Dr S Faizi: An untiring environmental champion of the global South

Dr S Faizi

They used to call him  ‘the young knight f the Third World’, but he was not pleased as he believed that was meant to weaken the credibility of his scientific arguments, besides his disdain for the phrase third world. This is about the environmentalist Dr S Faizi, and his detractors were the western negotiators at UN environmental conferences, in the early 1990s. He continued his journey on that path, seeking to articulate the global South positions on critical environment and development issues, and taking the western bull by the horn.

Two important world environment initiatives where Faizi had left his footprint marked three decades last year: the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) commonly known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992 and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) aimed at conserving the world’s biodiversity. As a young negotiator Dr. S Faizi has played an active role in the negotiations by providing technical advice to the  Group of 77, the platform  of developing countries within the UN, in both these multilateral events. From the arguments of national sovereignty over biodiversity to articulating the concept of ecocide and on the creation of a UN Environmental Security Council to address these, the soft-spoken Dr S Faizi constantly generates a proactive agenda for the developing countries on global issues.

UNCED  the Earth Summit

The outcomes of the UNCED were the Agenda 21 which laid the blueprint for sustainable development worldwide, the  Rio Declaration and the Forest Principles . The Rio Declaration has remained the backbone of world environmental vision for the past thirty years. The draft declaration was finalised at the ministerial level meeting of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) held at UN headquarters, New York in February-March 1992. The first  draft Declaration proposed by the  western nations as Earth Charter was challenged by the G-77 nations which proposed a new draft which laid its focus evenly on natural resources conservation, human beings and poverty alleviation. Dr Faizi was closely involved in the preparation of G-77 draft proposal. In the final declaration, Dr Faizi’s consistent argument for inclusion of war as inherently destructive of environment, on the need for peace as well as the principle of common but differentiated responsibility were taken on board. The latter concept was already being agreed in the then-ongoing negotiations on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The western world has  been constantly striving to exert international control over the rich forest resources of the developing nations. They tried to use the UNCED process too for this purpose through a binding instrument on the governance of tropical forests. At the final meeting of the PrepCom it was the Malaysian ambassador Mrs. Wen Lian Ting and Dr S Faizi on behalf of G-77 who  thwarted these western attempts and turned it into a non-binding statement of principles on all types of forests including those of the developed countries. Thirty years since these landmark events, Dr Faizi admits that the western world had continued to doggedly pursue their attempts to gain regulatory control over the forest resources of the developing world, and they finally succeeded in that through the UNFCCC where the forests are now perceived as sinks for the carbon dioxide they emit.

Ten years after the Rio Summit when the review of implementation of Agenda 21 was undertaken in the form of the UN Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD), Dr Faizi was engaged in the negotiations as advisor to G-77 then chaired by Venezuela. His efforts helped bring to light the non-delivery of the developed countries’ commitment to provide funds for the implementation of Agenda 21, but instead deepened the debt crisis in the developing world.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)- turning the table around

The US was the original initiator of the idea of CBD. The real intention of the US while advocating the need for a CBD in the late eighties was to legalize their access to biodiversity beyond their borders before it becomes too late, says Faizi. Therefore, the draft of the informal text for the negotiations on the proposed treaty that was prepared by the Bonn-based IUCN Environment Law Centre had as its central feature open and free access to biodiversity. However, the G-77 and China rejected such western arguments through their rarely displayed negotiation skill and solid unity and created a treaty text that is balanced along several axes, particularly along the North-South axis and conservation and development axis. It recognises the national sovereignty over biodiversity and traditional knowledge and hence sets conditions for access to biodiversity, instead of free access as the West had envisaged. It also requires developed countries to provide access to technology for developing countries on concessional and preferential terms, rather than commercial terms. This treaty constitutes an important victory for the collective negotiation power of the South. Ambassador Wing Lian Ting of Malaysia and Dr S Faizi played a key role in the CBD-forming International Negotiation Committee, during 1990-92, to bring about such a change in the CBD text. Faizi’s had in fact been  the world’s youth voice at the UNEP Governing Council meeting of 1989 which gave the green signal for the CBD process.

CBD was opened for signature by governments at the UNCED and has now completed three decades, with all countries of the world except the US as parties. The US didn’t join as its original intentions were defeated in the final treaty. However, Dr Faizi believes that since then, several key elements of the treaty, which safeguarded the interests of the developing world were cleverly sabotaged by the developed nations. The feebleness of political will of developing nations and the inability to garner unity among them became the underlining factors which curtailed their collective might. Dr Faizi constantly speaks and writes about this lost cohesiveness of the developing world and the need to realise it once again.

The 11th Conference of the Parties to CBD was held in  India in 2012 in which Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh released a book on India’s approaches to biodiversity conservation co-authored by Dr S Faizi and published by UNDP.

In 2002 Dr Faizi along with other like-minded environmentalists formulated a world platform of environmental organisations  working on biodiversity issues known as the CBD Alliance. Its purpose was to evaluate the progress of implementation of CBD treaty and to campaign for the causes outlined therein. Dr Faizi had also served as its chairman for a term.

Nuclear Disarmament campaign to Ecocide thoughts

Dr Faizi campaigns for complete nuclear disarmament worldwide. He speaks vociferously against the power vested only with five nations of the world to manufacture nuclear arms. He opines that it is highly discriminatory and advocates strongly for complete nuclear disarmament as aimed by Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. His writings too have played a role in creating awareness on the creation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)  in 2017. When USA imposed sanctions upon Indian scientists in the wake of nuclear testing by Vajpaee Government in India in1998, Dr Faizi was perhaps the only scientist who came out with his protest against the double standards of USA. It was an irony that someone dedicated to an anti-nuclear world was to argue for scientists slapped with sanctions for a nuclear explosion, but for Dr Faizi the issue was one of discrimination. Right to free travel of scientists is a principle adopted by the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), a global body of national academies of science and its violation by USA was represented by him in ICSU. Professor M G K Menon who at that time was a minister in the Vajpayee government had been a president of ICSU, but interestingly, he kept quiet about the issue.

When Japan government was shipping the lethal plutonium from France in 1992 Dr S Faizi marked his protest by boycotting the International Conference of Science Writers organised by the Japanese daily Asahi Shunbun, Unesco and the International Science Journalists Association, where he was scheduled to talk as a guest speaker.

Dr Faizi is the proponent behind the idea of establishing a United Nations Environmental Security Council for addressing ecocides. His paper on the subject published in an American journal is now widely debated. South Centre, a body comprising of the developing countries, based in Geneva had also circulated his proposal to the member countries through an essay of his. Dr Faizi stresses upon the need of the hour in equating disastrous actions which result in irreparable loss to world’s natural environment on par with genocide. He has elaborated on the scope of the meaning of ecocide and argues for an Environmental Security Council which could address ecocide incidents as well as steer the management of the global environment. He points out that the  arguement by some western groups of mandating the International Criminal Court (ICC) with ecocide redress would amounts to over burdening an already under performing ICC, besides that can make ICC lose its focus on prosecuting tyrants and genocide perpetrators whose numbers are on the increase.

Dr Faizi’s widely published views on the reform of United Nations  are becoming more relevant now in the wake of the Ukraine war. He argues for the dissolution of UN Security Council and for the transfer of its powers to UN General Assembly that includes all the nations of the world, rather than expanding the skewed Security Council. The veto power given to five countries alone is to be rescinded to make the UN more democratic in its form and actions. For the first time in its history US and its allies are reeling under the veto that Russia slammed upon  their resolution bon the Ukraine war. This in itself is ample example to support Faizi’s views for a democratized UN.

Kanchenjunga to Al Reem Biosphere Reserve  

Kanchenjunga is the third tallest mountain in the world standing at a height of 8586 m above MSL in Sikkim. Though a natural heritage of universal value, it found its place in the list of World Heritage Sites only in 2016. Dr Faizi was a member of the technical team which prepared the proposal on behalf of the  Sikkim Government for the inscription of the  Kanchenchunja National Park in the Unesco World Heritage list. His work for the Qatar Government had helped bring the Al Reem Biosphere which occupies nearly ten percent of the total geographical area of Qatar within the Unesco Biosphere Reserve list. The site has a remarkable wealth of inland, sea and migratory fauna and Faizi’s management plan for the Biosphere helped earn its international status. He was the member of a team that drew up the early management plan of Chibodhar Biosphere Reserve in Indonesia. He had also conducted several surveys, under the aegis of IUCN and the National Commission on Wildlife for demarcating the conservation areas in  Saudi Arabia. He had also done the  groundwork for Saudi Arabia joining the CBD and the Bonn Convention on Conservation of Migratory Animals.

Forest Conservation

Dr Faizi in his consulting role with the Japan International Cooperation Agency and Japan Bank for International Cooperation has helped several states in India draw up plans and projects for forest biodiversity conservation and wildlife protection- Odisha, Tripura, Uthar Pradesh. Sikkim, West Bengal and Gujarat. During my tenure as the Chief Wildlife Warden of Gujarat the technical advise he had given me on some vexing conservation issues were immensely useful. An ecorestoration project of the Kerala government in Attappady in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve assisted by the Japanese government where he had an advisory role had set a model in participatory watershed management in the country.

Six recent research projects on biodiversity focused on species such as Tiger, Leopard, Elephant, Gaur and small mammals conducted by premier research organisations under Dr Faizi’s supervision on behalf of West Bengal Forest Department and JICA marked an important contribution in the vexing issue of human wildlife conflicts. Faizi was also successful in his efforts to bring the pandemic issue of human wildlife conflicts into the CBD parlance by the recently adopted Global Biodiversity Framework incorporating a target of reducing the conflicts.

People’s scientist of Plachimada and Kadalundi

A significant contribution Dr S Faizi to the environmental proceedings within his own state Kerala would perhaps be the estimation of the environmental damages in financial terms due to the operation of the American multinational company Coca Cola in the Plachimada village of Palakkad district. He was the environment expert member of the Plachimada High Power Committee constituted by the Kerala government. Dr Faizi had caused this committee to happen through the State Ground Water Authority of which he was an expert member. The Committee equated the environmental damage caused by the multinational giant at Plachimada to be in the tune of Rs 2160 million at the minimum. The findings of the Committee were approved by the government and a law was passed in 2011 to establish a special tribunal for eliciting compensation for the victims from the Coco Cola company. Dr Faizi’s friendship  with his college mate, the then minister for water resources, Mr M K Premachandran had helped expedite these processes.

The bill sent to Central Government for the Presidential assent was declined by the Union government in 2016, five years later. The future of the compensation issue remains uncertain even as the people are agitating but the people’s struggle, the first time ever assessment of the economic loss due to environmental damage and Dr Faizi’s untiring efforts to bring justice to the Adivasi victims will remain a historical landmark in the country’s environmental struggle.

Dr Faizi was instrumental in the declaration of the Community Reserve in Kadalundi – Vallikkunnu panhayaths within the districts of Kozhikode and Malappuram in Kerala. The area falling within the reserve is a treasure trove of estuarine biodiversity including mangroves, fishes, amphibians, reptiles and birds, a large number of them being migratory. It is one of the first two Community Reserves in India constituted under the Wildlife Protection Act in September 2007. Dr Faizi’s friendship with the then minister for forests Kerala Binoy Vishwam had helped in its realisation. The authority for the conservation of the Reserve is vested with a management committee designated by the two participant panchayaths. Dr Faizi helped resolve the issues, held protracted diplomatic discussions with the two panchayats over the representation in the committee, and also conducted training workshops for the stakeholders. This is today one of the well managed wetland sites in the country, basically as it is managed with the full cooperation of the local people. Dr Faizi’s childhood association with Sasthamkota Lake and its migratory birds in his native village of Poruvazhy, Kollam district had, in a similar way, inspired him to work for declaring it as a Ramsar Site in 2002.

Supporting the Adivasi cause

Dr Faizi believes that the original owners of our forests are the Indigenous People, called Adivasis, and that conservation of forests can in the true sense be possible only by entrusting the forests back to them. In 2003 when the adivasis staged a massive protest at Muthanga in Wayanad, demanding restoration of their forest rights, Faizi challenged the chief minister asking him to hand the state’s forests to Adivasis for better management through an article The Indian Express daily, which also became an important campaign material in the ensuing debate on the creation of a Forest Rights Act. He also arranged the participation of the Adivasi leader of the Muthanga struggle C K Janu in the IUCN World Parks Congress in Durban in 2004. He was  in the forefront campaigning for the enactment of the Forest Rights Act 2006. When the Canadian government refused visa for two Adivasi delegates from Bengal to a CBD meet held there, he protested citing the breach of the host country agreement that requires Canada to issue visa to all bona fide participants, forcing an apology out of the Canadian government and a promise not to repeat the same, right in the CBD meeting.

Recently, when Tanzanian government proceeded to displace around 150,000 Masai people from Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a Unesco World Heritage Site, for tourism development, Dr Faizi, a former Unesco Fellow, took it up at various Unesco forums. His recent essay critiquing the exclusionary doctrine of conservation has argued for the need to discard this colonial concept of conservation and to empower the Indigenous Peoples in order to save the world’s biodiversity. However, Dr Faizi, doesn’t claim to the voice of Adivasis, he supports them to speak for themselves.

The Government of Serbia, in the World Biodiversity Congress held in 2015, has honoured him by awarding him with a Life Time Achievement Award for his contributions in the field of biodiversity conservation.

 Silent Valley’s motivation and Harry Miller’s prophecy

Dr Faizi was drawn into the field of environmental concerns through his participation as a BSc student in Fathima Matha National College, Kollam, in the Silent Valley movement by mobilising the students during 1979-80. This was a defining movement in India’s early environmental history that forced the government to discard a hydel project at the site, which is now a national park. He did he masters degree from The New College of Madras University and later on PhD Bharathidasan University, Trichy.  After BSc he had joined the Bombay Natural History Society as a field biologist in the bird migration study  led by the legendary ornithologist Dr Salim Ali., based at the Point Calimere sanctuary in Tamil Nadu’s southeastern coast. He got his research skills honed here and ringed over 2000 birds of different species for the migratory study.

As an MSc student Faizi conducted a study on the avian fauna in the Adayar estuary for his dissertation. He was able to identify 103 species of birds within this tidal basin which existed at the heart of a large metropolitan city and studied their community attributes. Harry Miller, a renowned British naturalist and writer wrote about this study, “Here is a dedicated young scientist who knows his methodology and his subject-matter intimately, and who clearly has a profound reverence for his subject rather than the all-too-common motivation of getting ‘a good degree’ for its own sake” (The Indian Express, 18 May 1984.). His discerning words about Faizi proved to be a prophecy that turned into a reality in later years.

When Dr Faizi sent his MSc dissertation to Prof Madhav Gadgil of the Indian Institute of Science for his comments, he didn’t receive any comments, but got an offer to work in a research project of the Institute, with an invitation to spend a week at the Institute as guest to familiarise with the project. He spent a week there with Prof Raghavendra Gadagkar and Prof Gadgil, but eventually decided to take up the job as Secretary General of the International Youth Federation for Environmental Studies and Conservation (IYF), the de facto youth wing of IUCN based in Denmark. The end of his two year term there was marked by IYF winning the coveted Global 500 Award of UNEP. He was then busy in organising the first world youth conference on environment conducted Unesco and UNEP in Moscow, where he was elected as its chairman.

Faizi’s doctorate was the first analysis a country’s biodiversity management regime using the framework of the triple objectives of CBD and its ecosystem approach. His proposals for reforming India’s forest biodiversity management, emanating from the study, have been widely discussed. We worked closely together when he was president of the Ethological Society of India (ESI), a fifty year old body of behavioural scientists; he has promoted a young breed a ethologists in the country then.

Dr Faizi’s professional journey has spanned a wide arc from the local to international level, his voice tirelessly speaking for the environment and for justice. His articulation of the developing world perspectives on global issues sets a model for scholars and activists to follow. This unassuming environmental scientist’s varied experiences in the field of environment and biodiversity make him a source of inspiration for green warriors around the world.

Dr DPS Verma is former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Gujarat. He is also advisor to the international certifying body Forest Stewardship Council and Vice President of the Ethological Society of India. [email protected]

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