Rethinking Governance in the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

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.

 

A new direction for the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

If we the human race are to have any hope of reversing the ongoing destruction of the natural world and learning to live sustainably, we will need a radical shift in our economic structures, our systems of governance, and our approaches for conserving nature and its biodiversity.  What is needed is not merely reorganization, but a transformation, and this implies not only outward changes to policies and practices but also a transformation in the ways that we think about sustainability, livelihoods, human-nature relationships, and conservation.

For the past decade, under the umbrella of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Aichi Target no. 11 has set the tone for how protection of biodiversity would be conceived:

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.

Yet despite its influence, only one aspect of this target was ever operationalized in a robust way with strategies, definitions, metrics and a reporting systems: namely, the quantitative target of spatial extent for parks, reserves and other kinds of protected areas.  Recent efforts to operationalize another part of that target—the “other effective area-based conservation measures” or OECMs—are a welcome development (click here to read a post of ours on OECMs).  Rapid progress is needed on this front so that in the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, the worldwide community can widen its gaze beyond parks and other kinds of protected areas to embrace place-based systems where people and nature sustainably coexist, including OECMs.

There is another aspect of that target which also needs to be taken more seriously in the successor to the Aichi targets:  the principle that protected areas and OECMs should be “equitably managed”.  This is essentially a matter of governance.  The recent People’s response to the High Level Summit on Biodiversity highlights the need quite clearly, calling for the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to “ensure effective participation of people and communities as rights holders and to ensure accountability of states regarding their commitments,” and for it to include “proper and effective monitoring based on the whole of CBD obligations, rights-based review and accountability systems”.  This time around, it will be essential to effectively monitoring the whole suite of the CBD obligations, including the obligation that protected areas and OECMs must be equitably managed.  Yet here, too, a transformation in thinking is needed—a transformation in how we understand governance.

 

Reconceptualizing governance

Governance is often conceived of in terms of collective decision-making, relating to the question of who decides and how they decide.  Definitions and theories of governance also frequently refer to the resolution of tradeoffs and conflicting interests.  Another perspective on governance focuses on socio-political power.  This perspective is not necessarily inconsistent with a focus on decision-making or on resolving tradeoffs, but puts more emphasis on the role of governance in shaping how power can and cannot be applied and in curbing its most egregious manifestations.

Each of these conceptualizations of draws attention to an important aspect of governance.  However, associated with them is a widespread set of assumptions that bear examination—assumptions:

  • that the primary motivation of human beings is individualistic self-interest, with that self-interest usually conceived of solely in material terms;
  • that interests, values and identities are essentially fixed; and
  • that conflict, emerging from differences in interests, values and identities, is the normal state of human affairs.

Here we suggest three principles which can serve as an alternative to these assumptions:  the essential nobility of the human being, interconnectedness, and justice.

One of the functions of any governance system is shaping and channeling the motivations of its people.  It is important to remember, however, that the qualities that define what it means to be human extend beyond mere material self-interest, encompassing capacities for wisdom, wonder, empathy, solidarity, creativity and love.  A perspective that is based on an appreciation of the nobility of the human being suggests a role for governance in mobilizing these capacities as motivations for both individual and collective action.

The assumption that interests are fixed and that the primary task of governance is to mediate tradeoffs amongst conflicting interests is also problematic.  Interests—along with values, identities, and motivations—are subject to change.  They are shaped by culture, religion, education and experience.  And they can be also influenced through thoughtful interchange with people whose perspectives differ.

The principle of interconnectedness[1] implies that governance should also aim to build community, at local, national and international levels, to foster values that manifest respect for diverse cultures and the oneness of the human race, and that nurture our interconnectedness with nature.

Governance in other words, should not be conceived of as something merely that accepts current values and identities as written in stone and then aims to negotiate an accommodation amongst those values and identities where they differ.  It should aim at shaping values in a way that, while respecting diverse cultures and perspectives, also nurtures common interests and shared identities and visions for the future.

A common lens through which to view governance is that of justice, and it should not be controversial to suggest that governance systems for protected areas and OECMs should embody both distributive and procedural justice.  The way these aspects of governance are normally interpreted, however, typically assumes that conflictual relationships between difference classes, ethnicities, or other social groups is the normal state of affairs.  When, on the other hand, justice is understood as a facet of interconnectedness, it takes on an additional significance.  Our interconnectedness as human beings implies that justice is both ends and means.  Justice is a means of achieving a kind of unity that embraces and celebrates the diversity of cultures, and is also an outcome of creating systems that embody our interconnectedness.

Let the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework be more than a technocratic manual for national reporting on conservation actions; let it be something that contributes to new ways of thinking about governance and about the human-nature relationship.  And in developing a successor to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, let us direct our attention toward equitable governance and to transformation as much as to spatial targets.  In future posts, we hope to explore what indicators and targets for governance in the post 2020 framework could look like.

 

[1] We have explored the concept of interconnectedness in previous posts, as a principle essential to sustainable development, and as a motivating spirit for OECMs.

Protecting Biodiversity: Learning from Indigenous Communities

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.

Interconnectedness and OECMs

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 the first in a series of posts in which we will share some of our thoughts on what these kinds of initiatives can contribute to sustainability and conservation.

How can we as a global community protect biodiversity?  The default answer to this question seems to be “by creating protected areas”.  In the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 196 countries have agreed, among other things, that “conservation will be achieved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.”

In operationalizing this target, parks, game reserves, and other kinds of protected areas are understood as designated areas of land or sea where the primary objective is conservation.  And in developing a system to track progress toward achieving the CBD targets, it is protected areas that have been the focus of attention.  However, in recognition that protected areas have had a mixed record and that ecosystems and biodiversity need to be cared for everywhere including where human beings live and create their livelihoods, increasing attention is now being directed toward the second part of that target:  “other effective area-based conservation measures”, known by the acronym OECMs.

An OECM is defined as:

A geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in situ conservation of biodiversity with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio–economic, and other locally relevant values.

(CBD/COP/DEC/14/8).

These can potentially include initiatives such as watershed management areas, territories managed and used sustainably by indigenous and local communities, and the rangelands of ranchers and pastoralists.  To qualify as OECMs and be counted toward the CBD target, such initiatives need not have conservation as their primary objective but they must produce positive outcomes for conservation.

 

The potential of OECMs

In operationalizing the OECM part of the CBD target, the definitions, criteria and procedures developed to date have, of necessity, been written in dry, uninspiring UNese.  But that shell of dense, bureaucratic language hides an important set of ideas.  The global effort toward including OECMs in our collective biodiversity targets is an acknowledgement that humans and nature can coexist.  It is a recognition of the need to extend the values of conservation, stewardship of nature, and sustainability beyond the enclaves that we have created where we attempt to protect nature from us (the so-called protected areas)—to extend those values into our economies, cultures and lives everywhere.  OECMs imply that walling off nature to shield it from us is not the only way to protect biodiversity.  The collective effort to develop a framework for properly including OECMs in the global biodiversity targets is a call to the world community to move environmental values out of protected areas and to reincorporate them into sustainable landscapes everywhere.

So how do we realize the lofty aims of what OECMs are meant to be?  To make this a transformative moment, we need to go beyond the dry language of bureaucratic definitions and cumbersome criteria for determining whether or not an initiative counts toward the targets.  We need to ensure that OECMs have an animating spirit that addresses the human heart.

 

An animating spirit

We would like to propose that the principle of interconnectedness speaks to the way that humans relate to nature and can be part of this animating spirit.

The metaphor of the human race as a body and the individual people of the world as the cells of that body helps to convey what interconnectedness means.  The well-being of each one us depends ultimately on the well-being of everyone else, and the potential of the individual can never be fully realized if the body as a whole does not thrive.  Recently, the COVID pandemic has been a dramatic demonstration of the interconnectedness of individual and collective well-being.

Interconnectedness also refers to the integral interconnections between human beings and nature. Obviously we depend on nature for resources, for the air we breathe and the water we drink.  And we, in turn, affect nature—all too often, negatively.  But the interconnectedness of humanity and nature runs far deeper than this.  To put it simply, opportunities to interact with nature are good for the soul.  Philosophical disputes over whether we are distinct from nature or are merely a different kind of animal create a false dichotomy.  The human race is unique and it is embedded within nature.  It sustains us and we are inextricably connected to it.  Embracing our interconnectedness with the natural world leads logically to an ethic of stewardship, steering us toward appreciating nature and caring for it.

In creating and operating OECMs, and in developing systems to count and track them so that they become part of countries’ contributions toward the global CBD targets, let us keep interconnectedness at the front of our minds.  Let us deliberate not only on political questions such as how do we reconcile different stakeholders’ interests, and on technical questions such as how to measure our ecological footprint to know whether our conservation measures are in fact effective; let us also deliberate on what we can do to ensure that our actions and relationships manifest this interconnectedness.