San Jose, Costa Rica – Friends of the Earth International has celebrated World Environment Day on 5 June every year since 1973. This year we celebrate it by recalling the importance of community management of biodiversity.
When we talk about biodiversity, we are talking about biological diversity, that’s to say the multitude of plants, animals, and ecosystems that exist and are essential for life. But we are also talking about the cultural richness associated with this biological diversity, which has enabled people to both preserve and benefit from nature.
However, our vision of biodiversity management is very different to that promoted in official fora, which is not centered on community access and management to natural resources but on the concept of privatising biodiversity. For example, in the case of Costa Rica, my country, a ‘bio-prospecting’ attitude has been favoured by the authorities. Bio-prospecting is the search for natural elements that can be used by the pharmaceutical or agricultural industry. Genes that determine certain characteristics of the plants are isolated. Later, these genes, through patents and copyrights, become the intellectual property of corporations which claim to have invented something themselves, when actually they have just discovered an element that was present in nature all along. This is how you privatise biodiversity.
In Costa Rica, a private institution called The National Institute of Biodiversity (el Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio)), backed by certain governments, has promoted this type of biodiversity management by promising that multinational corporations will be able to make a lot of money from potential business opportunities.
Today, after several years, those promises are still to be fulfilled, and that institution, once upheld as a world class example of bio-prospecting, is now bankrupt, proving that privatising biodiversity is not the way to go.
This type of approach has also been detrimental to local communities and Indigenous People, endangering both their territorial rights and their spiritual view of biodiversity, by privatising its genetic richness.
Fortunately, the bond between local communities, Indigenous People and Nature is protected through the recognition of community rights, including to benefits arising from their traditional knowledge, by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Nevertheless, these rights are still threatened in practice by many governments and large corporations, who are introducing new financial instruments intended to manage biodiversity, under the pretext that they are generating resources for the protection and conservation of Nature.
This is why we now find governments and business talking about compensation mechanisms that try to offset the destruction of one ecosystem by protecting another—even though it is common knowledge that biodiversity is irreplaceable because of its uniqueness—or that allow companies to pay for the right to pollute through carbon emission trading or other mechanisms available on the financial markets.
Because of these new threats, we are celebrating community management of biodiversity as a fair and effective alternative, and we demand that the rights of communities are promoted and respected by all countries. This clearly implies that the sort of mechanisms and financial processes known as the ‘financialisation of nature’ must be stopped.