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Does the 21st Century Belong to Asia or Latin America?

In the article “Growing Green,” appearing in the fall issue of the journal, Americas Quarterly, Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, says Latin America has a unique opportunity to emerge as a world leader in global conservation and the movement to mitigate global climate change, while pursuing sound and sustainable policies of economic growth.

Dr. Sanderson writes: “It is possible to envision a more positive future, in which policies are set to deliver on the ‘elusive environmental Kuznets curve’ (loosely, the proposition that the environment becomes more secure as countries achieve greater wealth); where regional hydrological and infrastructure planning set a standard for environmental sensitivity unknown in Africa and Asia; and where Latin America leads the world in conservation and climate change.”

In the article, Sanderson further asserts genuine development in Latin America is possible without destroying the region’s rich biodiversity. To achieve the Kuznets curve, he lists a set of three conservation challenges that should be on every president’s agenda in Latin America. They include:

I. Control Wildlife Trade and the Spread of Infectious Diseases

“What is needed most of all is a strong regional effort aimed at saving endangered species, while safeguarding domestic animals and human public health. The countries of the Americas all count on competent customs services, relative to the rest of the world. Regional cooperation in this domain is achievable. International airports are a good place to start, as the capacity is in place or could be put in place to better effect.”

II. Expand Regional Protection of Key Ecosystems in the Southern Cone

“The southern oceans of Latin America are a remarkable intersection of global physics, marine biodiversity, and climate and economic change. Ocean acidification, high latitude ozone depletion, Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic glacial melting, changing high altitude hydrology, fragmentation of marine and upland habitat, and poorly understood wildlife range requirements all add urgency to the task of preserving this beautiful region for generations to come, but it has not received sufficient attention from conservationists or public officials.

…Concerted efforts are needed to document changing climate impacts on wildlife, such as the prospect that algae blooms are sharply increasing mortality among Southern right whales, or that Andean flamingos may not find suitable breeding grounds to substitute for their now-drying shallow lakes in the high Andes. The Patagonian region, both terrestrial and marine, could easily show the way to the rest of the world in the creation and management of marine protected areas (of which there are precious few worldwide).”

III. Encourage Forest and Peatland Carbon Offsets

“The Western Amazon, Chilean old-growth forests, Maya Biosphere Reserve, Sub-Antarctic nothofagus forest, and many other important forest patches offer an investment opportunity to the world, even though they are not currently high-risk: set aside intact carbon-rich forests that are not presently at risk, thereby saving the world an additional expenditure in its CO2 budget and saving the biodiversity that depends on those forests. Peru’s pioneering ideas on conservation concessions are a great model, but there are many other ideas, including the carbon bonds proposed by the Prince Charles Rainforest Project, or the carbon stocks ‘banking’proposal of the Climate Futures group.

Under the “banking” concept, a country would have to set aside a forest ‘reserve requirement’ in order to participate in carbon trading schemes. The nations of Latin America have the institutional, intellectual and political infrastructure to deliver on this idea, and it would be a powerful contribution to conservation and the mitigation of climate change.

“The same should be done for the Patagonian peatlands of Argentina and Chile, the southernmost peatlands in the world and among the richest in the world. Now, they are at risk from exploitation for energy and horticulture. Such high latitude peatlands are of growing importance in the world of climate change and hydrology, as they are unique, unusually rich in carbon, and among the most vulnerable to use. Moreover, if they are drained, they will emit atmospheric trace gases into the atmosphere for decades and never recover. If they can be protected, the long-term benefits for biodiversity and carbon storage will be immense.”

Other authors addressing climate change in this same issue of Americas Quarterly include U.S. Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA); and Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile.

Dr. Sanderson, a specialist in Latin America, has been President and Chief Executive Officer of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York since 2001. Previously, he was Dean of Emory College, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, at Emory University in Atlanta. He received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford University in 1978. Over the past thirty years, he has studied the politics of rural poverty, biodiversity conservation and environmental change. As a member of the faculty of the University of Florida from 1979 to 1997, he directed the Tropical Conservation and Development Program and chaired the Department of Political Science.

A former Fulbright Scholar in Mexico (1976-77), in the mid-1980s Dr. Sanderson held a Rockefeller Foundation International Relations Fellowship in Mexico and a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in Washington, D.C. From 1985 to 1987, he served as Ford Foundation Program Officer in Brazil, where he designed and implemented the Foundation’s Amazon conservation and rural poverty program.

Special Note: Dr. Sanderson is available for interviews to discuss his article as Congress debates a climate change bill and as the world gathers for the United Nations climate change conference in December. Electronic copies of the article, along with a full table of contents of the journal are available on request.

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

Mary Dixon | Newswise Science News
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