during the 20th century, increasing from about 1.5 billion in 1900 to about 6.8 billion in 2009 (UN DESA, 2009Figure 1.2). This explosive population growth reached a peak of 2.1% growth rate in the late 1960s, the most significant demographic process since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Since that time, the population growth rate has fallen dramatically and, in contrast to centuries past where populations were affected by major conflicts and epidemic diseases, in today's world the fall is related to voluntary choices to limit the number of children born (Cohen, 2005).


Source: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat (2009). World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision, Highlights. New York: United Nations.

Box 1.4 Key global population projections

Total numbers


Source: UN DESA, 2009

But population growth alone does not tell the whole story. As the UN DESA findings (Box 1.4) show, the proportion of elderly people in the population is increasing in some countries and from 2005 onwards they will have more people aged 60 years and older than children aged 4 years or under. That shift will be most evident in the developed world where, by 2050, one-third of the population is projected to be over 60 years old compared to only 20% in the developing world (Cohen, 2005); however, because the developing world has so many more people, this is still almost 80% of the total population of those aged 60 or older.

Other important shifts include that, as of 2007, more people lived in cities than in rural areas and as of early 2009, the majority of the world's people were classed as “middle income”, denoting new spending power and the accompanying impact of increased consumption on natural resources. The number of cities of one million or larger was 76 in 1950, 522 in 1975, 1,122 in 2000, and is set to exceed 1,600 by 2015. Using current population projections to 2050, most of the forthcoming growth in population will be in cities, with poor countries having “to build the equivalent of a city of one million people each week for the next 45 years” (Cohen, 2005).

A new demographic challenge is the emergence of “environmental migrants”, especially in response to climate change. Populations living in low-lying island nations, such as the Maldives or Tuvalu, or in vulnerable coastal areas, such as parts of Bangladesh and Florida, will pose environmental challenges as well as social, economic, and security ones.

One other perspective of population is related to number of households as opposed to number of people. Liu et al. (2003) reported that even when population numbers are stable or declining, if the number of households increases, the demands on natural resources will also increase. They report that the growth in population between 1985 and 2000 in countries with biodiversity hotspots was exceeded by the growth in the number of households, because average household size decreased (and decreased more rapidly than in non-hotspot countries), thereby posing serious challenges to natural resource management and biodiversity conservation.

Meeting the needs of these changing populations, increasing numbers of elderly people and extreme concentrations in urban areas, will inevitably have impacts on the environment. Increasingly cramped urban areas will need to expand – often into important nearby arable land, thereby limiting productivity of those lands. Demographic shifts will also mean increasing public-sector spending on healthcare and family support sectors with a potential trade-off of reducing investments in other public goods, including environmental management.

As this book explores the many challenges facing conservation today, it is helpful to keep in mind the underlying issues discussed above and how they will affect choices and actions in the coming decades.

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