Yesterday, WWF launched its Living Planet 2016 report. Predictably, it makes for grim reading. Wildlife populations are declining rapidly. The headline news is that the number of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians fell by 58% between 1970 and 2012. By 2020, the number of wild animals is on track to fall by two-thirds.
In a press release about the report, WWF writes that,
Global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have already declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012, the most recent year with available data. This places the world on a trajectory of a potential two-thirds decline within a span of the half-century ending in 2020.
Here’s Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF, telling us about the report:
Here are a few extracts:
“The way we produce and consume food, the way we power our lives, even our investment decisions, human beings are overpowering the planet for the first time in earth’s history.
“Our destructive, wasteful and unsustainable use of natural resources is threatening not just species and ecosystems, but people too.
“The time to act is now. It is urgent and necessary. WWF’s Living Planet report is a stark reminder of what we are doing to the natural world and what we can do about it. We have the knowledge, tools, the technology, the know how. The Living Planet report shows us how by changing the way we produce food and energy, we can shape a sustainable way forward for the planet and its people.”
Lambertini is right to raise the alarm. The destruction of the natural world is accelerating. The impacts are ever more serious.
But Lambertini doesn’t explain who he means when he says “we”. The way the indigenous Bribri people living in the forests of Costa Rica hunt, produce, gather and prepare their food has little or nothing to do with the way the average European buys their food in a supermarket.
Lambertini does not differentiate between the vast majority of people on the planet who don’t use aeroplanes, with the jet-setting life of the 1%.
The Living Planet report highlights the impact of consumption:
Consumption patterns in high income countries result in disproportional demands on Earth’s renewable resources, often at the expense of people and nature elsewhere in the world.
And the report mentions the problems with the “GDP-growth-focused economic model” (without mentioning capitalism, of course):
The global economic growth generated through our current economic system has reduced poverty and given rise to significant improvements in standards of living. However, this GDP-growth-focused economic model has led to severe wealth inequality as well as culturally entrenched aspirations for material consumption. It has encouraged growth well beyond our basic needs and beyond what can be supported by the carrying capacity of a single Earth.
Protecting the natural world from whom?
When we start to look at WWF’s solutions to the crisis, the alarm bells really start to ring.
WWF talks about “protecting natural capital”. WWF is a member of the Natural Capital Coalition, which describes natural capital as “another term for the stock of renewable and non-renewable resources (e.g. plants, animals, air, water, soils, minerals) that combine to yield a flow of benefits to people.”
Other members of the Natural Capital Coalition include Coca Cola, LafargeHolcim, Olam, Shell, Suez, Unilever, the World Bank, and Walmart, as well as other BINGOs such as The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International. The coalition very much represents the 1%.
Protecting forests in this scheme means realising “the full value of forests”, and WWF’s proposal for achieving this is “Zero net deforestation”:
The full value of forests will only be realized if deforestation and forest degradation is stopped. Zero net deforestation leaves some room for change in the configuration of the land-use mosaic, provided the net quantity, quality and carbon density of forests is maintained.
But as a recent post on the excellent Illegal Deforestation Monitor website argues, the corporate ‘zero deforestation’ movement will not work because it will only cover part of the market for each commodity. There will always be companies that don’t sign up to zero deforestation pledges. These are likely to be the most destructive companies. And zero deforestation pledges will not work because of the widespread illegality and corruption involved in clearing forests for new agricultural land.
Here’s how the Living Planet report proposes to go about protecting “natural capital”:
To adequately protect natural capital, resources need to be used sustainably, and the global network of protected areas needs to be expanded. Adequate funding mechanisms are needed if protected area management is to be effective.
Protected areas are often created on indigenous peoples’ territories. Millions of people have been evicted from their lands to make way for protected areas. Even where they have not been evicted, indigenous peoples’ rights and livelihoods have often been seriously impacted.
Yet the word “indigenous” appears only twice in the 74-page Living Planet report. Deforestation is to be avoided according to the report, to maintain “critical services for people, particularly, local communities and indigenous groups”.
The word “rights” appears three times, but never in the context of indigenous peoples’ rights.