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Biological Conservation And Its Importance

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 4909 words Published: 10th Aug 2021

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The irreversible loss of the earth’s diverse biological resources is given major importance today. The living resources are primarily threatened by habitat degradation and loss, habitat fragmentation, overexploitation, and species invasions (Groom & Carroll, 2006; Mittermeier & Bowles, 1993) which most experts believed we are now confronting the sixth major extinction in history. The different natural resources or biodiversity, as defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity, is the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems (CBD, 1992).

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The planet’s biological diversity basically gives value to our social and economic life. We use the living world as a resource for food supply, an energy source, a source for recreation, a major source of raw materials for medicines, and a natural resource for industrial products. It is a source of many of our current medicines (e.g., 25% of all pharmaceutical prescriptions in the US contain active ingredients from plants and 3000 antibiotics such as penicillin are derived from microorganisms, (WRI/IUCN/UNEP, 1992). Furthermore, people are looking to the natural world as an escape and as a means of maintaining their sanity, especially in the industrialized nations. All of this translates into good economics as well, as the growing industry of ecotourism and other nature-based forms of recreation (e.g., fishing, hunting, hiking) becoming ever more popular. Worldwide, nature tourism generates some $12 billion annually (Lindberg, 1991) and it is likely to grow even more rapidly in the tropical countries, where it is already a major foreign exchange earner for several countries. Moreover, Pearce et al. (2007) categorized the economic values or benefits of biodiversity into four general components: First, its contribution to ecosystem functions which include watershed regulation, nutrient cycling and microclimate mediation, the provision of global services such as climate regulation and carbon sequestration, and evolutionary processes. Second, the commercial and use values which involve the harvesting use and marketing of particular biodiversity commodities, such as timber, bush meat and medicinal plants. Third, non-use values which reflect the people’s willingness to pay for biodiversity conservation regardless of the uses made of biodiversity. Motivations for non-use value vary – some notion of ‘stewardship’, some notion of Nature’s right to exist, a concern to leave an asset for future generations, aesthetics, and so on. Fourth, its contribution to ecosystem resilience derived from aggregated diversity – i.e. from the aggregated value of genetic diversity within species, species diversity and ecosystem diversity.

The diversity of nature not only offers us a vast power of choice for our current needs and desires. It also enhances the role of nature as a source of solutions for the future needs and challenges of mankind. The earth’s genes, species, and ecosystems are the products of over 3 billions of evolution, and are the basis for our survival. Humans depend on other organisms for food, medicines, and raw materials. Our survival is tied to the health of the ecosystems we live in. The diversity of life ensures that living things will be able to adapt to a future, which is certain to be full of change. In very basic terms, in order to adapt to a changing environment, the raw materials of nature as well as humanity itself require genetic, species and ecosystem diversity. Daly & Cobb (1989) emphasized this point when he said that the diversity of nature increases the likelihood that at least some species will survive and give rise to new lineages that will replenish the earth’s biodiversity.

Living things also have an intrinsic value and a beauty that is considerable and without which our life would be poorer. All these things make the maintenance of biological diversity vitally important to humankind, coming from the opportunities it provides humanity to adapt to local and global change.

Biological resources now face serious repercussions due to pervasive human activities. Species are becoming extinct, ecosystems and ecosystem types are lost and the remaining populations and species are losing their diversity. Thus, everyone is convinced about the importance of biological conservation. Conservation of natural resources is the major focus of Conservation Biology – the scientific study of the nature and status of earth’s biodiversity with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystem from excessive rates of extinction. To date, some 1.7 million known species exist but the great majority of species alive today, possibly as much as 90 per cent, are not known (Gunter, 2004). IUCN (1980) defined conservation as the management of human use of the biosphere so that it yields benefits to present generations while maintaining its potential to meet the needs of future generations. The scope of IUCN’s concept of conservation is further expounded by the objectives of living resource conservation, and that is (1) to maintain essential ecological processes; (2) to preserve genetic diversity: and (3) to ensure the sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems. The key aim of biological conservation is to maintain the diversity of living organisms, their habitats and the interrelationships between organisms and their environment (Spellerberg & Hardes, 1992). Furthermore, as claimed by Siipi (2004), biological conservation can be carried out in various ways but generally, it revolves around the standard methods of ecosystem preservation, ecosystem restoration, and ecosystem engineering.

There are several studies conducted on assessing attitudes towards environmental issues. Major themes of study commonly focused on the attitudes of the people towards environmental conservation (Badola, 1998; Fiallo & Jacobson, 1995; Newmark et al, 1993; Infield, 1988; Walpole & Goodwin, 2001). Other studies directed their attention on the attitudes towards wildlife conservation (Morgan & Gramann, 1989; Kellert, 1994; Sekhar & Udaya, 2003; Gadd, 2005).

Attitudinal surveys were also conducted to students pertaining to environmental awareness, knowledge and attitudes. Chan (1996) and Tikka et al (2000) reported that female students showed more positive environmental attitudes than male students. However, Arcury et al.(1986) showed that males are more aware and sensitive to environmental issues than females. While Thang & Kumarasamy (2006) and Caro et al. (2003) reported that gender had limited or no bearing on student’s perceptions of the environment. Previous researchers like Deng et al (2006) and Larijani and Yeshodhara (2008) also found out that environmental attitudes differ among race, cultures and societies. Academic major is said to be a contributing factor also which affects environmental attitudes (Karanth et al., 2008; Ozden, 2008) and as well as the type of conservation knowledge imparted to students strongly influenced their commitment towards conservation initiatives (Barraza and Walford, 2002). Results of different studies also showed different manners for several factors like school type, age, income, and residence (Korhonen & Lappalainen, 2004; Tuncer et al., 2005).

What are ENGOs?

Definition of an NGO

There have been a lot of labels that apply for NGOs such as, people’s organization, people’s movement, trade union, cooperative, community organization, coalition, network, federation, alliance and united front. These names are still current but are now captured by a new catch-all category ‘civil society organizations’ (CSOs). The concept of civil society is complex, vague and elusive, however, as it is difficult to deploy a single definition to cover a range of organisations broad enough to include the church, tribal structures, major international agencies, single issue campaign groups, semi-independent public sector agencies, business fora, and small local/national NGOs, while still retaining operational usefulness (Haley & Clayton, 2003). . Moreover, civil society is sometimes referred to as the ‘third sector’, indicating its distinct status from the public and private sectors (McArthur, 2008). Thus, CSOs refer to different types of non-corporate private voluntary institutions promoting a variety of public causes.

NGO is only one form of CSO, though often the two are taken to mean the same thing. However, it can be argued that all NGO’s can be regarded as civil society organizations though not all civil society organizations are NGO’s. NGOs take different forms and play different roles in different continents, with the NGO sector being most developed in Latin America and parts of Asia. The roots of NGOs are different according to the geographical and historical context. As stated by Schiavo-Campo & Sundaram (2001), NGOs are not-for-profit organizations and can be recognized as such if they are privately set up and sufficiently autonomous in its activity, that is independent of direct governmental control. Secondly, an NGO should clearly define its voluntary character. Thirdly, it cannot be considered a political party with an aim of attaining political power. And lastly, an NGO should support development which demonstrates its public interest character. Furthermore, the non-governmental aspect of NGO, as stated by White (1994), places it conventionally outside the state in civil society, i.e. intermediate associational realm between state and family populated by organizations which are separate from the state, enjoy autonomy in relation to the state and are formed voluntarily by members of society to protect or extend their interests or values.

Although there is contestation of the definition of an NGO, it is widely accepted that these are organizations which pursue activities to relieve the suffering, promote interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, and undertake community development (Cleary, 1997). While Turner and Hulme (1997) stated that NGOs are generally registered organizations, community groups, professional associations, trade unions, cooperate charity organizations whose aim is to improve the well being of their members and of those areas in which they exists. The World Bank, on the other hand, sees NGO’s as private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, and/or undertake community development.

The concept of NGO came into use in 1945 following the establishment of the United Nations Organizations which recognized the need to give a consultative role to organizations which were not classified as neither government nor member states (Willett, 2002). There are certain features which differentiate NGOs from government agencies, even when they are performing similar roles. NGOs have the capacity to experiment and learn from experience, linking processes to outcomes and are also able to enlist the energies and commitment of intended beneficiaries. Fowler (1988) has identified two key distinctive characteristics of NGOs. Firstly, the relationship of the NGO with intended beneficiaries is based upon principles of voluntarism rather than those of control which is typical of government. This means that intended beneficiaries are involved in program design and management. Secondly, it is argued that NGOs have a task oriented approach that permits them to achieve appropriate organizational development, which encourages change and diversity rather than control and uniformity, which may hamper progress.

Environmental NGOs (ENGOs)

One of the stakeholders involved in biological conservation is the so-called Environmental NGOs (ENGOS). These interest groups hope to save the world’s biological resources from rapid extinctions and aspire to awaken a sleeping public to the tragic loss of biological resources that is unfolding today. ENGOs exist at local, national and international levels (e.g. Friends of the Earth, WorldWide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, etc.). Many ENGOs operate under the explicit purpose of preserving endangered species and ecosystems, and thus make biological conservation the core principle under which they operate. Others focus more broadly on sustainable development and within this framework, they also contribute to biological conservation. As stated by Trzyna (2008), not all conservation organizations have kept their traditional focus but they have become part of the broader environmental movement. There is an increasing number of organizations that started either as conservation or conventional environmental groups but now define themselves as part of the new movement for sustainability. Most of the largest NGOs working on biological conservation are either based in the United States (e.g. Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy) or Europe (World Conservation Monitoring Center, Birdlife International).

In the opinion of Astbury (1998), an ENGO has a mission statement and/or set of guiding principles emphasizing environmental concerns, e.g. biological conservation. They play an increasingly prominent and important role in representing environmental interest. Environmental NGOs are distinct from environmental movements in a way that there is a formal organization exists in ENGOs. For example, the famous Chipko movement in India, involving village people who hugged trees when loggers arrived to cut trees down, was not an NGO because although there were leaders and followers, there was no formal organization (Potter & Taylor, 1996).

These organizations are not really new but have been existing over the years. For instance, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was founded in 1886; the Sierra club in 1892; the Audubon Society for Protection of Birds in 1886; the Wildlife conservation Society (as the New York Zoological Society) in 1895; and fauna and flora International (as the Society for the preservation of the Fauna of the Empire) in 1903. Some of the largest organizations were founded more recently, but with a specific focus on international conservation, including the World Wide fund for Nature (founded as, with some of its constituent organizations still operating as, the world Wildlife Fund) in 1961, and Conservation International in 1987 (Cobb et al., 2007).

ENGOs may have existed for a century or more but it is only in recent decades, and particularly since the success of NGOs in shaping the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) or the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, that their numbers have multiplied. Participating civil society organizations officially recognized by the United Nations (UN) in this particular international conference were grouped into major groups such as women, children and youth, indigenous peoples and communities, NGOs, Workers and Trade, Scientific and Technological Community, Business and Industry and farmers.

ENGOs are one of the key actors in shaping the creation of Agenda 21 and the Conventions on Biodiversity which saw a heightening of global consciousness about the needs of biodiversity conservation. These are international agreements signed by majority of the countries to guide the world in its actions for development and the environment in the 21st century. Over 20,000 participants of 9,000 organizations in 171 countries were present, and over 1,000 meetings were held between NGO representatives in a forum parallel to official intergovernmental discussions (Fisher 1993). Thus, this event culminated the increasing attention paid to biological conservation by NGOs.

Since then, ENGOs expanded their conservation efforts on the ground, especially in tropical countries. For instance, the international conservation programmes of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have grown from just over $3 million in the late 1980s, to nearly $50 million in 2005, nearly half of WCS’s overall operating budget (MacDonald & Service, 2007). Although the WCS has programmes in North America, all but $5 million of these funds are sent overseas in developing countries. The Nature Conservancy (TNC), founded in 1951 primarily focus on USA conservation issues, is probably the largest conservation organization in the world, with one million members, and an annual budget of over $800 million (The Nature conservancy, 2004). Conservation International (CI), with a focus on biodiversity hotspots and tropical wilderness areas, was founded in 1987 and has grown to an organization with an annual budget of over $100 million.

Roles ENGOs Play

ENGOs involved in biological conservation are highly diverse, including local, national, regional, and international groups with various missions dedicated to environmental protection, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, animal welfare, and other issues.

A key area in which ENGOs have made an imprint is in assisting the global community to establish global priorities. Such approaches included from those that look at representation of species and habitat types, those that focus on species diversity and levels of threats, those that focus on areas of higher or lower human impact as a surrogate for scaling threat and those that focus on levels of endemism and evolutionary uniqueness in a particular taxon (Cobb et al., 2007).

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ENGOs’ importance lies as well in their expertise (Esty, 1998; Charnovitz, 1996). They conduct scientific research and disseminate the results to policy-makers and public (Mohd & Ahmad, 2005; Jasanoff 1997; Madon 1999). The degree to which NGOs pursue expert knowledge for complex scientific predicaments makes them critical international players. They translate this knowledge into action. As added by Hempel (1988), international environmental NGOs are usually better prepared than governments to implement studies of environmental protection. NGOs often have much better analytical and technical skills and capacity to respond more quickly than government officials. NGOs can also mobilize and influence individuals or group of individuals to address a problem through awareness campaigns and outreach (Bauer, 2006; Gunter, 2004) and express that issue interest to government agencies. ENGOs raise awareness through media stunts. Through TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines, ENGOS bring this environmental abuse into people’s everyday lives and enable people to act “bear witness” (Wapner, 1995). Additionally, ENGOS stimulate public pressure aimed at changing governmental policy or directly lobbying state officials. They facilitate in defining an issue area, convince policymakers and publics that the problems thus defined are soluble, prescribe solutions, and monitor their implementation (Keck and Sikkink 1998).

ENGOs also aid in empowering local communities to increase capacity and capability in carrying out biological conservation projects; they organize and conduct seminars, environmental education programmes and expeditions to natural; and target private actors in their campaigning efforts (Raustiala, 1997; Themudo, 2000; Chitra, 2003; Jepson, 2005).

Indeed, ENGOs have been major contributors to biological conservation by providing funds and expertise, building public support, promoting action, and advocating conservation interests. As argued Gunter (2004), ENGOs are the most appropriate medium for protecting biological resources because of their unique ability to see both “small” and “big” and their unique positions above and below the state. NGOs operate at both the micro and macro levels, working on the ground in local villages as well as participating in international negotiations. Moreover, Gunter argued that states are paradoxically both too big and too small when it comes to resolving transnational threats like loss of biodiversity or climate change.

ENGOs generally obtain most of their funds from national governments, government agencies, bilateral and multilateral banks, large foundations, transnational corporations, and international foreign aid agencies like UNDP, UNEP and the Global environmental facility (GEF) (Dowie, 2009; Bebbington & Riddell, 1995). The GEF which is a multilateral funding mechanism prepared to reduce the burden from Southern countries for environmental protection has become a pilot program to a permanent financial mechanism in 1994 and is supporting the growth of ENGOS. GEF is under the stewardship of the World Bank and the United Nations. The World Bank manages a significant portion of GEF biodiversity funding and also makes additional grants and loans in the biodiversity and protected area domains.

ENGOS engage in various activities meant to influence public support. Smith and Connelly (1999) identify ten (10) types of ENGO activity: informal, discreet lobbying; formal lobbying; collecting and sending letters or petitions from the public; producing scientific research and reports; taking legal action; organizing demonstrations and marches; staging media stunts; promoting consumer boycotts; engaging in non-violent direct action; and, engaging in violent direct action. To this list, one might also add giving campaign contributions or endorsements to environmentally-friendly candidates (Grossman and Helpman, 1994, 1999). This activity mostly directly political support and can change the weight given to ENGOS in the political calculus (Binder, S and E. Neumayer, 2005)

On the other hand, Gunter (2004) summarized the common strategies used by ENGOs. The two main categories of different approaches are mainstream strategies which include lobbying, litigation, scientific/technical research, property acquisition/maintenance, and monitoring and participatory strategies like grassroots networking and community education.

Very few studies are conducted on how people perceive ENGO as one of the crucial players in biological conservation. Researchers like Hyseni (2008), Wong (2003) and Ivy et al. (1998) assessed the attitudes of local people and students towards these organizations but the main focus of their studies were not directed to the roles of ENGOS in general. As Jasanoff (1997) contends, the systematic assessment of the role that ENGOS play in environmental decision making remains noticeably absent in the studies to date.

Philippine ENGOs

Teehankee (1993) reported that environmental NGOs in the Philippines emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During the martial law in the early 1970s, social movements appeared provoked by the dictatorship. Militant organizations pressured for political structural and ideological changes. Social movements and other civil society groups started to register as legal entities to be formally recognized by government. This was to avoid being tagged as illegal rabble rousers. In 1986, the EDSA I or the People Power Revolution replaced the totalitarian martial law by the democratic force of the people. Accordingly, two streams from which present-day environmental NGOs originated were identified. The first stream is composed of ‘nature lovers’ such as conservationist societies and hobby groups which alter expanded their concerns to socio-political issues related to environment and government policies. The other stream is said to consist of ‘field-based activist groups concerned with human right issues of tribal communities and poor settlers being displaced by environmentally-destructive projects of the martial law regime. The Philippine Federation for Environmental Concerns (PFEC) was established and this commemorated the first effort at coordination and networking among environmental NGOs. Two more national federations emerged since then – the Philippine Environmental Action Network (PEAN) and the Lingkod Tao Kalikasan (LTK). Numerous groups mushroomed then like Haribon Foundation, World Ecologists, Green Forum, and Earth Savers. Aside from the diversification of environmental NGO activities into community resource endeavours, the post-Marcos period was also characterized by the decision of prominent development NGOs, like the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), to integrate environmental concerns into their strategic programs (Magno, 1999).

Environmental NGOs were very few before the 1960s. There were sporadic efforts at conservation. Up to about 1970, influenced by the spirit of the time, most development NGOs didn’t consider the environment as part of the development framework. Environmental concerns were isolated from social development. Carrying capacity of the environment was not given importance due to the abundance of what nature can provide then. Environmentalists, on the other hand dedicated their work on protection and conservation of genus and species for its authenticity and aesthetic value with no qualms about poverty and human development. Most of the conservationists then came from philanthropists and rich individuals

Philippine ENGOs have done and still do fund raising, modelling and implementing viable methods and strategies in the protection and conservation of the environment toward sustainable development. They play multiple roles in influencing policy reform and formulation. The most common role would be that of a lobbyist, using social pressure and the media. Furthermore, many NGOs also play the role of community organizers, educators/trainors, researchers, media practitioners, negotiators, advocates, and catalysts.

Taiwan ENGOs

Taiwan’s environmental awareness was not awakened until the 1970s and then was limited to small group of people, mainly from the intellectual class. Not until the late 1980s did the general public’s concern over the environmental issues bloom. During this time, environmental problems had reached crisis proportions. The country’s economic miracle was achieved at the cost of environmental deterioration. Reported serious pollution incidents like the one caused by Du Pont in 1986 and the Lee Chang rong Chemical factory in 1982 drew public attention (McBeath & Leng, 2006). These events showed that local residents finally had gained environmental consciousness due to unbearable pollution and environmental damage. At this stage, environmental protests led by opposition politicians reflected ‘NIMBY’ism (not in my backyard)- complaints about local environmental pollution.

As reported by Hsiao (1999), there are three streams of environmental movements in Taiwan. These are the anti-pollution, nature conservation, and anti-nuclear movements. In the nature conservation movement, people become more concerned with destruction of Taiwan’s natural resources. Hence, ENGOs emerged and perceived as key actors in this particular campaign.

After the lifting of martial law and as democratization programs were launched in the late 1980s, the environmental movement also gained momentum and developed a national instead of a local focus. During this period, ENGOs accumulated social capital and public trust in Taiwanese society. ENGOs helped to create a plural society through the enlargement of channels of social participation and communication. ENGOs were said to be champions and advocates of Taiwan’s democratization at early stage, and laid a foundation for democratic consolidation after the md-1990s. The general public gradually learned to think beyond local instances of environmental abuse and paid greater attention to ensuring balance in national policy among economic development, environmental protection, and social justice. Nation-wide ENGOs emerged then from the early to mid-1990s. Hsiao (1999) estimated that there are over 232 environmental NGOs in Taiwan. Most recognizable groups are The Society of Wildlife and Nature, Bird Society, Taiwan Greenpeace Association, Ecological Conservation Alliance, Life Conservationist Association, Homemaker’s Union and Foundation, Green Consumer’s Foundation, Wetlands Taiwan and The Nature Conservation Union. International environmental organizations are not regular participants in domestic environmental protection. Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation constrains its participation in major international organizations, and international lending institutions such as the World bank and Asian development Bank are not actively involved in its environmental policies. However, occasionally, ENGOs have built close relationships with major international NGOs. In the past, domestic ENGOs exposed cases of trafficking in illegal wildlife and ecological degradation to the international mass media and invited international NGOs to monitor Taiwan’s mitigation record.

McBeath and Leng (2006) outlined the common roles that ENGOS play in Taiwan and these are organizing grassroots demonstrations, promoting public policy making, setting the agenda of public issues, educating the public on environmental issues, monitoring government policies and publicising environmental issues.


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