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Giving people €5 a day could bring the ‘good life’ to communities and ecosystems in need, study says

An orangutan in a swath of jungle destroyed by fire in Indonesia. The palm oil industry is shrinking the animals' habitat, but a CBI might be an alternative for workers.
An orangutan in a swath of jungle destroyed by fire in Indonesia. The palm oil industry is shrinking the animals' habitat, but a CBI might be an alternative for workers. Copyright AP Photo/Dita Alangkara
Copyright AP Photo/Dita Alangkara
By Euronews Green
Published on
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A conservation basic income can yield vital results for nature, for less money than governments spend subsidising fossil fuels and destructive industries.

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Paying people living in fragile forests €5 a day could be the best way to halt biodiversity loss, a new study suggests.

Similar to the concept of a universal basic income, a conservation basic income (CBI) is an unconditional cash payment given to people living in protected areas or alongside endangered species.

Variations of this idea are already having transformative effects on ecosystems around the world. In Costa Rica in the late 1980s, for example, landholders were given around €60 (the cost of forgoing a cow) to protect or restore one hectare of forest - with a massive success rate.

Guaranteed cash with no conservation strings attached has secured environmental benefits in some countries too. Starting in 2008, Indonesia’s national programme of anti-poverty cash transfers reduced deforestation across the country.

Now researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the UK are looking into how CBI could work globally - and, crucially, how much it would cost.

“The CBI is a promising proposal to support the Indigenous peoples and local communities that safeguard the world’s biodiversity and land, and redress global inequalities,” says lead author Dr Emiel de Lange, of the University’s School of GeoSciences.

“Our study puts concrete numbers to this proposal, showing that CBI is an ambitious but potentially sensible investment.”

How much would a CBI cost?

Introducing a CBI of $5.50 (around €5.11) per day for people who live in protected areas in low- and middle-income countries would cost around €437 billion a year.

Fossil fuels and other industries harmful to the environment receive around €460 billion a year in government subsidies, the team says.

This financial aid for environmentally harmful industries could be redirected to CBI funding, they suggest - benefiting people, the environment and economies.

Looking at different scenarios, the researchers calculate that the cost of a global CBI scheme could range from €322 billion to €6 trillion per year.

The cost of CBI would be higher than current conservation spending - around €122 billion globally in 2020. But, this is a fraction of the €40 trillion in global economic production the World Economic Forum estimates is dependent on nature, researchers found.

That makes funding CBI a shrewd investment.

And given that more than three-quarters of people living in the world’s key areas of biodiversity are in low- and middle-income countries, it makes sense to prioritise CBI in these countries.

How would a CBI protect nature?

The payments could enable people to move away from activities and industries that lead to habitat loss, pollution and other causes of biodiversity loss.

“Conservation in many places is increasingly violent and militarised and has resulted in human rights violations,” the authors write.

“All this together with the development of market-based strategies has contributed to the erosion of local conservation practices, values and world views.”

A CBI, however, would reduce the ability of companies to exploit the economic vulnerability of the poor and reduce their need to work in cash-crop agriculture. Instead of growing vast fields of a single crop, agro-ecological farming techniques could spring back up and communities could nurture their bio-cultural heritage.

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There’s a whole host of economic and environmental benefits that come with a CBI, the researchers explain, as well as many cultural and spiritual ones that can’t be quantified.

“It can enable individuals to pursue their own vision for a good life by contributing to their communities [...] local economies and supporting environmental activism,” the researchers write.

“The next step is to pilot CBI schemes in partnership with Indigenous communities,” says Dr de Lange.

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