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Ecosystem Conservation - A neglected tool for poverty reduction

Ten years ago, at the 1992 Rio conference, debates about sustainable development focused on how to ensure the ecological sustainability of the economy. Despite calls from the South for a global commitment to poverty reduction, and lip service from the North regarding its devotion to development, the legacy of the Rio conference remains strongest in the environmental sphere.

This will not be the case at the forthcoming WSSD in 2002. The focus in Johannesburg will be, as it should be, on the need to eliminate world poverty. People may disagree on the best means of achieving this goal, and especially on the potential and limitations of market-based approaches, but no one now disputes the urgency of the challenge.

And yet the question posed at Rio remains equally valid today: how can poverty be eradicated on a sustainable basis? This is not just a concern of environmentalists. All those engaged in the fight against poverty need to be clear about the key role of environmental health and ecological stability in strategies for eliminating poverty. Unfortunately, some important lessons about local environmental management appear to have been forgotten in the heady debates about globalisation and the response to global environmental problems such as climate change. At the same time, an upsurge in regional conflict and international terrorism has diverted policymakers’ attention from how to ensure the

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