Special feature:
Security in a shrinking world

 
HM Queen Noor of Jordan explains how peace and security depend on enabling people to participate in conserving resources and in sustainable development


This article is condensed from the Pastrana Borrero lecture delivered by HM Queen Noor at the presentation of the 2001 UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize in New York on 19 November 2001.

Amid the unprecedented disasters and conflict of the past weeks, it is more crucial than ever that we cling to humanity as the centre of our every endeavour. Any other approach is a disservice both to the Earth’s human inhabitants and to the environments on which we all depend.

As the technologies and strategies of globalization ever widen their reach, local communities are feeling ever more marginalized. Global programmes, be they economic or environmental, are widely perceived to favour the ‘haves’ at the expense of the ‘have-nots’. Cultures and beliefs that are being ignored are turning inward to preserve their identities, becoming radicalized, and resorting to extremism and even violence to get their message heard.

This disregard of local needs – whether by huge multinational corporations or by paternalistic centrally planned development – has given rise to a backlash against globalization, from World Trade Organization protesters to the ever increasing number of political and ethnic separatist groups, and even, most horrifying of all, to terrorists. Although their methods cannot be condoned, their motives are often linked to environments of inequality, alienation and desperation. Unfortunately, their actions – and the responses these incur – jeopardize people and, often, the natural environment.

Global monopoly
Environmental problems know no boundaries. Nature was the first global monopoly. Air pollution does not stop at the factory fence, let alone at some line on a map. Water depletion does not recognize political boundaries, but – as we are all too aware in our region – has profound political consequences. The adage ‘think globally; act locally’ is nowhere as apt as in environmental issues. Conservation decisions may be crucial on a global level, but they are doomed to fail if they ignore local concerns. Centrally planned dams, for example, have destroyed local communities and sparked unrest. Generalized fishing quotas are almost impossible to enforce – and can even be a source of conflict – if they ignore such issues as cultural attitudes towards compliance and the effect of the regulations on local economies.

For many nations, security concerns now centre less on boundaries and external military might than on increasing conflicts stemming from poverty, displaced peoples, economic instability and competition over shared resources.

Unbreakable links
The unbreakable links between environment and security are all too apparent in the Middle East. Water and arable land shortages, in particular, cause increasingly tense and sometimes violent confrontations both among and within states. The environment is a cause of political tension around the globe and could become a substantial source of conflict in the years ahead. There is, however, evidence that resolving resource disputes equitably can help promote wider peace. Sharing water was a cornerstone of the 1994 Jordan/Israel peace accord; following the treaty, our country was able to launch a project to increase the captured flow of natural run-off from the Yarmouk River – the water source over which Jordanian and Israeli troops once exchanged gunfire.

The potential seriousness of such conflicts has prompted the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to launch a global initiative on environment and security, to help illuminate the causes of tension and conflict, and to identify how resource degradation leads to national distress. Linking this initiative to peoples’ social and economic security – and ultimately to a reduction in human suffering – will hopefully make it possible to gain greater grassroots support for what, until now, has often been perceived as a largely elitist concern – offering the promise of making conservation relevant to the lives of a wider public.
Successful programmes make the local population central to decision-making
Ecosystems and human activities are not separate realms. If we can spread the idea that social well- being, economic stability and the natural environment are interdependent – and that the degradation of any one endangers all three – even those who have not made the environment a priority will see that we can no longer overuse and misuse our resources. This awareness-building is the backbone of environmental sanity.

Environmental security must be viewed as a vital global interest. It cannot exist without peaceful cooperation among states, yet that peace itself can be threatened by inequity in resources. States must realize that without environmental security, we can never ensure political and economic stability.

This is no easy task. Wealth breeds indifference. Poverty breeds desperation. In the developed North, abundance of money and natural resources insulates the inhabitants from the consequences of waste. In the developing South – where the worst natural shortages occur – poverty prioritizes survival and pushes conservation to the fringes.

Right to livelihood
Successful programmes make the local population central to decision-making and implementation – in what the late Misael Pastrana Borrero, the former President of Colombia, called ‘the community’s ownership of the environment’. They recognize that people have a fundamental right to their livelihood and to the use of their own resources – and rely on education and participation to show that environmental goals are compatible with this.

Two IUCN concepts, in particular, now form the heart of environmental protection and economic development strategies in many countries: first, that the use of resources by local populations is not only inevitable but legitimate – so long as it is ecologically sound; and second, that conservation and development are inextricably linked. Synthesizing these two principles has yielded bold and innovative approaches to fuse economic development and environmental protection into a single dynamic. Jordan is among many countries that have benefited from such technical assistance, first in developing our national networks of reserves and later in formulating a long-term national environmental strategy – the first in the Middle East. Our experience was a catalyst for establishing other programmes among the Arab states and helped to promote coordinated monitoring of regional environmental trends.

Conservation and tourism
At nature reserves in Dana and Wadi Rum, in Southern Jordan, for example, conservation efforts have been linked with tourism and have revitalized local production to increase employment and income. Once the inhabitants enjoy a better quality of life, they have a greater vested interest in preserving natural beauty and biodiversity. Throughout our country, as in many others, nature conservation is proving an effective route to national socio-economic development.

Women, the backbone of local communities – with a stake in preserving their children’s future – can be invaluable in such conservation efforts. But they can also abuse the environment, as in misusing firewood in some areas in Africa, or in using chemicals in homes in more developed environments.

Education and awareness-building are the key to success in any environmental endeavour. The WWF Women in Environment programme, for instance, aims at integrating nature conservation and community development in areas around National Parks in Bhutan, through non-formal education, alternative income-generating activities, micro-credit and savings, and environmental and developmental awareness. Providing alternative livelihoods helps reduce pressure on natural resources.

Conservation and traditional use
Similarly, WWF programmes in Fiji which promote the use and conservation of the kuta plant as a material for traditional weaving techniques are helping both the local women and the wetlands where it grows. Involving local communities intimately in planning and activities that benefit both themselves and the environment is the most effective – perhaps the only – way to sustain both.

The work of Huey Johnson, this year’s winner of the 2001 UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize, exemplifies these principles. His seminal interest in local cultures and histories around the world, and his groundbreaking work in implementing projects that benefit local residents as well as local environments, shows the success of this approach. His work demonstrates that any truly global conservation plan must be built from the ground up. It must be founded on the concerns of the people. It must include comprehensive approaches to the overarching, growing problem of human poverty, one of the main contributors to environmental damage. And it must acknowledge that differences in resources require different contributions.

It is unfair to place the bulk of the burden of ecological preservation on the very countries already staggering under supreme shortages of resources, education, infrastructure and money. Those who use the lion’s share of the world’s resources must share with those who have less. They must share not only their resources, but their expertise, and their understanding that the challenges faced in other parts of the world must also be recognized as their own.

Knowledge and know-how
Such changes require effort. They require raising the awareness of individuals and communities and equipping them with the practical tools to use resources wisely. They require developing knowledge and know-how, to experiment with new approaches in eco-management and apply them to other regions. They require money to support such experiments and to keep improved management practices in place. And, finally, they require people.

People must be enabled to participate in making the decisions that affect their most fundamental needs. When people – particularly women, who are absolutely pivotal in this process – are given a stake in their own futures, they will take responsibility and do what needs to be done, making changes that would be impossible if imposed by some higher authority.

Conservation must speak a language that people understand. It must begin in the heart, and begin young. It must be based on both traditional wisdom and modern expertise. We must encourage schools and universities in every country to include awareness-building in their curricula and to promote programmes to transform people into the guardians, rather than the predators, of biodiversity.
Ecological preservation must be part of a larger effort to preserve the human species
Both local and national governments – and international financial institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the World Bank – should establish incentives for conservation based on the full economic, ecological, cultural and intrinsic values of local ecosystems. Community-based groups and non-governmental organizations, with government support, must build and strengthen education and communications to involve the people in the process of participatory, equitable and responsible resource management.

Our globe’s environmental resources are shrinking even faster than globalization is shrinking our world. We are destroying the very things that sustain us, from life-giving water, to soul-nourishing landscapes, to whole species of plants and animals that may hold the secret key to some of our greatest health threats, to the whole web of biological resources that support life itself. Once gone, they are gone forever. We cannot create our world anew: we can only conserve what the creator has given us. Any other course robs our children, and theirs, of the gifts we have received – and squandered.

Conservation is crucial if our world is to have a future. But people are the world’s most important resource. Ecological preservation must be part of a larger effort to preserve the human species, not just collectively but each precious individual. Preserving the environment and protecting people need not be conflicting goals. Indeed, each is impossible without the other.

The sanctity of life
The Prophet Mohammed said: ‘The world is green and beautiful and God has appointed you his stewards over it.’ The sanctity of life, and the preciousness of the Earth that is its cradle and support are fundamental to all our faiths. As long as every voice is listened to and heard, as long as we ensure that no-one’s concerns are excluded, these beliefs can bring us together, in cooperation and understanding, united for a higher goal.

As President Pastrana believed, peace is people living in harmony with each other, and with nature. That is more than a dream. It is a goal that we have no choice but to achieve


HM Queen Noor of Jordan is Patron of IUCN, The World Conservation Union, and RSCN, Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, Jordan, a Member of the WWF International Board of Trustees and Honorary President of Birdlife International.

PHOTOGRAPH: Hong Lui/UNEP/Topham


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Open doors | Progress and possibilities | A further step | Achieving the vision | Wake-up call | Special feature: Security in a shrinking world | 2001 UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize | Competition | Global housekeeping | Disrupting life’s messages | Ubiquitous and dangerous | Briefing: Much done, much still to do | Briefing: Getting on top of the POPs | Briefing: First line of defence | Reversing the burden of proof


Complementary articles in other issues:
HM Queen Noor of Jordan: The right to diversity (The Environment Millennium) 2000
Issue on Biodiversity 2000
Elizabeth Halpenny and Nicole R. Otte: Not just nature (Tourism) 1999
Fazlun Khalid: Guardians of the natural order (Culture, values and the environment) 1996
AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Population and biodiversity