Publisher: WRI Date of Publication: 2005
Price: ISBN: 1 56973 582 4
Pages: ix + 254 Format: Paperback

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1 - Nature, power and poverty; 2 - Ecosystems and the livelihoods of the poor; 3 - The role of governance; 4 - Four steps to greater environmental income; 5 - Turning natural assets into wealth: case studies; Special section - global development policies; Data tables.



This publication has been through a series of changes since the first issue in 1986. Most recently it went towards a single-issue biennial publication and now it looks as if it is turning back into an annual production. In addition, the book is no longer the key statistical publication that gave it the authority from which its fame rose. Much of that is now part of Earthtrends, an on-line statistical compendium which also has two CD Rom offshoots for the current book and an interactive version. This means that the core of the text is now spread across several media but it also means that the amount of data that can be retrieved is far greater. The downside of this is that one needs to be familiar with earlier volumes to appreciate where/why the data are collected.

This still leaves the book to consider. In the past these books have been seen as amongst the best in their field - it remains to see if this is the case. The issue this year is the environmental wealth of some of the world's poorest people. The central thesis is that the poor, by having better contact with environments, actually have more resources than they are usually credited with having. It implies, of course, that it's ecosystem services from which they will gain economic value which in turn assumes that there's no better way forward in this technological age. Of course, in many ways this is a reasonable assumption in that the poorest people need to acquire even modest assets to start with. There's also the notion that this text is closely allied to the tenets of the Millennium Development Goals where this approach is seen as a more sensible way forward.

The book starts with an examination of the problem. The link between ecosystems, poverty and the ability to govern resources is made clear. This is followed by a brief discussion of the nature and dimensions of poverty. It is made very clear that the one way forward is the use of ecosystem resources which will generate enough income to improve lives and the governance of the land. Here, the link between poverty, ownership and economics is made explicit and returns the topic back some 20 years when these links were first being mooted. Chapter two looks at the amount of money to be made from ecosystem services and who might benefit. Chapter three explores the realms of governance by making fundamental the link between land tenure, rights and economics: only if the poor have rights over their resources can they break the poverty cycle. Chapter four looks at the steps needed to be taken to achieve greater income from the resources: better management, better governance, commercialisation and additional income. Lest this should be seen as a paper exercise, chapter five examines some of the cases that make up the success stories of this approach to development. This is followed by a special section looking at the ways in which projects like the Millennium Development Goals could help end poverty. The remainder of the text (part 2) is given over to those data tables that help our understanding and analysis of the issues presented in part 1. Alongside these data this is also information on how to access Earthtrends and some technical notes about data acquisition.

Despite the changes this publication remains one of the best in its field. The change to a single topic makes it a slimmer but more focussed publication. It is also clear that the topic can be studied in far more depth that the previous multi-issue volumes. The content is detailed and accessible: numerous colour plates and diagrams make the publication more user-friendly and likely to grab the attention of students not usually drawn to this material. Overall, this is an outstanding publication that should be in every library. There's also the option of getting html and pdf versions from the website if this suits.


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