Ecological Economics Policy Brief Series

© WWF-India
The Conservation-Development Trade-off: Reversing a policy perception
All the resources used by humans are embedded in complex social-ecological systems (SESs). It is the SESs that define the critical interface of nature, economy, and society. Human society, as such, remains embedded in the SESs, gets affected by the stimuli created by them, and releases forces that again affect the SESs. This brings to the fore the critical linkage between ecosystems and livelihoods on the one hand and the ecosystem and sustainability on the other.

The fundamental idea of setting up the Ecological Economics program in WWF India is to justify the imperatives to strike a balance between development, livelihoods, and conservation. In the process, there is a felt need not merely to understand the trade-offs between conservations goals and development imperatives, but also to create opportunities for processes and institutions to evolve to reconcile between the trade-offs.

With the aim of embedding environmental conservation strategies in the framework of our development model, Ecological Economics program aims to provide economic expertise at different levels, offering fact-based alternative development policies and practices that take into account the values of ecosystem services and biodiversity on the one hand, and also to use economic instruments to help conservation and sustainability.

Over the last two and half years, the Ecological Economics program has completed a few studies. The time is opportune that those studies are disseminated for sensitization, use in advocacy, and at a broader policy space to help create public opinion and policy making. It is important that the studies are being used to understand the critical ecosystems-livelihoods linkages, conservation-development trade-offs, and the processes and institutions that reverse such trade-offs. More importantly, one needs to understand how economic instruments can be used for effective conservation decisions, future conservation strategies, and environmental governance at a broader level.

It is with these ideas that the Ecological Economics policy brief series has been initiated. While the studies consist of rigorous theoretical and mathematical frameworks, econometric outputs, and combines disciplines from natural and social sciences to create a trans-disciplinary knowledge base, the idea of the policy briefs is to inform (in simple language) policy makers, general public, conscientious individuals, and other stakeholders about the important knowledge and information generated from these studies, that need to be considered while devising policies and create “actionable options”.

On the whole, these policy briefs teach few important things. First, what is perceived as “development” in the short run can have disastrous effect in the long-run, if ecosystem perspective in development is missing. Second, conservation is a selfish human need, and is not necessarily against development. Ecosystem services or services provided by the ecosystem free of cost to human community needs to be recognised in development planning, as the poor are highly reliant on the ecosystem for their livelihoods. Third, there are actionable options to develop institutions that can result in reconciling between conservation and development.  

These are a few important highlights that go on to define the broad contours of WWF-India’s Ecological Economics programme. WWF-India wishes that the data and knowledge generated from these rigorous and extensive studies go on to help the avowed cause of affecting conservation and development policy-making in the country.
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