Beauty or

Yolanda Kakabadse
says that trade and biodiversity conservation are fundamentally linked, and calls for both to be vehicles for sustainable development

Two countries that hold a great share of the world’s biodiversity each host key conferences this autumn. For as some 3,000 delegates gather in Durban, Republic of South Africa, for the global forum on protected areas (World Parks Congress), an estimated 8,000 people are being drawn to the Mexican city of Cancún for the 5th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The linkages between trade and the environment have long been established, with trade and economic development relentlessly driving environmental change. Trade, in itself – to summarize the academic debate – is neither the beauty nor the beast for the environment. That depends on whether it takes place within a law and policy context that includes and supports environmental conservation and sustains people’s livelihoods.

Economic prospects
In Mexico, trade ministers will look at expanding the economic prospects that are so fundamental to the survival of nations. In South Africa, we will address critical foundations of sustainable development: biodiversity and instruments for biodiversity conservation. One meeting will focus on trade, the other on protected areas, yet the debates will inevitably converge.

Travel and tourism now account for 11 per cent of global GDP and 55 per cent of tourists worldwide visit protected areas. The Galapagos Islands World Heritage site, in my country, Ecuador, is a hallmark of ecotourism. Cancún, by contrast, illustrates ‘industrial tourism’:there is a growing concern among the people of the area that the ‘gains’ from tourism are being retained by foreign corporations rather than used locally to raise standards of living in the community.

Tourism is also a top export industry in Africa. In southern Africa alone, biodiversity and protected-area-based enterprises are creating sustainable sources of income for their communities, making a strong business case for sustainable development. Exports of ‘Rooibos’, the famous herbal tea, total 6,000 tonnes, earning $7.45 million per year. Meanwhile 700 tonnes of Aloe ferox raw extract is exported annually for cosmetic and medicinal products, bringing employment to entire communities in the Eastern Cape.

Our Ecuadorian rainforests hold a cornucopia of goods and services, and more are discovered every day. Recent economic calculations show that in the long term those provided by protected areas can be worth more than oil exploitation. The international trading system should be structured so as to allow them to be traded fairly and sustainably. In China, 40 per cent of all medicines consumed depend on traditional herbal components. Many of the plants used are rapidly disappearing through logging and the transformation of natural areas into agricultural fields. The country’s protected areas are expected to prove their last refuge. Worldwide, a quarter of patented medicinal products now come from Southern plants and from the knowledge and practices of traditional healers. So intellectual property rights must support indigenous peoples and local communities, sustaining their rights and livelihoods. Cancún presents an opportunity to address this important issue. Meanwhile the WTO should review the process for addressing its relationship with multilateral environmental agreements, to make the negotiations a more meaningful dialogue between relevant actors and stakeholders.

Multi-stakeholder dialogue
A session of the Global Biodiversity Forum (GBF) in Cancún prior to the Ministerial Conference will bring together the trade and biodiversity communities. The GBF has been regularly convened over the past ten years by IUCN-The World Conservation Union, UNEP, the World Resources Institute and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity to provide a transparent and neutral platform for multi-stakeholder dialogues on key biodiversity-related issues.

Equity and sustainability are at the heart of the Convention on Biological Diversity, while the Agreement Establishing the WTO includes a commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development. There is no sustainable trade without the natural resource base. The two are fundamentally linked, even if this is not always recognized. Our challenge is to show that Cancún and Durban are talking not about two different planets, but about the same Earth, where both trade and biodiversity conservation are – or can be made into – vehicles for sustainable development

Yolanda Kakabadse is President of IUCN-The World Conservation Union.

PHOTOGRAPH: Y. Morioka/UNEP/Topham


The greatest threat to the unique biodiversity of the evolution showcase of the Galapagos Islands World Heritage site is invasive species – such as fire ants, goats, cats, pigs and rats – which decimate indigenous wildlife. The first World Heritage project approved by the UN Foundation Board, carried out in partnership with UNESCO, has now successfully tested procedures for eradicating many of them – and has been particularly effective at virtually eliminating ants on Marchena Island. The initiative has catalysed an $18 million grant from the Global Environment Facility to spread the work across the islands.


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Biological backbone | Benefits beyond boundaries | Common inheritance | Beauty or beast? | Wonders of the world | Protecting heritage | People | Parks and participation | At a glance: Protected Areas | Profile: Harrison Ford | Scorecard, catalyst, watershed | Coral Reef Fund | Coral jewels | Reef knots | Brief window for biodiversity | Books & products | Conservation amid conflict | News | Green, red or black? | Keeping faith with nature | Make parks not war

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Globalization, poverty, trade and the environment, 2003
Issue on WSSD, 2002
Yolande Kakabadse: The Height of Trouble
(Mountains and Ecotourism) 2002
Issue on Mountains and Ecotourism, 2002
Issue on Biological Diversity, 2000
Issue on Tourism, 1999
Issue on Culture, Values and the Environment, 1996

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment: