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Establishing Large Conservation Areas in Pakistan Biodiverse ecosystems will be undervalued and overexploited with respect to their “true worth"

The Analyst

Pakistan’s valuable ecosystems are vulnerable to unsustainable use and destruction. Like many developing countries, Pakistan is exposed to “the catastrophic convergence of postcolonial militarisation and ethnic fragmentation,” and may soon be “collapsing under internationally brokered debt and climate change,” which may transform vulnerable ecosystems into “abattoirs of extinction” (New Philosopher, 2016).

Poorer communities living near important ecosystems have high discount rates, causing them to prioritise subsistence (by way of degrading biodiversity) over sustainable living. This threat is amplified by the country’s timber, agricultural, mining and hydropower industries’ interest in environmental destruction.

These land use decisions solely represent nature’s direct consumptive value, and fail to account for other aspects of biodiversity’s value:

  1. Nature’s direct non-consumptive value, such as sustainable tourism, which consumes biodiversity without depleting it.
  2. Indirect use value: leaving ecosystems intact yields positive externalities spanning improved equity, food security and climate change resilience (EPI, 2018).
  3. Option values, which refer to the utility available from using nature in the future.
  4. Nature’s non-use value: the inherent worth of ecosystems (Kontoleon, 2017).

Consequently, biodiverse ecosystems will be undervalued and overexploited with respect to their “true worth”, making habitat loss the consequence of a series of market failures that mandate corrective intervention. Large conservation areas (LCAs) are one such remedial measure.

LCAs represent conservationists’ response to the limited benefits offered by smaller protected areas (PAs), which often cannot always appreciably counteract habitat fragmentation and encourage environmental recovery. Achim Steiner (IUCN’s former Director General)’s argument that “In the past they (small PAs) have been seen as islands of protection in an ocean of destruction. We need to learn to look on them as building blocks of biodiversity, with their benefits extending far beyond their physical boundaries” (Steiner, 2003). LCAs fulfil demands for “landscape-scale” conservation and afford ecosystems the space required for meaningful recovery. This is particularly important in Pakistan: as the country 7th most-affected by climate change since 1997 (Eckstein, Künzel, & Schäfer, 2017), protected flora and fauna will require additional space to respond to habitat shifts induced by climate change. This has been recognised by the Pakistani government: in its 2009 Biodiversity Action Plan, it recommended integrating PAs into regional land-use planning in order to maximise the coverage they provide (Pakistan Environment Ministry, 2009).

The diffuse effects of LCAs produce economic gains for extractive industries. For example, protecting biodiverse territorial waters allows fish stocks to reproduce safely, which makes fishing more sustainable and profitable (Roberts, 2012). Economic benefits from direct use also include tourism revenue. As LCAs accelerate environmental recovery, the existence value of the biodiversity they protect rises with time.

This conception of LCAs frames conservation as a model for rational resource use, which places it in competition with other land use options. This makes choosing to establish an LCA a political choice. Consequently, the manner of their establishment and management is of vital concern for policymakers.

Species-oriented methods require surveys to be conducted in prospective LCAs in order to gauge an ecosystem’s health and conservation value. Species-based metrics can justify expanding existing LCAs: for example, incorporating newly-discovered migration corridors into existing LCAs could have outsized conservation value for endangered species such as snow leopards and Himalayan brown bears (Zakaria, 2018).

Neoliberal conservation methods, based on strongly-defined property rights and turning ecosystems into something “that capital can see,” (Robertson, 2006), comprise the alternative approach to LCA inception. These methods, pioneered by influential conservationist Tony Juniper (Juniper, 2013), are considered to represent a “modern” approach to conservation. One neoliberal conservation model is a Market-Based Instrument (MBI), which uses a set of criteria, such a given piece of land’s diversity of flora and fauna or the different habitats enclosed by it, to award an ecosystem a money value.

The Analyst

About Aadil Siddiqi

Aadil Siddiqi

Aadil is a second-year land economist at the University of Cambridge and a Cambridge Trust Scholar. He also serves as the Trinity Hall JCR's Green, Ethics and Charities Officer and is on the Committee of the newly-formed Cambridge University Marine Conservation Society. Aadil's primary interests revolve around issues of sustainability, conservation, economic development and the linkages between them. He is from Karachi.

Articles by Aadil Siddiqi

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