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Politics, economy and environment

By Sioni Aluta Iikela
The perceptions of people are known to influence the decisions that they make on a daily basis.

These perceptions are influenced by the surrounding environment and form a frame of reference which, in turn, dictates decision making. The conservation of natural resources is required to ensure that future generations will be able to survive.

In this report, the role of politics, legislation and the economy in conservation, globally and locally, is discussed. The success of conservation initiatives are determined by the availability of funds and support from government since the political leaders are the ones influencing society and the legislation. World governments have established organisations that can assist in the conservation of the biodiversity of natural resources, but the success thereof depends on the cooperation from governments' of various countries. The economy drives these countries, thus sacrifices would have to be made. The implantation of legislation is very important since it can ensure the protection and sustainable use of natural resources.

Politics serves as the main driver of decisions that are made in the world and therefore it is necessary for an integration of knowledge from all fields to ensure environmental welfare in the world.

The human brain is an exceptional tool that can be used to fulfil various functions in the human body. One of the important functions includes the formulation of perceptions in the human mind. Claus et al., (2010) describes this by stating that the brain recognises objects differently, based on impressions that are made from its surrounding environment. The end-product is a different picture for different people, resulting in a diversity of thought and feelings toward certain aspects. I gather that the perceptions are influenced by systems that formulate a frame of reference in individuals, based on their experiences and/or beliefs. The Resilience Alliance (2007) speaks of mental models or paradigms that are formulated by human perception, which influences decisions made regarding the management of natural resources.

Natural resource management plays a very important role in providing sustenance for people worldwide Claus et al., (2010). Various conservation initiatives have been established in order to promote sustainable development.

The latter has assortment of definitions, but is mainly referred to in terms of how the resources can be used at present in order to ensure that it will be available for use in future (Carroll & Groom, 2006). The mental models held by the leaders, whether political or cultural, are significant since they are the decision makers of how the resources are managed. Their decisions would ultimately control the success of conservation initiatives.

In recent years politics have overridden all livelihood spheres to become a major determinant of almost all aspects of life in societies. Unlike previously, when cultures and traditions played a role in influencing the practices of communities, politics has become a very influential tool of the economy, environment, societal setups, and legislations (Claus et al., 2010).

The objective of this report is to discuss the effect that influential systems such as politics, legislation and the economy has on conservation, globally and locally. A closer look will be taken into whether these systems recognise the importance of conservation and how global governments play a role in the success of conservation initiatives throughout the world.

It is very interesting to note that conservation across the world is being inclined by political authorities and/or governments through its economic and developmental interests and legislations. The laws and bills passed by government play major roles in shaping or transforming the environment locally, regionally and internationally.

2.1 Local and global interest World governments, even though there are those that have yet to show interest and commitment, have shown their zeal to support conservation initiatives aimed at conserving and protecting natural resources and ecosystems in general (Nghitila, pers comm. 2011). There are concerted efforts shown through regional bodies in the southern African sub-region and a good example of this is the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The latter is a political body that is formed by the southern African countries to manage regional issues affecting the member states (SADC [SouthernAfrican Development Community], 2010).

Globally, there are bodies that govern and regulate the consumption of natural resources.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES) is an example of such an international governing body which regulates the international trading of the faunal and floral species that are found on the CITES list of endangered species (Dunning et al.2006). There are a variety of conferences, summits and conventions held around the world where important decisions are made regarding the manner in which the natural environment is managed globally. The product of gatherings such as these is often a report (e.g. World Conservation Strategy) that is used to steer governments and global organisations into the right direction in terms of what Carroll & Groom (2006) refers to as "environmentally compatible development".

The latter is aimed at meeting the concerns of the human population without the over-exploitation of the natural resources.

2.2 The effectiveness of treaties on conservation success There are a numbers of treaties and agreements that strive to conserve the natural resources found in various countries across the world. The Kyoto Treaty (also referred to as the Kyoto Protocol), for example, was formed in 1997 when the Earth Summit was held in Kyoto, Japan, and called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The treaty is aimed at reducing the carbon dioxide emissions in order to decrease the rate at which climate change is taking place on earth (Krath, 2002). This would be achieved by having each country that commits to the treaty reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2% less than that of 1990 by 2012.

A number of the countries in the first world are not part of these international endeavours due to various reasons. The United States of America (USA) and Australia, for example, refused to commit to the treaty, mainly because both countries strongly depend on coal for the production of electricity (Krath, 2002). The treaty is said to be feeble since it allows governments to negotiate the amount of carbon reduction among each other by means of a trade in emissions, which would allow countries with a high percentage of carbon emissions to carry on polluting.

Consequently, the poorer, third world countries are the only ones willing enough to commit to global engagements such as this. The result could very well be that the third world countries are neutralized because they cannot force the bigger and stronger countries to join and/or obey to the agreed undertakings. This indicates that, although there were good intentions behind the formation of this treaty, the goals seem too idealistic if the treaty is not powerful enough to override the first world countries that hold the most influence and contribute most to carbon emissions.

Political conflicts that involve wars also have its ugly and aggressive head high in negatively influencing the commitments toward the conservation initiatives.

This is another reason why the stronger countries do not sign the treats. Groom & Vynne (2006) explains that countries that are torn apart by wars are polluting the ecosystem due to their actions. The prolonged war in the Middle East and the shelling of bombs in Libya by strong nations such as the USA, Britain, Italy and France, for example, will leave the environment severely damaged. The affect of such acts are that various pollutants are left behind in the soil, on the vegetation or in the air, which places the health of humans, as well as other life forms, in jeopardy. Conflicts also lead to unlawfulness and the implication is that most people are doing as they please, which often results in poaching rife and deforestation augment.

Political leaders are well respected people and command respect in the society. They are regarded as the voice of the people in the community. It is thus important to consider them in the effort of conservation as it will make it easier for the people to understand messages regarding the importance of conservation (Claus et al., 2010). In fact, political leaders are not just in the community to spearhead political activities, but it is also their responsibility to make sure that the resources in the country are used sustainably and that it brings benefit to all the people living there.

The economy is another aspect that has an influence on conservation (Claus et al., 2010). There are countries that have designed economies which negatively impact the natural environment. Electricity production in the USA and Australia is a good example of such economies. The use of coal to produce electricity results in high carbon dioxide emissions. Nuclear energy is often referred to as a good substitute for coal since it does not release as much carbon dioxide (Kivi, 2011). The effect of this on the environment, however, is detrimental since it includes the risk of exposure to radiation low intensities, as well as radioactive waste that is produced but kept stored at the power stations. A large amount of sea water is used at these plants to reduce its temperature levels, but this consequently kills many marine species when the water is pushed back into the ocean at an increased temperature.

There are some southern African countries that make use of, nuclear power but it is kept at a minimal level. It is important to note that all the governments in SADC has agreed to adopt more sustainable practices which reflects the governments' political will to support the conservation attempts (SADC, 2010). Nations of the world are all making sure that their economies are sustainable and can survive in a long term. This led to nations all competing to economically survive.

Some have even gone as far as manipulating other nations for the benefits of their economic interest. Economies put heavy burdens on the natural resources and the resources are not given enough time to replenish. It is however important to note that foreign policies of respect government play a major role in directing the economy of a country.

In the same vein, the importance of legislation in conservation cannot be overemphasized because it is more directly attached to it. Legislation is an effective tool that can be used to protect the environment, but this depends on the legislators' commitment to design and enact laws with a clear purpose to address the conservation shortcomings (Groom, 2006). African countries, especially those in SADC, are believed to have well formulated constitutions and legislations that seek the sustainable use of natural resources (Ngurare, pers comm. 2011). These countries, however, have faced many challenges of implementation and disobedience by the local inhabitants.

The Namibian parliament, for example, has now shown their commitment towards the protection of natural resources through allocation of resources through budget (SADC, 2010). There are new laws relaxing the access of natural resources by local people, thereby giving the people right to manage them. This is essential because now the resources are being taken care of by both the government and the local people.

Usually, it is political leaders who craft, debate and pass policies of governments through parliament. The policies are designed to give policy directions of government and its way of governing. Governments in southern African have formulated many policies targeting the conservation of natural resources.

It is however, important to note that not all policy makers understand and value the concept of conservation; hence some policies may lack conservation understanding. Devenish (2005, p. 110) states that, "Environmental problems cannot be understood without reference to the social, economic and political organisation of the societies in which they emerge", and that, "Environmental policy is inextricably intertwined with political ideology". It is against therefore imperative that politicians involve ecologists in policy formulations in order to allow influence from an ecological point of view. Policies and the implementation thereof may vary across countries, since different individuals are involved. It is important that those responsible for the formulation and the implementation thereof first understand the values and norms of the people that are going to be affected by such policies. This will help the policies to avoid conflict with the people thereby avoiding protest from the community in which this policy was designed for. What is working best in the USA, for example, may not work or is not even relevant to the southern African region; therefore a proper study of policies is crucial in order to ensure that the related concerns are considered.


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