Global Financial Crisis Endangers Conservation Gains

Christine Dell'Amore in Barcelona
National Geographic News
October 8, 2008

The global financial crisis could put recent measures toward protecting the planet at significant risk, experts said today during a meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) being held in Barcelona.

A profound U.S. recession will likely resonate worldwide and push conservation to the bottom of governments' priority lists for years to come, said Alejandro Nadal, who chairs an IUCN working group on macroeconomics and the environment.

The slump may also exacerbate economic pressures that can damage the environment, he added.

For example, governments may lean on private industries—such as mining, oil, and gas—to extract more resources and fill in revenue gaps.

Likewise, countries may divert funds from environmental and social programs to bail out the economy—a "typical example of a macroeconomic policy that has huge environmental repercussions," he said.

"The magnitude of [this] crisis should have the environmental community really worried."

The crisis does have a positive aspect, Nadal said, in that it "may raise awareness of the perils of continuing in this trajectory of consumption, social inequality, and concentration of wealth.

"If humankind doesn't heed this message, we should be the number one species on the Red List of IUCN," he said, referring to nonprofit's ranking of the world's most threatened species. (See photos of some of the animals on the 2008 Red List.)

Oceans of Poverty

Nadal works with economists in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Mexico to weave environmental concerns into economic decisions.

If the financial crisis pushes governments to slash support for social programs, such as commercial loans for small farmers, it will harm communities who live near the world's protected areas, he said.

Without support, these "islands of conservation in oceans of poverty" tempt local people to pillage forests, waterways, and other natural areas for their everyday needs, Nadal said.

Continued on Next Page >>


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