When 196 countries met at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, last November for the 14th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (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.

Details –

  • It was the CBD’s 25th year of implementation, countries had approximately 350 days to meet global biodiversity targets, and there was 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.

What is 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.

Need of CBD-

  • The urge of those with money and power to privatise these resources for individual prosperity in the form of property management principles, intellectual property rights and others.
  • In one form the CBD — a multi-lateral environmental agreement that has provided legal certainty to countries through the principle of sovereign rights over biodiversity — also contributed to states now owning the resources, including their rights on use and management.
  • 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.

Need for ‘Commons’?

  • 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.
  • The significance of ‘Commons’ in supporting pollination (the cost estimated to be worth $224 billion annually at global levels) cannot be overlooked.
  • 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.

Threat to ‘Commons’ –

  • National Sample Survey Office data show a 1.9% quinquennial rate of decline in the area of ‘Common’ lands, though micro-studies show a much more rapid decline of 31-55% over 50 years.
  • 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.

What should be done?

  • 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.
  • Another key concern is the changing socio-political impact of migration. The relevance of ‘Commons’ impacting urban dwellers cannot be overlooked with more urbanisation happening.
  • There needs to be a review of current governance of biodiversity and natural resources. 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 –
  • one, 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;
  • two, to use Joseph Schumpeter’s approach of creative destruction to put resource management in the hands of the people; and
  • three, to re-look at Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize winning principles of dealing with ‘Commons’.

SourceThe Hindu