World Rainforest Movement

The Vth World Parks Congress: Parks for People or Parks for Business?

Just prior to the Vth World Parks Congress, a consortium of mining, oil and gas companies announced that they would accept that all World Heritage Sites were off limits to further exploitation. However, during the Congress, representatives of the extractive industries could not be persuaded to accept the Amman Recommendation passed by the World Conservation Congress in Amman in 2000, which called for an end to oil, mining and gas extraction from all protected areas in IUCN categories I, II, III and IV (‘strict nature reserves’, ‘wilderness areas’, ‘national parks’, ‘natural monuments’ and ‘habitat management areas’).

Controversy over the relationship between extractive industries and protected areas has rumbled on since that date. The IUCN Secretariat announced in the context of the World Summit on Sustainable Development that it was developing a new ‘partnership’ with the extractive industries. The language had to be toned down and the IUCN now speaks of being engaged in a ‘dialogue’ with the industries. Critics have condemned the ‘dialogue’ as a betrayal of conservation standards, which just serves the companies to rehabilitate their dirty image, tarnished by a trail of oil leaks, tanker wrecks, tailings dam bursts, cyanide and mercury spills, ruined landscapes, despoiled river systems, toxic waste dumps, polluted ecosystems, violated human rights and shattered livelihoods.

Among the most outspoken critics of industry at the Congress were indigenous peoples. About 150 representatives of indigenous peoples from over 60 countries attended the Congress to press for a recognition of their rights. Their strong presence was notably effective and influenced all the main outcomes from the Congress. The ‘Durban Accord’, the consensus document of the whole Congress, announces that the World Parks Congress has accepted a ‘new paradigm’ for protected areas ‘integrating them equitably with the interests of all affected people.’

The Accord celebrates the conservation successes of indigenous peoples. It expresses concern at the lack of recognition, protection and respect given to these efforts. It notes that the costs of protected areas are often borne by local communities. It urges commitment to involve indigenous peoples in establishing and managing protected areas and participate in decision-making on a fair and equitable basis in full respect of their human and social rights. The Accord calls on all countries to ‘strictly eliminate resettlement of indigenous peoples and local communities and the involuntary sedentarisation of mobile indigenous peoples without prior, informed consent.’ The Accord also calls for the creation of ‘trans-boundary protected areas for communities separated by national borders, including corridors of connectivity for mobile indigenous peoples who have traditionally migrated across borders.’ National authorities are encouraged to carry out ‘reviews of conservation initiatives including innovative and traditional/customary governance types…’ Likewise protected area authorities are encouraged to ‘promote the conditions and ensure the means for the effective engagement of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and other local stakeholders in conservation. The focus of attention should be on building the capacity of communities to engage effectively.’

Notwithstanding these important and progressive gains, it was money that remained a dominating sub-theme during the Congress.

The Congress reiterated the perennial call, echoing statements at the Rio Summit and WSSD, for industrialized countries to provide ‘substantial new and additional financial resources’ to developing countries to help cover the costs of conservation. But, as if knowing that this approach was unlikely to leverage more than a minimal amount of extra funds, the Congress also advocated the development of market mechanisms to pay for the recurrent costs of protected area management. For example, a study presented by the WWF and IUCN demonstrated that protected areas contribute water to a very large number of the world’s cities and hydropower stations and proposed that a portion of fees paid for this water and electricity should be used to cover the parks’ costs. To institutionalise this approach, the Congress proposed that the World Bank’s ‘Global Environment Facility’ and governments should develop ‘collaborative partnerships with the private sector’ as an alternative way of securing funding for parks. For many, eco-tourism remains the great white hope for achieving the holy grail of financial sustainability.

One side-event at the Congress, held in the luxurious surroundings of the Durban Hilton –doubtfully a model of sustainable development– examined ways of promoting responsible tourism and certifying its sustainability. Yet sceptics were left wondering if making future conservation dependent on the disposable income of the world’s globe-trotting consumerist elite was not self-defeating –like sawing off the branch on which you are sitting.

Indigenous peoples also expressed misgivings about this approach. In the final plenary, Jannie Lasimbang of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, told the Congress that: ‘Much of this Congress has been focused on the challenge of financing the costs of establishing and managing protected areas. Protected areas have been made into big business and the danger is that this business is both unsustainable and may further marginalize us, indigenous peoples. Moreover, our experience on the ground is that much of this money is wasted. Funds would be better spent protecting our rights and involving us directly rather than relying on outside agencies often from overseas.’ She also criticised the way tourism increasingly relies on exotic images of indigenous peoples as lures to draw in the curious. ‘The use of the image of our cultures as folklore, or as merchandising, hurts and degrades us. Sometimes our ancestors’ culture is undermined while the living indigenous peoples are marginalized and impoverished. These attitudes do not help to revalidate our millennial cultures.’

By: Marcus Colchester, Forest Peoples Programme, e-mail: . Excerpted from an article that will appear in the November 2003 Multinational Monitor,