We are only just beginning to understand how altering nature's web of interdependent species will affect human life on earth. Scientists estimate that deforestation produces a fifth of all human-caused carbon emissions. Loss of forests and land desertification undermine ecosystem services provided by wilderness - clean water and air, nutrient-rich soil, plants and animals for food, wood for fuel and shelter, and other products of nature upon which human communities depend. Human conflict increasingly erupts in heightened competition over dwindling natural resources, with national and regional security implications.
Booming populations over the next several decades will exponentially increase the need for additional food production and agricultural advances; the challenge will be to meet this increased demand without destroying natural resources and habitats. The potential of agricultural methods to benefit or harm the environment is enormous, and a general consensus is required among nations, development agencies, private foundations, and multinational corporations that agricultural growth will not be attained at the cost of wildlife, habitats, and precious natural resources. A new paradigm is needed to address our unpreparedness to deal with the increased demand for agricultural output in a sustainable manner, along with new technology and collaboration among nations. Responsible management of our natural resources can lead to poverty alleviation, improved public health, and national stability and security; irresponsible management can lead to economic collapse, disease, and war. As natural resources become increasingly scarce due to population growth and unsustainable patterns of development, resource-driven conflicts will occur with increasing frequency. The United Nations Environment Programme already estimates that natural resource stress is a key factor in 40% of current conflicts around the world. How we define security must account for these factors, and efforts to ensure global stability must also address natural resource degradation.
Disparate conservation measures initiated by governments in many countries strive to address these problems, but leadership across borders and internationally is often uncoordinated.
Typically, many policymakers are neither adequately educated nor aptly inspired to sustain results. Foreign leaders are challenged by other priorities, with measures of exploding human populations and deep despair among impoverished communities. Natural resource management is not the cornerstone of their decision-making. These leaders often lack the knowledge and understanding of biodiversity and habitat loss and consequences for future generations, and cannot envision that conservation can be compatible with economic development.
A great need exists to establish an international network that includes nations with the knowledge and expertise to address these issues, to build consensus and capacity and to maximize policy impact. These nations need to guide developing nations to use natural resources in a sustainable fashion with the smallest environmental footprint in order to facilitate economic development.