International: Turning Point - What Future For Forest Peoples And Resources In The Emerging World Order?


Worldwide, the use and management of natural resources and systems of trade and governance have been in flux for years. Yet 2011 may well be remembered as the year of definitive turning points: it was a year when the shift in global political and economic power to emerging economies became clear; it was a year when the conventional economic paradigm recognized the increasing scarcity of natural resources; and it was a year when it became clear that national and global development requires respect for local people and their resources.


2011 was dominated by a deepening economic crisis. Economists predict a long recession, even a “lost decade”. Western governments and multilateral institutions are seeing their primacy over everything—from global trade to negotiations on climate change—slipping away. In their places are new players from the developing world, their ascendancy accelerated by the decline of the West. Although the global population reached seven billion in 2011, the demographic outlook almost everywhere is for smaller families and a gradually stabilizing global population. A much greater long-term threat to resources than population is rising consumption, driven by the demands of burgeoning urban middle classes across the developing world.


The emergence of a new world order gives rise to new threats to natural resources, forests, and their traditional custodians. Soaring investment in infrastructure and mining in Asia and Latin America is spreading to Africa, potentially locking in unsustainable development for decades. The new developers often feel free of the environmental and social concerns that have lately constrained their Western counterparts.


But there is hope—derived largely from local communities and progressive private actors. The local custodians of the world’s remaining natural resources are becoming difficult to ignore. The recognition in 2011 of the importance of forest communities in maintaining vital forest carbon sinks is only one example. A rise of popular politics asserting more control over local resources is challenging business-as-usual and leading to political changes at the national level, which, in turn, is exerting an influence internationally.


The pushback from local communities that we noted in 2010 led to notable victories in 2011. Will the emerging world order recognize and respect community rights and support the sustainable use of their resources? At the global level, will there be a turn towards more inclusive governance? Or will we witness the same domination of local people and wasteful use of natural resources—but by different masters? Much hinges on whether the rights of rural and forest-dwelling people in the developing world will now be respected and whether they are able to organize and manage the natural resources that are critical for the survival and prosperity of humanity.


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