Would it be a hasty answer to an extremely complex question? In a more dynamic approach, it could be argued that if the degradation of ecosystem services generates development, it allows for the substitution of natural capital by man-made capital. Such a view would tend to support the idea that conservation is not directly linked to poverty alleviation, although it may at least avoid more extreme poverty as a safety net.
Indeed, there are conceptual and practical reasons why a hasty consensus on the actual global objective may conflict with the biodiversity agenda. Even if accepting as a postulate that the poor should be provided with the right to choose their future and with the opportunity to escape poverty, some important issues should not be overlooked:.
First, despite numerous and valuable attempts at complexifying the concept of poverty so as to account for its many dimensions, in practice poverty is still widely measured in terms of the money a person lives on. Just as GDP remains the main gauge of development, key institutions around the world, at all levels, still assess poverty against this extremely simplistic, if not misleading indicator. Therefore, the conceptual frameworks on which policies are grounded, developed and implemented largely fail to account for the complexity and variety of situations.
The answer is not straightforward. Challenges are actually such that there is still a worrying—as far as biodiversity is concerned—lack of evidence that poverty alleviation may be decoupled from growth in the consumption of material goods. Hence there is little doubt that current development trends in the South are leading to a somewhat desperate endeavour to catch up with the level of material consumption of the group immediately higher on the social scale.
For instance,Wilkinson and Pickett argue that inequality has pernicious effects on society: trust erosion, increasing anxiety and illness, and excessive consumption.
Planning for Poverty Eradication
They demonstrate that the situation is significantly worse in more unequal rich countries as far as 11 health and social issues are concerned Interestingly, some recent publications also demonstrate the negative impact of inequalities more than poverty on biodiversity Mikkelson et al. Inequalities are likely to be a fundamental missing piece of the biodiversity-poverty puzzle, finally putting coherence in fragmented observations that, for instance, poverty is a cause of biodiversity erosion while clearly wealth is an even greater one.
If the poor are to develop and if the natural resources that ecosystems provide are limited, a drastic reduction in the gap between the rich and poor may be a first and foremost requirement. It is worth noting that there is little robust literature that articulates the relationships between poverty, inequalities, GDP and biodiversity. It has seldom been challenged by governments, NGOs or scientists, despite some isolated attempts to couple the poverty alleviation agenda with the inequalities issue It should therefore become a priority to gather more evidence on the role that inequalities play with regard to sustainable development, for example through biodiversity erosion.
The Millennium Development Goals horizon, as it is quickly approaching, may be the perfect opportunity to bring new arguments to a debate that needs to be revived, as politically incorrect as it may be. Box 3.
Poverty Alleviation: The Case of Croatia
We used socioeconomic models that included economic inequality to predict biodiversity loss, measured as the proportion of threatened plant and vertebrate species, across 50 countries. Our main goal was to evaluate whether economic inequality, measured as the Gini index of income distribution, improved the explanatory power of our statistical models. We compared four models that included the following: only population density, economic footprint i.
We also tested the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis, and found that it was not supported by the data. Statistical comparisons of the models revealed that the model including both economic footprint and inequality was the best predictor of threatened species. It significantly outperformed population density alone and the environmental governance model according to the Akaike information criterion. Inequality was a significant predictor of biodiversity loss and significantly improved the fit of our models.
These results confirm that socioeconomic inequality is an important factor to consider when predicting rates of anthropogenic biodiversity loss. It was also suggested that poor households particularly depend on biodiversity, though mostly through provisioning services direct use of natural resources and products provided by the availability and abundance of biomass, rather than its variability.
Yet these natural resources do not exist in a vacuum; indeed, their survival depends on the continued presence of the ecological complexes they inhabit, and these in turn depend on a diverse, resilient resource base Roe, Hence, biodiversity is essential for human well-being, and policy-makers need to better understand the links between these concepts. Poverty alleviation and conservation trajectories are dynamic and context-specific, reflecting geographical, social and political issues among the groups involved Kepe et al.
These linkages are then so complex that they rarely allow simple cause-and-effect analyses.
Synergies and positive externalities between sustainably managing biodiversity and alleviating poverty do exist. For example, depending if material wealth or flexibility is favoured, the conversion of a primary forest into a monospecies industrial plantation may be seen as a driver of enrichment with increased cash incomes in the short or even long term or on the contrary of impoverishment reduced choices in the long run, vulnerability to commodity markets fluctuations, etc.
This calls for re-examining the priority given to the poverty MDG: fighting against inequalities may be a more efficient way to reconcile human development and biodiversity conservation. But this will be far from easy: while the pro-poor agenda remains relatively uncontested in the political arena, reducing inequalities will mean decreasing income and consumption from richer countries and richer households within countries so as to lessen their footprint on biodiversity and redistribute the associated ecological excess to economically and ecologically vulnerable populations.
Resistance is to be expected. Adhikari, B. Lovett Household characteristics and forest dependency: evidence from common property forest management in Nepal. Ecological Economics 48 2 : Ash, N.
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Southern African Development Community :: Poverty Eradication & Policy Dialogue
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Canada's First Poverty Reduction Strategy
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Griffon, M. Grossman, G. Krueger Economic growth and the environment. Quaterly Journal of Economics 2 : — Holland, T. Gonzalez A cross-national analysis of how economic inequality predicts biodiversity loss. Conservation Biology 23 5 : — Kepe, T. Whande Poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation: a South African perspective. Oryx 38 2 : Kerapeletswe, C. The role of common pool resources in economic welfare of rural households.
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