New Economy Journal

Colonial Conservation: The UN proposes the “biggest land grab in history”

Volume 2, Issue 5

October 20, 2020

By - Duncan Wallace

Piece length: 933 words

Cover image: Still taken from Mapping for Rights report
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Survival International, an NGO that champions tribal peoples around the world, has issued a warning about a proposed UN plan to protect 30 percent of the planet by 2030.

At the next Convention on Biological Diversity summit, world leaders plan to agree on turning 30% of the Earth into “Protected Areas” by 2030.

But it appears that this is less about conservation, and more about a grab for the lands of Indigenous peoples.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, says:

"The call to make 30% of the globe into ‘Protected Areas’ is really a colossal land grab as big as Europe’s colonial era, and it’ll bring as much suffering and death... This has nothing to do with climate change, protecting biodiversity or avoiding pandemics – in fact it’s more likely to make all of them worse. It’s really all about money, land and resource control, and an all out assault on human diversity. This planned dispossession of hundreds of millions of people risks eradicating human diversity and self-sufficiency – the real keys to our being able to slow climate change and protect biodiversity.

“The biggest land grab in history is being proposed, and all in the name of ‘conservation’.”

It is estimated that the UN plan could “directly displace and dispossess” 300 million people.

Hence, if the UN plan goes ahead, it means that 30% of the planet and 300 million people, almost all indigenous and tribal peoples, will be dispossessed by 2030.

Protected areas

Evidence proves indigenous people understand and manage their environment better than anyone else. 80% of Earth’s biodiversity is in tribal territories.

But in Africa and Asia, governments and NGOs are stealing vast areas of land from tribal people and local communities under the false claim that this is necessary for conservation.

They then call the stolen land a “Protected Area” or “National Park” and keep out the original inhabitants, sometimes with a shocking level of violence. While tourists and other outsiders are welcomed in, the ecoguards and park rangers burn down local people’s homes, steal goods and vandalise property, and beat, torture, rape and kill local people with impunity.

If this sounds hard to believe, please watch these video testimonies from tribal people who have experienced this firsthand.

This follows the model of the United States’ nineteenth century creation of the world’s first national parks on lands stolen from Native Americans. Many US national parks forced the peoples who had created the wildlife-rich “wilderness” landscapes into landlessness and poverty.

Corry says that “The history of how national parks were started in the U.S. by some of the worst eugenicists, racists and ecofascists, and then exported to Africa and Asia, has been whitewashed”.

Local people are pushed out by force, coercion or bribery. They are beaten, tortured and abused by park rangers when they try to hunt to feed their families or just to access their ancestral lands. The best guardians of the land, once self-sufficient and with the lowest carbon footprint of any of us, are reduced to landless impoverishment and often end up adding to urban overcrowding.

Actions of big conservation groups like WWF

Big conservation groups like WWF (World Wildlife Fund) are complicit in all this. They fund and support the perpetrators of these atrocities and do very little to stop the violence inflicted on the original custodians of the land they claim to care so much about.

Tellingly, those who support the violent exclusion of indigenous people from protected areas often actively encourage other kinds of human presence there. Many protected areas invite mass tourism, and they’re often home to trophy hunting, logging, and mining.

Under this model of conservation, local people are forbidden from hunting for food, but foreigners are welcome to hunt for sport.

It might surprise people to know there’s evidence that tigers thrive in the zones where tribal villages remain – the people’s small open fields encourage more tiger prey than in the enclosed forest. When they’re kicked out, their old clearings give way to roads, hotels, and truckfuls of gawping tourists. Studies show animal stress behaviour increases with tourism. In other words, if you want happy tigers, then it is much better to leave the tribal people where they’ve always been.

Guards in tiger reserves intimidate and beat tribespeople found on land which was once their ancestral forests. But at least they stop short of the torture to which the Baka “Pygmy” people in Cameroon are subjected by anti-poaching forces. Heavily armed, government paramilitary squads accompany “ecoguards” which are equipped using WWF funds. They beat those thought to have entered the protected areas, which are in fact Baka ancestral homelands. Tribespeople are assaulted even if they’re merely suspected of knowing those who have gone in. Meanwhile their land is logged and mined, including by WWF partners. A Baka man told Survival International, “They beat us at the WWF base. I nearly died.”

Some conservationists say that tourism, trophy hunting and “sustainable” resource extraction generate income which can fund conservation work. But when indigenous people have secure rights over their own land, they achieve at least equal if not better conservation results at a fraction of the cost. According to a recent report by UN Special Rapporteur, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz:

“Indigenous peoples have long stewarded and protected the world’s forests. They are achieving at least equal conservation results with a fraction of the budget of protected areas, making investment in indigenous peoples themselves the most efficient means of protecting forests”.

Under the vision for 30% of the planet by 2030, the conservation industry is looking to get $140 billion every year.


Much of the above information has been taken from the excellent resources available via the Survival International website. To help stop what Survival calls “The Big Green Lie”, visit: https://survivalinternational.org/campaigns/biggreenlie

2 Replies to “Colonial Conservation: The UN proposes the “biggest land grab in history””

  1. I’m aghast… I’m an avid supporter of conservation and solidarity work but the issues you’ve presented in this article Duncan linking conservation to dispossession are totally new to me.

    The culture across the global industrialism capitalism complex is fundamentally extractive,… so on reflection it comes as no surprise that even a conservation strategy is imbued with this extractive approach to everything.

    Do you see any paths to offset these injustices?

  2. I’m pleasantly surprised! What an intelligent and insightful article.

    Chris’s comment is also insightful, the global industrial capitalist complex is fundamentally extractive, so it should come as no surprise that they fund both sides and profit from both. Study enough of the Rockefeller’s modus operandi and the same pattern is replicated over centuries, and the interesting point to acknowledge is that ‘we’ aren’t destroying the planet, they are, but we’re made at least partially responsible because we’re foolish enough to support either side. There is a method in their madness.

    The only way to prevent things like this from happening, is by encouraging the people to become well-informed, rather than ill-informed by most media – mainstream and alternative, which would then enable us to become united so we’re less susceptible to their tricks. Offsetting their actions won’t work, because they can light many more fires while we’re busy extinguishing just one.

    You’re on the right track Duncan.

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