by Claudia Carter
Participation in ‘People’s Climate March’ last week-end was reported from across many cities and continents, with Birmingham contributing its own contingent of citizens’ voices to demand action by UK politicians and other Governments on global climate change. Increasingly, we are confronted with the likely scenario of irreversibility of change – and that is change for the worse rather than better, as rapid environmental change and extreme weather events manifest themselves faster than technological utopian remedies. Sluggish energy-related targets and policies across sectors that hang onto economic growth fairytales are beginning to frustrate an increasing number of not so happily ever after citizens. Yet, the September demonstrations showed their own ugly dilemmas of modern consumerism and mobility: how to reduce negative impacts in travelling to climate change events and reduce adding high-energy trash of convenience foods and drinks – the hypocrisy being captured by some media photos of rubbish left behind.
In the larger scheme of things though, I was rather impressed by the appetite for effective ‘real’ action to help curb the emissions and negative impacts of our carbon-hungry industries and associated superfluous life-styles. These negative impacts do not just affect our ‘natural’ environment but growth-driven, or any other single-issue, policy is likely to result in undesirable social and ultimately economic consequences, be it through exploitation of willing workers (e.g. poor wages, job insecurity, risks to health and safety) or excessive exploitation of ecosystem services without due respect for and attention to their complex interlinkages and requirements to remain healthy. Many people, and not just the well-educated middle classes, want to see climate change targets and agreements that help us change towards economic systems and policies that take a more holistic perspective and leave a smaller environmental footprint.
The campaigners who marched last week may have made some personal sacrifices to join the rallies, but this is nothing compared to the personal risks taken by some environmental campaigners. Only three weeks earlier, the indigenous Ashéninka leader and rainforest campaigner Edwin Chota along with three other leaders of this Peruvian community were murdered.[i] This news seemed hardly to get through yet the total of such murders are on the rise. The focus of campaigns here is not necessarily on the absolute preservation of all virgin and other old forests which help control the global climate and protect biodiversity amongst other ‘ecosystem services’. In addition to environmental reasons, the campaigns point to the urgent need to address legal, social and policy issues. The governance processes of rainforests are not working well enough. The campaigns are about stopping illegal logging by mafia-like groups and the need to allocate land / property rights to those whose management practices help maintain complex ecosystems while also receiving the social, economic and environmental benefits that flow from sensitive adaptive management. Failing that along with failing to enforce existing policies and agreements means that those reverting to violence or in positions of power allow short-term gains to accelerate irreversible change. The benefit to few of temporary cash-crops and a slight peak in GDP is a meaningless consolation price for the majority of people who’d rather have in place long-term sustainable rainforest conservation and management principles, policies and actions.
So, how issues evolve on climate change agreements, policies and actions and how we manage ecosystems (such as rainforests) comes back to the question of who and how we make decisions, what visions, policies and legislation we put in place and how we implement and enforce these (or not, as seems quite often to be the case in environmental matters). Good decision-making principles exist but are not necessarily easily or willingly followed in their holistic splendour. Instead, we find odd power distributions, rhetoric rather than effective policies and essentially an unwillingness to change the status quo. Policy-making processes seem to suffer from rushed, over-lobbied content or hinging on someone’s ill-evidenced idea or conviction. But as the People’s Climate March showed, many citizens are ready for the change and want to see politics and policies to change, on climate change and for more equitable outcomes.
A good set of decision-making principles is the ‘Ecosystem Approach’. And no, it is not just about green stuff but a holistic environmental governance framework that is based on socio-ecological systems thinking where people are part of the planet and its processes. This approach and the associated 12 principles are not new but undervalued and underused (like so many good things in politics and decision-making). The Ecosystem Approach was developed as the strategic framework for action for the Convention on Biological Diversity and its principles encourage actions/considerations that should be found in any good spatial planning textbook or any good policy, project or programme. The recent TABLES project led by BCU used these 12 principles and created a web-based interface, called NEAT Tree, to help decision-makers and managers to use them in any policy cycle, plan, project or programme.
If these principles are applied, we may avoid major environmental, human-wellbeing and economic headaches in the future. We will be actually making the changes rather than lobbying for them.
[i] See e.g. http://fsrn.org/2014/09/murders-of-indigenous-forest-defenders-highlight-illegal-logging-in-peruvian-amazon/; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/09/illegal-loggers-blamed-for-of-peru-forest-campaigner
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Mark Reed for very useful comments on my draft version.