Posts Tagged ‘environmental law enforcement’

The importance of choosing the right tool for the job

Duh! I mean obvious or what? Except, as is well known, people equipped with only hammers often see too many problems as solvable purely by use of a hammer. International donor engagement with Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) has long struck me a case in point.

The international donors come armed with their hammer, which is money to support the government in the recipient country. This is primarily what big international donors do. They work often through diplomatic or pseudo-diplomatic channels. Aid should be channelled to the host government; anything else could be construed as meddling in someone else’s country. This is a pretty good hammer for things that the host country government is already good at, e.g. building new schools all over the country: the more money you pour in, the more new schools get built.

CBNRM has been just one of the sexiest concepts in conservation for about 30 years now. Even Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES), including REDD, hasn’t fully displaced it, just been added to the mix, since rich folk much prefer to pay those poster children of poverty porn – poor rural communities of farmers – for protecting their local environment than a bunch of shapeless bureaucrats. So plenty of donor investment in conservation in recent decades has focused on CBNRM. Except that, as I pointed out previously, the same government officials who are charged with enforcing local environmental laws do not really make the most sensible agents of change when it comes to facilitating the development of CBNRM projects.

Now along comes a World Bank report critiquing participatory approaches to development. It includes a substantial section on CBNRM, which is certainly pleasing to see. The main conclusion is that the majority of CBNRM projects do not appear very successful; depending on how they interact with existing policies and laws they may even be counter-productive, helping the rich at the expense of the poor. Now I am familiar to some extent with some of the CBNRM projects they are talking about (or citing others talking about), and I noticed one thing in common: they were all classic international donor funded efforts, working through local government.

So yeah, I’m not particularly surprised by Messrs Mansuri and Rao’s findings, but I’m not convinced that it greatly undermines the theory of CBNRM so much as the practice in the context of international development aid. (Which one presumes was very much Mansuri and Rao’s starting point, given their employer, and is supported by their associated blog post. All of which is not to say the report is not worth a read.) Major donors, of course, employ some very bright people, some of whom have come to realise the same thing. Alas, while they would choose to fund us – a small NGO – if they could, the only thing their employer ever gives them is a metaphorical hammer.


Ease of doing business is not the same as poverty alleviation

I am a little bit puzzled about the complaints listed in a Guardian piece last week criticising the World Bank’s rankings of the easiest countries in the world for doing business. Surely if such a ranking is to be meaningful it has to see the world substantially from the point of view of business people? I.e. fewer environmental rules, and lower levels of unionization will be just as much of interest to a businessman considering where to invest as the amount of red tape that s/he will have to deal with. Conversely s/he is unlikely to take much account of inequality and poverty indicators except where they may directly affect their intended workforce, so why should they feature in the rankings?

If the World Bank were not putting out these ratings, I imagine someone else would be by now. So, rather than shooting the messenger, complainants might want to focus on or more of the following solutions:

  1. Raising minimum standards worldwide so there can be less labour rights arbitrage.
  2. Simplifying regulations to focus on the important stuff.
  3. Improving consistency of implementation / enforcement.

Long rulebooks filled with obscure stipulations are a corrupt official’s paradise! (And civil society organisations are just as much affected by barmy employment law as businesses.) Furthermore, if implementation is uneconomic or enforcement uneven you can actually have a negative affect on workers’ rights and the environment since the more honest employers are put off from investing, leaving the field free for those who never have any intention of playing fair.

That aside, I can guess at one underlying cause of the complaints which is completely skated over in the article. Maybe the problem is not so much the rankings (which by increasing information flow can only be a good thing), but the emphasis put upon them by Western donors as a proxy for supporting the concerns of their own multinational firms, at the expense of broader development issues. E.g. the complaint from Zambian civil society that credit is only available to big businesses. Now it might be that national governments in places like Zambia are misinterpreting donor concerns (à la isomorphic mimicry), but it wouldn’t surprise me if, on this point, many donors were guilty as charged. Don’t expect too much altruism from Official Development Assistance aid.

Whither the Western Grey Whales – will regulation suffice?

This is part six of a seven part series on my views on the philosophy of conservation and the case of the Western Grey Whales off Sakhalin in particular – see Richard Black’s article for an introduction. If you are coming to this blog new, before you read this and other posts in this series please consider reading my earlier one and voting in the poll.

In that poll I offered the option that: “Economic development should generally take precedence over conservation within bounds, i.e. allow the oil and gas developments to go ahead with appropriate regulation.” On one level there is not much to argue with in this proposition which suggests we can have the best of both worlds: economic development for Russia and Sakhalin and effective conservation of the endangered grey whales … if it works.

And therein lies the real question. Are these two goals actually reconcilable? If so will the necessary regulations actually be written, or will lobbying by one side or the other ensure that the ‘compromise’ option in fact only works for one side? Even if good regulations are promulgated will they be effectively enforced? Recent history in Russia suggests, if anything, over-enthusiastic enforcement of environmental regulations with respect to foreign investors but complete amnesia when it is local (usually government controlled) firms which are doing the investing.

This option is thus for the optimistic amongst us who like to think they can have both conservation and development together. The pessimists, though, may simply conclude that, as is so often the case, it is simply not possible to have your cake and eat it, and that compromises are as likely to please nobody as to please anybody. I do not myself know enough about the situation in Sakhalin to say who would be right in this instance.

Whose park is greener?

A quick update on my recent post on the irrelevance of the IUCN classifications of protected areas. Two recent pieces of news courtesy of CIFOR that I should have included in my discussion (I wasn’t quite up to date with my blog reading):

I couldn’t have asked for better or more timely evidence in support of my central argument! What matters is what happens on the ground, and that involves working with local actors. The bureaucrat’s pen at conservation HQ can only accomplish so much, and oft times it can actually get in the way of real achievements.

My park is greener than your park (on paper)

A new paper in Oryx by Charlie  Gardner analyses the application of IUCN’s protected area categories to Madagascar’s parks and reserves system. Apparently they’re not a very good fit, but I find myself struggling to care.

In 2008 Boitani et al called for a protected area classification system based on conservation outcomes, which in an ideal world I guess everyone would go for, but the World Commission on Protected Areas understandably think that this is not very workable. Also there is something to be said for assessing effort (in opportunities for economic development foregone in establishing more strictly protected reserves), especially since desired conservation outcomes can take a long time to materialise. The counter-argument, of course, is that if you’re not intending to monitor your conservation outcomes what the hell do you think you’re doing setting up the park in the first place (?!?), although this somewhat ignores the reality in many developing countries in which monitoring is dependent upon unreliable donor funds.

With so many protected areas now established around the world it certainly makes sense to classify them in some way, and if that were the end of the matter then we could all be happy, but it’s not. I was once privy to (but not an active participant in) a conversation based around the ‘need’ to increase the area that country A has in reserves that fall within category X of  the IUCN system. I confess to being somewhat baffled. I sincerely hope the proponents of this idea were really concerned about eventual conservation outcome, but if so they did not say so; the IUCN category seemed to matter in itself.

One plausible explanation for this is that donor money might be distributed partly based on a reserve’s IUCN classification. I do not know for certain whether this is the case, but if so it is lazy thinking, and worrying. Indubitably I have come across many examples of literature bemoaning that country B has a low % of land within protected areas, and I would expect that countries that conserve more get more donor money to support that, so it is not too far a stretch to suppose that detailed decisions are taken based on IUCN protection category.

However, I think this is a misuse of the system. In this I am reminded of the debate over the Millennium Development Goals: the creators of the MDGs only ever intended that they serve as global targets, not as indicators of progress against which individual countries can be measured. We must always be careful in how we use a system designed to measure one aspect of a complex, messy reality (and although the MDGs are plural, sectorally they are singular), especially if we then seek to use that to drive funding decisions as such measures tend to be more substitutes to more thorough analysis.

Of course the biggest criticism of the IUCN system is that it rewards ‘paper parks’ over really functioning conservation: in effect it measures only regulation. In rich countries government bureaucracies generally work well enough such that appropriate resources are assigned to support such designations, and the bureaucrats may even resist unfunded additional designations. However, in developing countries resources are that much more limited and variable standards of governance means that decision making is not necessarily nearly so rational.

The result is a dysfunctional attempt to rule by unenforceable fiat. Local communities are unlikely to be compensated properly for their lost opportunities, thus alienating them, and hence they will seek to undermine the new park. The exclusion of Maasai pastoralists from Mkomazi Game Reserve (now a National Park) in Tanzania is a classic example of how things can go wrong; the conservation outcome was actually worse than under the previous, messier system.

In surveying the sorry state of these things I have come to the conclusion that the establishment or upgrading of a protected area can actually be an anti-conservation measure. All the rules and regulations that come with such designations constrain managers from reaching workable compromises with local communities under which everyone can benefit. Better instead to work with flexibility outside protected areas than with the dubious benefit of government regulation to support you.

Conservationists often talk about the need to protect ~10% of each different habitat, but this should be a rule of thumb. There are lots of ways to protect a landscape: a national park is often not the best solution.

Update: two recent pieces of evidence in support of my argument (15/09/11).

Who you gonna call?


Ghostbusters: just more likeable than the Federal Bureau of Exorcism.

Musing further on  my post yesterday on the beauty of small projects and human resources constraints, it occurred to me that I left out an important additional consideration. It’s a major advantage of NGOs over government agencies: not only are their staff likely to be better trained and more flexible, they’re not also tasked with enforcing the law.

This issue occurs especially in community conservation projects.* Twenty years ago, if you were a wildlife, forestry or marine biology geezer working in a developing country then chances are you worked for the government. So when the community conservation revolution broke out many advocates naturally assumed that they’d have to retrain the government officials.

This is certainly not impossible; I’ve worked with some excellent current and ex-government natural resources officials who are capable of establishing great relationships with local communities. But I think they are more the exception than the rule. Picture yourself as a poor farmer: yesterday a game ranger turns up to arrest your neighbour for a naughty spot of poaching in the nearby national park, then today he turns up all smiles to preach to all of you that the national park is your friend, and that everyone can – and should – work together peacefully, and for the betterment of all. How are you going to feel?

Trust is absolutely central to successful community engagement in conservation. Despite our various more concrete achievements in the projects I help to run, establishing trust is one of our successes of which I am most proud, and frequently find myself returning to it when people ask us what they think is the secret to our success. Without trust, you’ll find community members just turn up to meetings for the per diems, with trust you’re often preaching to the choir (though they still appreciate those per diems, thank you very much).

I can readily appreciate how different the tropical conservation landscape looked 20 years ago, and that there might have been little alternative to working with government agencies and staff on community conservation. But with plenty of alternatives now available (in most tropical countries) I think a reappraisal is called for: if we were to design a system from scratch we would never dream of combining the role of policeman and community facilitator.

Donors should take note, and place themselves in the position of rural communities wanting to engage in conservation. Who you gonna call?

* Although I think the wider principles are more generally applicable to other community development projects: poor farmers may not have much respect for government-employed agricultural extension workers.

Shoot to Kill?

African conservationists ‘shoot to kill poachers‘” is something of a worrying headline. Unfortunately the book that the story is based upon is yet to be published so it is difficult to comment upon the particulars. Nonetheless the story is now, and I’m worried that, in the absence of context, conservation may be getting a slightly unfair rap.

Let’s start off by saying that a human life is never worth less than a [insert species name here]. Conservationists who even imply that a shoot to kill policy is defensible as a conservation stratagem deserve all the opprobrium they get.

But, and as the BBC news article does make clear lower down, some of these poaching gangs are paramilitary outfits themselves. Many of them are operating in some pretty lawless places, and are attacking a clear economic asset. One of the primary responsibilities of a government of a nation state is to maintain both its territorial integrity and a monopoly on the use of violence within its borders. Furthermore, it does not appear that these armed gangs have any particular political motive or grievance which might generate some sympathy (the terrorists v freedom fighters argument); they simply want to abrogate use of the economic asset (wildlife) for themselves.

I am not a believer in “fortress conservation”. Local people should benefit from the wildlife that surrounds them, and it is offensive when rich tourists benefit at the expense of the rural poor. But establishing effective schemes and mechanisms to share the benefits require the rule of law to be present. Community leaders responsible for managing the wildlife cannot negotiate with someone pointing a gun at them.

The foot soldiers in these poaching gangs are very likely dirt poor and paid a pittance to slaughter wildlife so some local bigwig can get rich off the proceeds. They are as much victims as the child soldiers of Liberia and Sierra Leone; some of these poachers may well be children too. But before they can become victims that society can address, they have to be pacified. Heavily armed poaching gangs should be no more tolerated than heavily armed gangs on the streets of modern cities.

The BBC article talks about a “war for wildlife”. And one of the least pleasant results of a war is, in that horrendous, sanitizing euphemism, collateral damage; civilian casualties caught up in the cross-fire. That is not to say that such loss of lives is not 100% regrettable, but no-one seems to have worked out how to wage a war without causing them. This is even more the case in modern day asymmetrical warfare in which the insurgent (read poacher) relies on their ability to melt back into the general population, instantly becoming a potential victim rather than an active protagonist.

Conservation is often something of a liberal pursuit. It is idealistic. That idealistic aims may sometimes coincide with the rather less savoury goals of a local despot is one of the less salubrious aspects of international development and conservation; we regularly have to hold our noses. Conservation writers, both academic and popular, may sometimes inadvertently give the impression that they do not care about the human cost of war when they lament its impact on indigenous wildlife. This is unfortunate. But bringing peace to a war-torn region is in everyone’s interests. Since, for the most part we can assume the British government will not be regularly repeating its hit-them-with-the-SAS-and-Paras-trick out of Sierra Leone, we must also acknowledge that this task will be carried out by less well trained local forces. More loss of life seems unfortunately inevitable. If you want someone to blame, however, then finger the arms merchants and poaching kingpins, not the conservationists.

Zoning farms and forests?

Apparently Jeffrey Sachs and a bunch of food scientists think we should zoning farmland according to the results of scientific assessments. (I don’t have a subscription to Nature, so am having to rely on Richard Black’s blog post.) As with much of what Prof Sachs suggests, it is hard to disagree with the principles he propounds, but I do wonder to what extent these ideas are feasible. In many human affairs the problem is not so much working out what would be the ideal way to manage something, but how to get from where we are (with all the vested interests and established ways) to where we want to get to. Political and social systems are inevitably evolved systems with all the inherent imperfections that kind of heritage implies. Richard Black draws the analogy with city planning, but most major cities in developing countries are largely unplanned, especially in the poorest countries, with development happening far faster than planners can keep up. Indeed unmanageable rules systems may well lead to corruption as being the only way out of the impasse.

Richard Black does point to some encouraging signs in Brazil, although arguably his examples are cases where conservationists have pragmatically surrendered the moral high ground in favour of active engagement with agricultural interests. I applaud the approach, but it is a big leap from such obvious self-interest to enlightened self-restraint when it comes to expanding your farm. As everyone from Brazilian soy-barons to Israeli settlers knows, facts on the ground count for an awful lot, and I fear land grabs will be a menace to conservation for many years to come. It would help, of course, if these land grabs were not encouraged by planning bureaucracies with ungrounded and over-simplified notions of land resources, of which I have seen a few examples at close quarters, and I suppose if Sachs et al’s proposed network of agricultural land research centres can help mitigate this then we should be thankful. But overall, I tend to side with Bill Easterly when it comes to the choice of Planners vs Seekers, and this kind of approach does rather sound like another gigantic planning exercise.

Projects such as Valuing the Arc are, I am sure, daunting technical challenges which should not be underestimated, and the researchers involved will have to use a range of innovative approaches to succeed. But it will take real visionary zeal and political cunning to translate such research into practical action. The research, alas, is usually the easy bit.

Ethical Publishing for Dummies

“A book is a window on to the world.”

So said a poster I had on my bedroom wall as a kid. However, as all quantum physicists know, observing the world perforce changes the world. And not always for the better, according to this report by the Rainforest Action Network on paper sources used by publishers of children’s books, which alleges pulp from illegal clearance of tropical forest in Indonesia is being used in many children’s books. The publishers’ side is put by this article forwarded on to me my someone I know who works in publishing.

Not being an expert on paper usage by publishers I am not in a position to say exactly to what extent publisher’s efforts to improve their paper sources thus far represent a serious and significant initiative or little more than green-washing. The lowest hanging fruit are always plucked first. Publishers claim that there is not enough FSC certified paper to go around, but have they put enough pressure on their suppliers? If the demand is sufficiently strong and persistent then the supply will surely materialise, and possibly quite quickly. On the other hand we should not demonise firms who are doing everything reasonable to improve things but are constrained by real world limitations.

In the past people just didn’t think through issues like the environmental impact of paper supply, and we shouldn’t hold the publishing industry responsible for the sins and business models of their fathers. However, now that they do know about it, the onus is on them to turn things around, which might require some imaginative thinking, e.g. on reducing the regular over-printing of books which are later pulped, a clearly wasteful strategy that might make a lot less sense if all environmental externalities were properly accounted for. This is undoubtedly a time of upheaval in publishing with the arrival of electronic books and the print-on-demand paradigm, so maybe the stage is set for a radically improved business model?

Thus I raise one cheer for all those publishers who are making genuine efforts to control their paper sources, and another cheer in RAN’s direction for keeping up the pressure. All in all this is another good example of focusing on the end products used in the West rather than chasing shadows in developing countries who have little real interest in policing their own environmental laws.

EU to ban illegal timber

An update on my earlier post about the UK’s plan to ban illegal timber. As others have commented, this looks like it will happen through an EU wide process, that is at last ready to go before the European parliament. I hear news on the grape vine that some European countries tried to water down the legislation so that, for instance, it only has real bite at the borders. I am too busy to follow up on all the details now, but whatever form the regulation takes it will be a good step forward, and wish it all god speed! It surely will persuade some timber companies to change their ways simply because they do not want to be on the wrong side of the law. As for the rest, well that will depend on enforcement. Unfortunately the record on fisheries and bushmeat is not so good.

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