Multinational Monitor

NOV 2003
VOL 24 No. 11


Smokescreen: Fire, Forests and the Bush Administration’s "Healthy Forest" Plans for Increased Logging
by Orna Izakson

Writing Off Indonesia’s Forestry Debt: How the IMF, the Indonesian Bank Restructuring Agency and Bank Mandiri are Financing Forest Destruction
by Chris Barr and Bambang Setiono

The Politics of Parks: Indigenous Peoples Assert Their Rights Against Mining, Markets and Tourism
by Marcus Colchester

From Worst to First: Under Pressure, Boise Cascade Agrees to Stop Logging Old-Growth Forests
by Jeff Shaw


Public Lands and the Public Good: Firefighting, Outsourcing and Other Threats to Sound Public Land Management
an interview with Andy Stahl


Behind the Lines

The World Bank and Forests: Here We Go Again

The Front
Tanzania: Planning for Poverty - Ill Feelings at HealthSouth

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


The Politics of Parks: Indigenous Peoples Assert Their Rights Against Mining, Markets and Tourism

by Marcus Colchester

Durban, South Africa -- The Fifth World Parks Congress, held here in September, started as a surreal affair.

A major draw for the 3,000 conservationists who jetted in from 150 countries to attend the Congress was the two hectare Exhibition Center, which resembled nothing so much as an international trade fair.

Avenues of smart stands exhibiting glossy publications, shiny posters and photos of smiling natives and charismatic large animals, suggested that conserving nature has now become big business.

Walking between avenues of swaying palm trees tastefully propped up in cloth-swathed pots and lit by green bar-lights, crunching over desert gravel under the hot glare of yellow spots, grunted at by recordings of wild game and ensnared by captivating videos of wilderness, it was obvious that the price tag for the Congress -- which is sponsored by the World Conservation Union (known by the acronym, IUCN) -- ranged into the tens of millions of dollars.

Beneath the gloss, design, spin and marketing, the contrasting messages of the different participant groups revealed that an intense debate was underway about how best to achieve conservation, how best to reconcile it with the competing pressures for funds and resources from the private sector, communities, scientists, governments and indigenous peoples.

Stands exhibiting wares from Shell and the World Bank rubbed shoulders with the stalls of Greenpeace and Conservation International. The booth from South Africa National Parks, sponsored by the diamond mining multinational De Beers, displayed the slogan "biodiversity is forever," and the accompanying exhibits provided literature about how to book luxury wildlife tours. Two blocks up, the South African Lands Department was advertising its radical program of land restitution: giving lands back to impoverished local communities to care for and conserve. In the center of the exhibition, a "Community Park" complete with exhibits of craft work and a community forestry tent provided a venue for grassroots organizations, indigenous peoples, representatives of nomads and smaller advocacy groups to meet and plan, present their posters, booklets and fliers and share their experiences.

The sources of conflict and division at the Congress were these:

  • Globally, protected areas are growing, but much more is required, according to environmentalists. Owing to a surge in conservation initiatives since the last World Parks Congress in Caracas 1992, the world's 100,000 officially recognized protected areas now cover some 12 percent of the land surface of the planet and 0.5 percent of the oceans (over 19 million square kilometers in all). Yet, Conservation International's research into the "gaps in the system" shows that a large number of threatened species and habitats are still not protected.
  • There is inadequate funding to manage protected areas. There is a $25 billion annual global shortfall in funding to operate existing protected areas, according to the Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • A range of commercial interests are seeking to exploit protected areas. Ranging from oil and mining companies to eco-tourism outfits, all claim to operate sustainably. But environmentalists and indigenous people frequently and bitterly contest such claims. Defining sustainability and the very meaning of "protected areas" is an underlying source of conflict.
  • Much of the world's protected areas are actually home to indigenous people. They argue that their record of conservation is unsurpassed and proven over the long-term; and they insist that protected areas not exclude them, nor management schemes deny them the right to maintain their homes and traditional livelihoods.

Mining and Protected Areas

One of the major concerns of conservationists is how to deal with the pressure from the oil, gas and mining industries which continue to seek access to protected areas in order to get at new ore bodies, coal and petroleum deposits and gas fields.

Mining companies were startled by a "Recommendation" passed by the World Conservation Congress in Amman, Jordan in 2000, which called for an end to oil, mining and gas extraction from strict nature reserves, wilderness areas, national parks, natural monuments and habitat management areas (protected areas classified in IUCN categories I, II, III and IV).

Many environmentalists by contrast were surprised by the mining industries' reaction: What did the companies think these areas were meant to be protected from if not from unsustainable activities like mining? Indeed some went further, asking why the Amman decision did not proscribe mining in managed landscapes and seascapes and managed resource protected areas (protected areas in IUCN categories V and VI).

Controversy over the relationship between extractive industries and protected areas has rumbled on since that date.

Last year, the IUCN Secretariat announced that it was developing a new "partnership" with the extractive industries, sparking protests by IUCN Council members and general members. The Secretariat retreated, and now says it is only conducting a "dialogue" with the industries.

Critics have condemned the "dialogue" as a betrayal of conservation standards, arguing that protected areas should not be up for negotiation. Without clear promises from the extractive industries to stay out of these areas and follow "best practice" guidelines, they argue, formalizing a "dialogue" with the industries just gives them undeserved "green" publicity.

The "partnership" or "dialogue" forms part of a wider strategy by the extractive industries 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. The new talk of the industries is of "sustainable mining," "landscape restoration" and "corporate responsibility."

The Global Mining Initiative (an industry project and conference on "responsible mining" in the lead up to the 2002 World Conference on Sustainable Development) is one part of this repositioning effort.

The tie up with the IUCN is another.

And the formation of a new association, International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), still another. The ICCM includes almost all of the main global mining and metals companies, including Alcoa, Anglo Gold, Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Freeport McMoRan, Mitsubishi Materials, Newmont, Placer Dome, Rio Tinto and Sumitomo Metal Mining.

Sir Robert Wilson, chair of Rio Tinto and chair of the ICMM, explained the new approach of the industry in his remarks to the World Parks Congress.

"The gestation period for ICMM began five years ago," he said. "Leaders of 10 of the world's largest mining companies met in London. We discussed how our industry was misunderstood and misrepresented. Some suggested we needed an education campaign. Others said a PR campaign. But others said: ëWe've done all that. It doesn't work. What we have to do is change perceptions by changing our behavior.'"

Just prior to the Congress, ICMM member companies announced that they would accept that all World Heritage Sites were off limits to further exploitation.

But during the Congress, although representatives of the extractive industries agreed that some areas should be "no go areas," they could not be persuaded to accept the Amman Recommendation.

Instead, in the run-up to the Congress a number of companies, including British Petroleum, Shell and the ICMM, co-sponsored a study co-financed by IUCN, WWF and Conservation International to examine the validity of the category system, raising concerns that their real interest is to break open the whole protected area regime.

Among the most outspoken critics of industry at the Congress were indigenous peoples.

Speaking in one of the closing plenaries, Joji CariÒo of the TebTebba Foundation, a Philippine indigenous rights group, noted that indigenous peoples' common experience of mining was of poverty creation, pollution, cultural erosion, human rights violations and ensuing conflict. She criticized the IUCN's "dialogue" for conferring undeserved credibility on the mining industry.

In workshops earlier in the week, indigenous rights activists called on the industry to respect the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent about activities planned on their lands. But industry representatives explicitly blocked agreement on a proposed recommendation which would have "encouraged" the mining and energy sectors to develop standards and procedures based on respect for this principle.

The final weak Congress recommendation that resulted after increasingly acrimonious debates only noted that there were divided views about the value of formalized dialogue with the industry.

Reconciling with Indigenous Peoples

The Congress was the first attended by a significant number of representatives of indigenous peoples, local communities and nomadic peoples. About 150 representatives of indigenous peoples from more than 60 countries attended the Congress to press for a recognition of their rights. Noting that perhaps the majority of protected areas have been established on indigenous peoples' lands without their consent, often resulting in forced removals, impoverishment and cultural loss, the indigenous peoples secured the lion's share of the press coverage of the Congress. Their central demands called both for a recognition of their rights in future conservation initiatives and for restitution of their rights in existing parks. Their strong presence influenced all the main outcomes from the Congress.

The "Durban Accord" -- the consensus document of the whole Congress -- devotes substantial attention to indigenous issues, announcing 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, and calls on all countries to "strictly eliminate resettlement of indigenous peoples and local communities and the involuntary sedentarization of mobile indigenous peoples without prior, informed consent." 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. It calls for the restitution of indigenous peoples' lands expropriated by protected areas to be achieved by 2010.

Pressed by the forceful indigenous presence, the Congress agreed to a number of proposals to put its rhetorical commitment to indigenous rights into practical effect. The Congress:

  • Endorsed the indigenous peoples' proposal for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas to investigate and redress past mistakes;
  • Urged the Global Environment Facility (an intergovernmental funder of environmental projects in developing countries) and the World Bank to ensure that their revised policy on indigenous peoples is fully consistent with indigenous peoples' rights;
  • Called on governments to approve the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ratify ILO Convention 169, recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and natural resources, and review their conservation laws and policies to ensure their effective involvement and participation; and
  • Urged protected area authorities to respect the rights of indigenous peoples and to involve them fully in the designation and management of protected areas and promote community conserved areas with their free, prior and informed consent.

Privatizing Parks

Notwithstanding indigenous peoples' achievements, it was money that remained the dominant theme at the Congress.

The Congress reiterated the perennial call, echoing statements at the 1992 Earth Summit and the follow-up 10 years later, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, 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 such calls were unlikely to yield substantial new 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 WWF-The Conservation Organization 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 institutionalize this approach, the Congress proposed that the 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 offers the best hope of grasping 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 skeptics were left wondering if making future conservation dependent on the disposable income of the world's globe-trotting consumerist elite was not self-defeating.

Indigenous peoples expressed misgivings about the emphasis on funding, and market- and tourism-based approaches in particular.

"Much of this Congress has been focused on the challenge of financing the costs of establishing and managing protected areas," said Jannie Lasimbang of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact at the closing main session of the Congress. "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 criticized 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."

Marcus Colchester is director of the Forest Peoples Programme, a UK-based nongovernmental organization that serves as the Northern office of the World Rainforest Movement. The Forest Peoples Programme provides technical, fund-raising, capacity-building and policy advice to local forest communities and indigenous peoples, and carries out research, analysis and advocacy to ensure that the rights of forest peoples are central to the development of national and international policies.


Mailing List


Editor's Blog

Archived Issues

Subscribe Online

Donate Online


Send Letter to the Editor

Writers' Guidelines