Our Common Future

Conservation policies in the new millennium are evolving towards the involvement of local people. Two factors are driving this shift in policy.

Firstly, scientists have developed an holistic, "ecosystem" approach. Protected areas must be managed within the fullest context in which they find themselves, rather than micro-managed as isolated entities that can be separated from their surroundings.

For example, the needs of people living in and at the margins of protected areas need to be included to obtain a realistic view of the way in which a system works. Catchment areas of rivers will often extend outside the boundaries of reserves and will be affected by usage elsewhere. And species are likely to migrate into and out of reserves.

An ecosystem view inevitably expands areas requiring "protection" beyond the physical boundaries of a reserve. Critical components of ecosystems always fall outside formally protected areas. This will often be where the human population density is higher, and where the competition for resources is higher.

The second factor favouring greater local control is the current domination of global conservation policies. These have tended to be underpinned by sentiments of democratisation, and consequently favour people-orientated policies.

The World Congresses on National Parks and Protected Areas were instrumental in formulating these policies (particularly the third in 1982 and 4th in 1992).

Global discourse started to equate conservation with sustainable development; this sentiment captured particularly well in the Brundtland Report, written in 1987.

The Brundtland Report, also known as Our Common Future, alerted the world to the urgency of making progress toward economic development that could be sustained without depleting natural resources or harming the environment.

Published by an international group of politicians, civil servants and experts on the environment and development, the report formulated a description of sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

The Brundtland Report was primarily concerned with securing a global equity, redistributing resources towards poorer nations whilst encouraging their economic growth.

It suggested that equity, growth and environmental maintenance are simultaneously possible and that each country is capable of achieving its full economic potential whilst at the same time enhancing its resource base.

The report recognised that achieving this equity and sustainable growth would require technological and social change.

The report highlighted three fundamental components to sustainable development: environmental protection, economic growth and social equity.

The key principles of the Brundtland Report may be summarised as follows:

the environment should be conserved and our resource base enhanced, by gradually changing the ways in which we develop and use technologies;

developing nations must be allowed to meet their basic needs of employment, food, energy, water and sanitation;

if this is to be done in a sustainable manner, then there is a consequent need for a sustainable level of population; and

economic growth should be revived and developing nations should be allowed a growth of equal quality to the developed nations.

Considerable progress has been made in establishing frameworks to entrench these principles, and manage and measure their progress. Much of this has been achieved under the auspices of the United Nations, and their Man and Biosphere Reserve Programme in particular.