[op-ed snap] A case for Commons sense

Note4Students

Mains Paper 3: Bio diversity and Environment| Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the importance of ‘Commons’.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the importance of ‘Commons’ and why there’s need to review how biodiversity and natural resources are governed, in a brief manner.


Context

  • The 14th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was held at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, last November.

Agenda of 14th CBD

  • When the 196 countries met for the 14th CBD, a key question on top of the agenda was how to govern biological resources (or biodiversity) at different levels for the world’s sustainable future.
  • The meeting had come at a significant time as it was the CBD’s 25th year of implementation.
  • Countries had approximately 350 days to meet global biodiversity targets.
  • There was also the backdrop of a damning report that humans have mismanaged biodiversity so badly that we have lost 60% of resources (which can never be recouped).
  • Finally, there was growing concern on how the Convention’s objectives of conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits were being compromised, including by the parties themselves.

Protecting the ‘Commons’

  • For thousands of years, humans have considered natural resources and the environment as a global public good, with communities having diligently managed these resources using the principle of ‘Commons’.
  • In simple terms, these are a set of resources such as air, land, water and biodiversity that do not belong to one community or individual, but to humanity.
  • All developments we see in the establishment of civilisations across the world as well as agricultural development feeding the world today are a result of such ‘Commons’ being managed by communities for centuries.

Commons resource management principles are ignored in CBD

  • CBD is a multi-lateral environmental agreement that has provided legal certainty to countries through the principle of sovereign rights over biodiversity .
  • But it has also contributed to states now owning the resources, including their rights on use and management.
  • Today, states control and manage biodiversity with strict oversight of who can use what and how.
  • The intent of the CBD and having sovereign rights was to manage resources better.
  • But the results of such management have been questionable.
  • A key reason cited is that ‘Commons’ and common property resource management principles and approaches are ignored and compromised.

Why ‘Commons’ cannot be overlooked?

  • According to estimates, a third of the global population depends on ‘Commons’ for their survival.
  • 65% of global land area is under ‘Commons’, in different forms.
  • At least 293,061 million metric tonnes of carbon (MtC) are stored in the collective forestlands of indigenous peoples and local communities.
  • This is 33 times the global energy emissions in 2017.
  • The significance of ‘Commons’ in supporting pollination (the cost estimated to be worth $224 billion annually at global levels) cannot be overlooked.

Significance of ‘Commons’ in India

  • In India, the extent of ‘Common’ land ranges between 48.69 million and 84.2 million hectares, constituting 15-25% of its total geographical area.
  • ‘Common’-pool resources contribute $5 billion a year to the incomes of poor Indian households.
  • Around 77% of India’s livestock is kept in grazing-based or extensive systems and dependent on ‘Commons’ pool resources.
  • And 53% of India’s milk and 74% of its meat requirements are met from livestock kept in extensive ‘Common’ systems.

‘Commons’ have suffered continuous degradation

  • Despite their significance, ‘Commons’ in India have suffered continued decline and degradation.
  • National Sample Survey Office data show a 1.9% quinquennial rate of decline in the area of ‘Common’ lands.
  • Though microstudies show a much more rapid decline of 31-55% over 50 years, jeopardising the health of systemic drivers such as soil, moisture, nutrient, biomass and biodiversity.
  • This in turn aggravates food, fodder and water crises.
  • As of 2013, India’s annual cost of environmental degradation has been estimated to be ₹3.75 trillion per year, i.e. 5.7% of GDP according to the World Bank.

Why the concern?

  • ‘Commons’ becoming uncommon is a major socio-political, economic and environmental problem.
  • While the state can have oversight over resource management, keeping people away from using and managing ‘Commons’ is against effective governance of ‘Commons’.
  • The sovereign rights provided for, legally, under the CBD should not be misunderstood by the state as a handle to do away with ‘Commons’-based approaches to managing biodiversity, land, water and other resources.
  • Current discussions under the United Nations should focus on how and why ‘Commons’ have been negatively impacted by progressive pronouncements to save the earth and people.

Changing socio-political impact of migration on ‘Commons’

  • Another key concern is the changing socio-political impact of migration.
  • Gone are the days when we can consider ‘Commons’ as resources relevant only for rural communities.
  • ‘Commons’ are now a major provider of livelihood options for both urban and peri-urban populations.
  • The relevance of ‘Commons’ impacting urban dwellers cannot be overlooked with more urbanisation happening.

Way Forward: Approaches for the future

  • There needs to be a review of current governance of biodiversity and natural resources.
  • After 18 years of action to reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity, it is very likely that the same 196 countries will meet in 2020 to apologise to the world for having failed to meet the objectives of the convention.
  • In addition to seeking more money, time and capacities to deal with biodiversity and natural resource management, we need to focus on three specific approaches:
  1. to re-introduce more strongly, the management and governance principles of ‘Commons’ approaches into decision-making and implementation of conservation, use and benefit sharing action;
  2. to use Joseph Schumpeter’s approach of creative destruction to put resource management in the hands of the people; and
  3. to re-look at Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize winning principles of dealing with ‘Commons’.

Back2Basics

Convention on Biological Diversity

  • The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), known informally as the Biodiversity Convention, is a multilateral treaty.
  • The Convention has three main goals including: the conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity); the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.
  • Its objective is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.
  • The Convention was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993.
  • CBD has two supplementary agreements – Cartagena Protocol and Nagoya Protocol.
Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols
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