Nature conservation – a fraction of military expenditure

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently published its latest information about military spending in the world. The total figure of global expenditure in 2012 was estimated to be 1745 Billion US Dollars.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for national and international policy makers, chapter 8, section 8.2.3 estimates that a global protected area network covering 15% of the land and 30% of the sea (not exactly Achi target 11, but close) would cost approximately US$ 45 billion per year, including effective management, compensation for direct costs, and payment of opportunity costs for acquiring new land.

The global protected area network would cost 2.6% of the global military expenditure. Moreover, TEEB estimates that the ecosystems within that network would deliver goods and services with a net annual value greater than US$ 4.4 trillion.  The military expenditure just causes death.

World leaders should be ashamed.

Do we really need another international environmental organisation?

I was on the web the other day, and came across the latest news for the World Nature Organisation ( This is a relatively new initiative, launched in 2010 by several states which are threatened by rising sea levels and increasing droughts.

According to their own website the long-term vision is a world in which states, governments, companies and every individual is engaged in the protection of water, soil, oceans, mountains and trees. The World Nature Organisation envisions a humanity which gives nature a voice and values it as an all-encompassing basis of life. The website also states that World Nature Organization shall become the very first intergovernmental organization dedicated to worldwide environmental protection on a global scale.

I have worked for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for the past 24 years, and have had close relationships with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) throughout my career. The world has just established the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), to support the secretariat of the global Convention on Biological Diversity. These four institutions can all justifiably claim to be what the World Nature Organisation aims to become.

It makes me wonder whether we really need another international organization that is duplicating global efforts to protect the environment. In the Private Sector, companies that have a similar objective need to mark out their niche very clearly and find a market, and the alternative is mergers and acquisitions. Rather than launching another global environmental organization in times of austerity and euro-crisis, it may be more appropriate to look for synergies between the existing ones.


Crop Protection Change Agenda Continues

The European Crop Protection Agency (ECPA) organised its second “Hungry for Change” conference in Brussels last Thursday 11 April.

Hungry for Change2
The meeting brought together nearly 250 people from all walks of life to discuss progress since the first Hungry for Change conference in late 2011. A short plenary session was followed by four break-out discussions focussing on Biodiversity, Food, Health and Water.

I moderated the biodiversity and agriculture session, and was joined by Paul Speight from DG Environment and Patrick ten Brink from the Institute of European Environmental Policy (IEEP), soil scientist Donald Reicosky formerly from the US Department of Agriculture and Patrick Wrixam from UK, who is a Board Member of the UK organisation promoting sustainable agriculture (LEAF) and the President of the European Initiative for Sustainable Development in Agriculture (EISA).  There were very interesting and complementary presentations from the four panellists followed by a rich discussion with good involvement from the audience. The previous evening the two Patricks, Don and I had already met over dinner and talked about some of the key issues.

We all agreed that agriculture and biodiversity need to work together as they “feed” off each other. Productive agriculture needs a healthy environment and rich biodiversity depends on good agricultural management practices. One cannot survive without the other.

High Nature Value farming in Liebana, Spain

High Nature Value farming in Liebana, Spain.  Photo from

We talked about long-term global sustainability goals and how good agricultural practice will eventually result in a better world for the generations to come. But we also accepted that this will take time, and we realise that it is difficult to align these long-term goals with short-term local agricultural production targets. We came to the conclusion that economic incentives are essential to encourage farmers to embrace nature conservation, but Patrick Wrixon ensured me that the will is there.

I learned from the following case study: a farmer is involved in an incentive scheme to support public access to some of his fields, which means material and time involvement from him and his staff. Currently he is being paid for this. The scheme is coming to an end, and there is no money to extend the incentive payments. Will he continue to provide public access without compensation for the inconvenience, or will he simply close off his fields?

It made us reflect on the fact that economic drivers determine what farmers are doing, as they are effectively Small and Medium Enterprises. If we want the agricultural sector to play a serious role in nature conservation, we need to recognise and compensate farmers that help to protect these ecosystem services.  In order to reach our goals, we should secure public payments for public goods and private payments for private goods.

Don guided our discussions to soils and we all agreed that sustainable soil management is fundamental to productive agriculture, rich biodiversity and climate change mitigation.



This is a win-win-win situation, but there are currently no financial incentives in Europe to encourage soil protection. The EU does not (yet) have a soil framework policy or a soil directive, and it is left to the Member States to decide how to deal with soil management.

During the evening dinner and throughout the conference, we talked about communication, recognising that this is one of our biggest challenges. We stressed the need to enhance the understanding of our political, social and industry leaders, but also realise that we need to educate each other. Participants to the conference told us that this is not a new issue, and that communication has been identified as a key issue in earlier discussions. Using lessons learned from case studies, changing from negative to positive news stories, simplifying the messages and avoiding jargon are all good ways to raise awareness.

Patrick Wrixon stressed that taking people out on the farm, in the field is the best way to make them understand what farming is about, and he told us about the great success of the open farm Sunday in the UK.  I do not know if this is something that other countries do as well, but it seems a very good way to expose non-farmers to the farming life.

2011 Open Farm Sunday on Wilking Farm, UK.  Copyright All rights reserved by openfarmsunday

2011 Open Farm Sunday on Wilking Farm, UK. Copyright All rights reserved by openfarmsunday

Finally, we were asked what advice to give the crop protection industry, and we responded that the companies have to accept that productive agriculture is not only dependent on chemical application, and there are other, organic measures available. Agro-forestry, integrated farm management and organic pest control are all measures that could and should be used in conjunction with the application of agro-chemicals.

We also made the point that the industry should be open to discuss alternative approaches, and not be afraid to engage new partners.  The Hungry for Change conference was cited as a very good example of sincere stakeholder engagement. The fact that the Executive Director of the European Food Safety Authority, Mme Geslain-Lenéelle, gave the key-note presentation was a clear indication that ECPA is serious in its plans to talk to other parties.

Last, but certainly not least, we stressed the need for more money to be invested in R&D for new, safe, better products.  This is an issue that I feel strongly about, and I was pleased that the recent debate about the effects of pesticides on pollinators was mentioned several times during the conference, and the industry was urged to look for suitable alternatives. I also encouraged further research on the short-term and long-term effects of these chemicals on pollinators, and mentioned that IUCN has established an independent task force to carry out such a study under joint direction of its Commission on Ecosystem Management and its Species Survival Commission.

This was a good day for stakeholder involvement, a good day for open discussion and a step in the process of change for the crop protection industry.

Fracking or not? Matt Damon has the answer!

Remember Russell Crowe in “The Insider”? The film was a dramatic representation of the cigarette industry efforts to influence public opinion and promote the sale of cigarettes. Matt Damon is trying to do something similar with regards to shale gas exploration, or fracking, in the 2012 film “Promised Land”.


“Fracking” is the process of pumping a mixture of water, chemicals and sand at very high pressure into the bottom of a borehole to fracture the shale which will enable natural gas to escape.  There are questions about environmental effects and risk of groundwater pollution and earthquakes, but it is an alternative to the conventional energy supply based on traditional oil exploration.

I cannot vouch for the quality of the movie, as I do not think it has already been released in Europe, and the Wikipedia description of the plot is rather syrupy, but apparently the story is woven around the question of whether a local community should allow exploration of shale gas to take place in their backyard.

The film is very timely, in view of the discussions about energy in Europe.
Louise Gray from the UK Telegraph had this to say last week. She reports that the British Geological Survey will announce that the UK shale gas reserve is much larger than was estimated a few years ago. The original 2011 report from the Geological Survey can be found here:

Whether Britain will go ahead with industrial scale shale gas exploration is not yet sure, but Ms Gray also reports that the latest UK budget has tax incentives to encourage exploration.   Bloomberg reported last February that Germany has also agreed to go ahead, but  France, on the other hand has banned the practice until further notice.  Fracking is already well established in the USA.

Do I worry?  The precautionary principle makes me want to hold off, but the authorities claim that problems in the past were due to shoddy practices, not to the operations per se.  Why can we not invest more in renewables?

What do you think?

Healthy wetlands – healthy people

For the last weeks, I have been busy checking fact and figures about wetlands. I learned a lot! Did you know that an oasis is a wetland? And did you know that the average economic value of wetlands is much higher than that of tropical rainforests? That is the finding of the recent “TEEB for Water and Wetlands” report . In case you are wondering: TEEB stands for the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. Check out the website

At a global scale, we have unfortunately lost nearly 50% of our wetlands according to estimates by UNEP.  As I am Dutch, I can admit that the Netherlands has helped to reach this figure. Most of the Dutch wetlands have been drained or are reclaimed for agriculture and urban development. This photo by Rotterdam City Council in the Netherlands of the most recent addition to the port of Rotterdam illustrates that the work is still going on!

But there are still some particularly amazing wetlands on earth: the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the Pantanal in South America and the Sundarbans mangrove forests of India and Bangladesh to name a few. Rich in biodiversity, stunning scenery, but also the source of lots of other goods and ecosystem services. When my wife and I lived in Botswana in the Eighties, we had the fortune to visit the Okavango a number of times, but the following picture of punters in local canoes waiting for the hippos to appear is not from me, but from Wikipedia!

I have always felt very at ease near a swamp or at a lakeshore or a riverbank, and a recent BBC report suggest that I am not the only one. Studies by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health in Plymouth found that people are more relaxed when they are near a water body, and people living near the coast are statistically healthier than those living inland. This also was manifest in cities, where fountains and ponds appeared to have a positive effect on wellbeing. It reminds me of our house in Bangkok, which was actually built over a pond, in the centre of town. We felt very relaxed in the garden, despite the hustle-bustle of the city around us.

Turtle House - pond with sala 1