Institutional Reform, ‘Quality’ Growth, May Help Sustain Global Resources

Summary of the Seminar on global trends

Reforming international institutions, encouraging “quality” growth and giving local populations equitable rights to land could be decisive steps towards ensuring a more sustainable use of natural resources, including forests, a seminar in Stockholm heard this month.

However, speakers warned the 80-strong audience at the Royal Academy of Agriculture and Forestry (KSLA), a well-respected Swedish think tank, action had to be swift and taken as part of efforts to address challenges on the level of the global system.

The 8 June event, entitled ‘Global trends – implications on the development and use of natural resources’, followed on the back of a meeting at Chatham House in London last month. There 20 experts outlined a series of global trends, or “megatrends”, expected to drive change in the next couple of decades. Its Swedish co-chair, KSLA fellow Sten Nilsson tried to put the trends and their implications into context for the international crowd assembled in Stockholm.

‘Unprecedented’ change

“We have never had so many human-induced transformations in history as we have today”, said the former director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and current advisor to the Canadian government, adding that the speed with which these changes were occurring was “unprecedented”, and that “we are lacking a lot knowledge” on the interactions of the trends and their impacts.

Launching into an exposé of scientific predictions Nilsson said that, by mid century, the world population was expected to increase by a third. This would include a doubling of people in the “middle class” in developing countries to six billion.

While oil and mineral reserves were already peaking, global energy production was set to triple by 2050. Then bio-based production—to which both agriculture and forestry supply raw materials—would be worth $280 billion, having expanded at an annual rate of 12-15 per cent.

The developing countries would be the ones setting the global agenda, Nilsson affirmed. Already in 2013 the developing world would be good for all but half the world’s collective gross domestic product, up from 37 percent of global GDP in the year 2000, he said.

If left to the devises of markets and business as usual under the current international regime, the rapid change seen could produce “unpleasant surprises”, said Nilsson, pausing to catch his breath.

‘Little progress’ on climate change

To be sure, recent advice (from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) showed that global greenhouse gas emissions were at an “all-time high” and that, despite intense global negotiations, “not much progress has been achieved”, according to Nilsson.

Others would have added that, as yet, there was no new international regime in sight to replace the UN’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change after its expiry in 2012. Indeed, Stockholm Resilience Centre head Johan Rockström suggested to the seminar, to prevent global temperatures from rising more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels in 2050, which is a goal adhered to by the EU and UN, the world would need to rally around a treaty with the clout similar to that of the so-called Montreal Protocol, under which UN member countries have cut emissions of substances involved in the thinning of the Earth’s atmospheric ozone layer. There could be such agreements for countering climate change and for arresting the loss of biodiversity, according to Rockström.

For his part, Nilsson went on to say that ecosystems and their services, and biodiversity, would be impacted by a decline in water resources, since 75 per cent of current use went into agricultural production which, in turn, would have to be stepped up to meet the demands for food of a world population edging towards nine billion.

“We have to produce more out of less”, said Nilsson, calling for a shift to “qualitative” growth and a “strong policy leadership”. This should not only create rules and guidelines, but also do away with excess administrative burdens, remarked Andy White from the international Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a coalition of 14 organisations advocating more equitable access to land and rights by indigenous and local peoples.

Indeed, “new forms of governance” by the public and private sectors where needed, Nilsson agreed: “We need to work with this larger systems’ view in order to be able to handle the decisions”.

Rise of developing countries

Nilsson, White and others described shifting power balances from the West and North of the planet, to its South and East.

China had already risen to be the largest exporter of goods, said KSLA Director Åke Barklund. India and Brazil were hot on its heels in terms of technological development, said others. The three countries had young populations that would be asking for jobs and an expanding middle class in search for material living standards similar to those of citizens in the western world. In fact, those economies had “already emerged”, said Ujjwal Pradhan, Asia Regional Director of the World Agroforestry Centre in Indonesia.

As the RRI’s Washington-based coordinator, White said that, especially in the developing world, “the contest for land will increase”. This, he said, should be seen against a backdrop of forested land being largely controlled, not by local or indigenous people, but by governments. This was especially true of Africa. However, a conversation with Godwin Kowero, head of the African Forest Forum revealed, in several African countries local populations would welcome investments and capacity building by foreign investors to restore dried out land and to replant forests.

Countering conflicts

However that might be, White predicted that violent conflicts would arise over land rights in developing nations. While governments and businesses from all over the world would be pouring “hundreds of billions of dollars” into investments in natural resources in developing nations, local populations would rebel and reclaim their right to the land, he said.

For her part, Susan Kandel of PRISMA, carrying out applied research on the territorial dynamics of the South American continent, said that “illicit activities”—such as trafficking or the formation of cartels and gangs—were already mainstay in areas rich in natural resources, such as the Peruvian Amazon and Petén of Guatemala, were stakeholders in trade infrastructure, extractive industries and tourism were vying for the land and its riches. The result was a complex picture of rapid environmental degradation and loss of forest cover, as well as poverty and social exclusion among local populations, in a vicious cycle further spurred on by inland droughts or near-coastal flooding—trends presumably heightened by climate change.

While there was no one solution, said Kandel, a first step could be the creation of a strategy to “defend, strengthen and expand the territorial and forest rights of indigenous peoples and community forest organisations”.  Such a strategy could be developed under REDD+, the UN’s expanded scheme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, which “plus” part indicates that efforts should also be made to boost “conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks”, according to the dedicated UN website.

“We need to get more aggressive” in trying to convince world leaders of the need for change, concluded White, who had the establishment of a global fund to help finance sustainable governance and tenure of forested land top his wish list.

Anna Strom

Foto: Anna Strom