In pursuit of its mission of connecting research, policy and practice to promote learning on approaches to land and natural resource governance, Equitable Earth Initiative is engaging in community protected areas, sustainable landscapes, and what have become known as “other effective area-based conservation measures” or OECMs.  This is part of a series of posts in which we are sharing some of our thoughts on what these kinds of initiatives can contribute to sustainability and conservation.

 

Extending environmental values beyond protected areas

Within the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the countries of the world have agreed on a series of strategic goals, as well as targets for achieving those goals known as the Aichi biodiversity targets.  Aichi Target 11 is a place-based target focused on land and seascapes:

By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.

Progress toward operationalizing all the aspects of this target has been slow, with much attention directed specifically to the spatial extent of parks, reserves, and other kinds of protected areas.  In a previous post, we welcomed the effort to operationalize another part of that target, which refers not only to protected areas but also to “other effective area-based conservation measures” or OECMs.  The international effort to include OECMs in global targets for protecting biodiversity can be seen as a recognition that conservation and sustainability cannot be achieved only through protected enclaves where we separate humans from nature, but also must be pursued by ensuring that human beings are coexisting with nature in a sustainable way.

 

Diversity as a resource

In considering such targets, it is important to remind ourselves from time to time of the goal to which they are meant to contribute—maintaining biodiversity.  The word biodiversity is a shorthand way of referring to the immensely variegated beauty of the natural world.  Biodiversity is also a resource that ecosystems draw on, providing them with the means for adapting to change.  Biodiversity provides redundancy within an ecosystem—different organisms that can perform the same functions in an ecosystem but each in slightly different ways, ultimately conferring the system with resilience.

We can think of cultural diversity in a similar way.  As well as being something to celebrate in its own right, cultural diversity is a resource that we can draw on.  Different cultures have different ways of understanding the world and living in it, and many have deep experience embedded in their interconnectedness with nature.  This diversity of approaches, experiences and worldviews can be a source of solutions to the challenges we are facing today.  This certainly applies to the challenge of learning how human beings and nature can coexist.  Indigenous peoples in particular have, over centuries, developed attitudes, concepts, and practical methods to create livelihoods while maintaining rich cultures and protecting nature and its biodiversity.  Indigenous territories are found all over the planet and are recognized as the most biodiverse areas of the world. Taking the experience of indigenous peoples seriously may well be key to learning how to extend environmental values beyond protected areas, to sustain remaining biodiversity, and to create sustainable landscapes everywhere.

Much is known already.  For example, many indigenous communities have an ethic of interconnectedness which guides their way of interacting with the land and managing the ecosystems that sustain them.  Within indigenous worldviews, human beings are not apart from nature; instead, we exist within it, are connected to it, and are its stewards. Indigenous territories where culture, identity and connection to territory shape environmental stewardship, livelihoods and collective well-being are examples of how humans can live in harmony with nature. Prominent features of their make-up include a strong sense of identity and connection between the people and the landscapes and seascapes. Within these territories there are sophisticated management practices which include no-use, sustainably managed, and other zones, and approaches to governance that enable the application and enforcement of rules and procedures to use natural resources sustainably, conserve the health and diversity of fauna, flora and habitats, and to care for the well-being of every member of the community.

 

Re-establishing healthy connections and sustainable landscapes

Appreciation of the lessons that such communities have to offer can serve as an inspiration for two interconnected lines of action in the global pursuit of biodiversity conservation and sustainability.  One of these is to change the patterns which continue to disrupt human-nature relationships to prevent more damage.  National and international governments can identify where landscapes are sustainably managed, try to understand what contributes to the healthy relationships and forms of decision-making there and what threats they are facing, and to provide the institutional and financial safeguards to empower these local processes.  At the heart of any governmental effort in this direction should be a commitment to ensure equitable governance and to give full recognition and legal protection to these systems.  We will explore this theme more in future posts.

The other line of action is to draw on the lessons of sustainably managed landscapes, and apply them in other settings to re-establish healthy human-nature connections where they have been lost.  This line of action is as much about relationship restoration as it is about ecosystem restoration.  It involves nurturing identities that are based on connections with landscape and a sense of place.  It involves developing attitudes, practices and institutions that are concerned with the well-being of the entire community and society.  It involves creating the conditions through which local communities can become protagonists in endeavors toward conservation and sustainable development.

As the parties to the CBD try to agree on a successor to the Aichi targets, among the questions to be decided is what the spatial targets will be.  Ultimately, however, to the extent that the debate revolves around whether the number should stay at 17% of terrestrial land, or should rise to 25% or to 30%, misses the point.  Environmental values need to be extended beyond protected areas to be reincorporated into sustainable landscapes everywhere.

The world has a long way to go before being able to achieve this.  However, the recognition that sustainability can be achieved in landscapes where humans and nature coexist—in OECMs—is a step in the right direction.  In this connection, a vital task for the global community in the coming years will be to learn about sustainable eco-social landscapes—by identifying them where already exist whether or not they have been recognized as OECMs, by proactively creating them where deeper transformation is needed, by studying how and why they work, and by seeing how to spread the lessons learned.

To protect biodiversity and nature, our aim now should be for every part of the globe to become a sustainable landscape.  We need to learn how to coexist with nature; not isolate ourselves from it.