Tag Archives: Nature minus

Four Rivers, Jeju Naval Base and the IUCN WCC

Nial Moores, September 14th

Some folks have asked why I am not at the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress (WCC). This is an extremely hard question to answer simply.

In 2008, the Ramsar Convention conference in Changwon (ROK), with all of its science and sincere promises, was followed soon-after by more large-scale reclamation and by the launch of the Four Rivers project. The Four Rivers project has resulted in the deep-dredging of hundreds of km of naturally-shallow rivers and the construction of even more dams. Much riverine wetland has been bulldozed, to be replaced by sterile parkland and expensive to maintain bicycle trails. What few data there are suggests major declines in some bird species as a result of this construction work, including in areas that were internationally important for waterbirds. To conservation scientists, the bulldozing of nationally and internationally important wetlands and the landscaping of protected areas and IBAs, is not river “restoration”. Such construction is neither reasonable, nor is it sustainable, by environmental, economic or social indicators. Like reclamation at Saemangeum and Song Do, and as proposed for the Incheon tidal power-plants, the Four Rivers project is grey growth: “Nature Minus”. And yet somehow, as these projects proceeded and our nation’s biodiversity declined, the ROK was awarded a prize for biodiversity conservation by the leadership of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010.

As with other global environmental meetings, the IUCN WCC has also provided a valuable opportunity to shine an honest spotlight on domestic as well as major global conservation issues. For sure, the IUCN, and many of its partner organisations, does great work. The IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) contains many of the world’s best conservation scientists; and IUCN projects and outputs help to make the world a better place. As an active SSC member (in the group working for threatened waterbirds) I am especially proud that Birds Korea was involved in the IUCN commissioned report on intertidal wetlands. Motions on improving conservation and sustainability of the Yellow Sea (Motion 66: already adopted) and on the conservation of intertidal wetlands (Motion 32: scheduled for plenary today) will also help to build much-needed scientific (and perhaps even political) consensus on issues that have long been at the heart of our work.

So why am I not at the WCC?

In July a coalition of domestic NGOs (including the majority of the nation’s largest environmental NGOs) urged the IUCN leadership in an open letter to make clear their position on several major domestic environmental issues. These included the Four Rivers project, and the construction of a large naval base in a protected area on Jeju Island, not far from where the WCC is being held. The response so far has been perceived by many as being inadequate and even dismissive (see e.g. http://savejejunow.org/open-letter-to-ashok-khosla/). The resultant lack of agreement, between even many of the most sincere and knowledgeable of people working for biodiversity conservation within Korean NGOs and the IUCN, made attendance at the WCC a potentially expensive lose-lose choice. Especially for someone who works for a Korean conservation NGO who supports the IUCN. That is why I am not there.

To be clear: neither myself, nor anyone else in the core of Birds Korea has any special knowledge of behind-the-scenes discussions within and between these key organisations; we do not have any detailed knowledge of the naval base site, or of related meetings; and we were not involved in the open letters to the IUCN. However, we do have many years of experience in the ROK working peacefully, legally and without political agenda to raise domestic and international awareness about numerous construction projects. Many such construction projects have indeed damaged or destroyed protected areas and nationally and internationally important wetlands. Many remain poorly understood internationally.

So, to learn more about the Four Rivers project please see http://www.birdskorea.org/Habitats/4-Rivers/BK-HA-4-Rivers.shtml.

And to understand more about protests against the proposed Jeju naval base at Gangjeong, please visit:

As always, we welcome your comments.