The Global 200 and Ecoregion Conservation enabled WWF to focus its attention on some of the most globally significant parts of the planet and to address environmental change in an holistic manner. However, a purely geographical approach would have missed some of the important global processes underway during more than a decade of globalising economies and the weakening of international boundaries.
Impact of globalisation
Starting in the early 1990s an increasing permeability of international borders resulted from a variety of factors including increasing liberalisation of trade, high-speed communications in the Internet age, a burgeoning of (especially multinational) corporate power and a weakening of government authority, in a bundle of symptoms loosely described as globalisation
Whilst this process of globalisation stimulated trade and commerce, and brought increasing wealth to millions, not all of this activity was of benefit to the environment.
Increasing commercial activity brought growth in resource consumption, not only to provide raw materials but also to meet the demands of the beneficiaries who now had greater buying power. It also brought a widening gap between those caught up in commercial prosperity and those not so engaged.
The world's response
This widening gap between rich and poor culminated at the 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development
in Johannesburg in the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals
, which set an agenda for lifting people out of poverty.
Clearly the marketplace had not only done insufficient for the poor and disenfranchised, but as we can now see from the LPR it has also failed the environment.
The 2006 LPR contains a graph
which shows the relationship between the ecological foot-print and the UN Human Development Index
. This shows that the development trajectory of most countries bypasses the criteria for sustainability. This then presents yet another challenge for those concerned with the conservation of the world’s natural heritage: how do we turn the juggernaut of the world economy into a direction that favours the environment?
Globalisation and world trade is not some-thing that one can be ‘for’ or ‘against’, it is a fact of life, an inevitable force which we need to direct towards sustainability.
WWF recognised this some years ago and has been establishing various mechanisms which could lead to a marketplace move to sustainable behaviour. The most successful to date has been relating to the timber trade.
Forests and trade
Forests worldwide are in decline as a result of the over-harvesting of timber. The wealth-driven growth of the construction and furniture industry and the growing demand for pulp and paper have put enormous strains upon supplies from forests. In the temperate zones of Europe this has been recognised and some modest increase in forest areas has resulted from the establishment of large plantation schemes (but only after most of Europe’s forests had already been destroyed).
However, in some temper-ate forests (e.g. the Pacific coasts of Canada and the USA), and broadly in tropical areas, the battles between various forest interests have sometimes been fierce.
Labeling wood as good
In the early1990s the concept of third-party certification for sustainable timber production was established under the name of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC was established as an accreditation agency which could verify country-specific certification systems following the FSC standards and criteria for environmentally and socially sustainable forest management systems. A piece of timber carrying the FSC logo could carry with it the assurance of sustainability- a ‘light footprint’ in the language of the LPR.
However, for a market mechanism to be effective there has to be demand as well as supply. Thus, by creating a momentum through public and consumer education and awareness programmes, WWF created a new demand for wood with the FSC logo, and groups of timber traders became committed to trading in sustainably produced timber. These timber companies came to realise that continuing environmental decline would inevitably lead to stricter regulations, public demand for action, and difficulties with supplies.
Their change in behaviour was not entirely altruistic - although the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has now emerged -but also made good business sense for them as well.
Approaching the end of 2006 there are over 70 million ha of production forests certified under the FSC scheme with activities in 72 countries. The growth of FSC is interesting from a natural heritage conservation point of view: it is a long way removed from the traditional approaches to conservation, it is deeply rooted in international commerce, yet its success could have far-reaching consequences for forest integrity and biodiversity conservation.
What is more important, although WWF was a major player in the development and launching of the idea in the first instance, it has now become a self-sustaining force related to the timber industry- a new way of doing business which no longer requires the strong intervention of an NGO.
For a conservation organisation this is important.
Referring back to earlier comments on the impossibility of tackling all the environmental needs of the world, it is vital that conservation NGOs find ways of instigating sound practices that can then become self-sustaining, so that the organisation can move their limited resources to a new challenge.