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.


The growing interest in governance in the global conservation agenda

About twenty years ago, global biodiversity stakeholders began to take more interest in questions of governance.  At the World Parks Congress in 2003, the idea that protected areas could be governed not only by governments but also by communities or private actors was affirmed and embedded in a framework that made a distinction between the objective of a protected area (the protected area categories) and the question of who makes decisions for the protected area (the protected area governance types).  Not long afterward, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted this understanding, clarifying that conservation could be carried out, and the Convention’s protected area targets achieved, through “diversified types of governance” (  The statement included in the CBD’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets in 2010 included the phrase that protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) were to be “effectively and equitably managed”.  The “equitably managed” part of this Aichi Target no. 11 was a recognition, however brief and incomplete, that questions of governance are important in the pursuit of conservation.


Recognition in the IUCN Protected Areas Matrix of diverse models of governance

Source: Dudley, N. (editor).  2008. Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.  URL:


Governance refers to the various ways, both formal and informal, that organizations, communities, and societies manage their common affairs, accommodate diverse and sometimes conflicting interests, make collective decisions, and take cooperative action.  Governance is about who decides and how they decide and how citizens and other stakeholders are able to participate and have a say.

Directly or indirectly, most failures in conservation, management of ecosystems and natural resources, and the pursuit of sustainable development are failures in governance.  When governance is flawed, the decisions that result will also be flawed.  When the structures and processes of governance are not inclusive, when they are disconnected from learning and knowledge, or when they serve narrow motives, they produce decisions that are shortsighted, naïve, misguided, or unjust.  When, for instance, we sacrifice healthy ecosystems that provide food, raw materials, and clean air and water in favor of short-term interests; when we fragment ecosystems from each other, and ourselves from those ecosystems; and when we sever people who have effectively managed ecosystems for centuries from those ecosystems in order to create protected enclaves to be managed by state bureaucracies, we are seeing failures in governance.


Targets and indicators for governance in biodiversity conservation

Aichi Biodiversity Target 11


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 (

While attention to matters of governance has grown over the years and is greater now than it was thirty years ago, within the CBD that attention has been, on the whole, sporadic and half-hearted.  This can be seen, for example, in how governance has been treated in the operationalization of the CBD’s targets and indicators.  The targets and indicators are a key aspect of how the CBD functions.  A case in point is the monitoring of Aichi Target 11.  In operationalizing that target, far more work has gone into defining, measuring, and reporting on the spatial percentages than into the question of whether protected areas are “effectively and equitably managed”.  The national governments of the world report their accomplishments in creating protected areas with little explicit attention from the CBD to issues of equity for those protected areas.

Now, with the CBD’s last strategic planning cycle having reached its conclusion and the new post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) being developed, there is an opportunity to make an improvement in the targets and indicators.  However, in discussions in social media and occasional reports in international news media, the focus of attention has been on the push to raise the spatial target to 30% of the planet—there has been far less attention given to how that 30% of the earth will be governed and by whom.

Moreover it is somewhat worrying that in the latest draft of the post-2020 GBF, the spatial target for protected areas and OECMs, unlike the previous Aichi Target No. 11, is divorced from wording around equitable management.  In commenting on how spatial targets are framed in the “zero draft”, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an organization composed of government and civil society organizations from around the world, has observed “with concern that considerations for human rights within the framework have not been adequately addressed”. [i]


Going beyond mere “benefit-sharing”

There are references elsewhere in the draft to participation, a rights-based approach, and recognition of indigenous rights.  Yet on the whole, the dimension of governance that seems to get the most attention in the draft—much more attention than questions about who actually makes the key decisions—is the sharing of benefits from conservation.

Care must be taken to not reduce governance to questions of benefit-sharing.  Taking governance seriously in the post-2020 GBF implies beefing up the targets and indicators that set minimum standards for equitable governance, and ensuring that such minimum standards address more than just benefit-sharing.  Targets and indicators are needed regarding the respect for human rights in conservation activities and equity in matters of who decides and how they decide.

The most effective way to provide for equitable sharing of benefits with the indigenous peoples and local communities whose approaches to living with nature have enabled it to persist will be to ensure that they are in the driver’s seat for more and more of the world’s protected areas and OECMs.  Here, another suggestion from the IUCN is helpful.  Where the draft says “Promote the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities in the implementation of this framework”, it could instead read, “Ensure the full and effective participation and leadership” of these people [ii].  The framework for assessing achievement of the spatial targets should, moreover, robustly demand that minimum standards of human rights and just governance are observed through principles such as free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

It must also be acknowledged that governance is complex and multidimensional, and that assessing governance is not a straightforward task.  Resource constraints are not likely to allow for a system of external, objective assessment of the many dimensions of governance of the protected areas and OECMs around the world.  That is to say, a global system in which independent observers are sent to objectively investigate, assess, and deliver a verdict on the governance and human rights status of protected and conserved areas everywhere is not going to happen any time soon.  It has been suggested, therefore, that if as a global community we want to have indicators that focus attention on the various dimensions of governance more comprehensively, then it will need to be a perceptions-based system of self-assessment by protected area managers and other interested stakeholders [iii].  This is an approach that could be put into place relatively quickly and without huge costs.

While this kind of perceptions-based assessment carried out by park authorities or other government officials might appear inadequate, it could nevertheless be useful.  Firstly, if such reporting were to be built into the post-2020 GBF, it would direct attention to governance issues.  Furthermore, by compelling authorities to publicly comment on issues of governance and equity related to protected areas and OECMs, it would help other stakeholders to bring such issues out into the open for public deliberation.  More importantly, a simple set of perceptions-based governance indicators could also be assessed by local communities and civil society organizations.  A reporting system within the CBD could allow for all categories of stakeholders—especially local communities—to provide their assessments independently of state conservation agencies and have them made publicly available to local, national and international audiences. Having different stakeholders all participate in assessing such indicators could then become a catalyst for dialogue.


Biodiversity targets and indicators as tools for transformative governance

This brings us to our main point.  What is needed in the pursuit of sustainability is not simply good governance; we need a transformation in governance.  The kind of robust monitoring framework for minimum governance standards discussed above is urgently needed.  However, the targets, indicators and monitoring system for the post-2020 GBF should be more than just a safeguard for human rights and just and effective governance, as important as those are; we should be looking to the monitoring framework to serve as a lever towards a transformation in governance and a transformation in people’s relationship with nature.

Transformative governance requires profound and ongoing deliberation.  One way for the CBD’s monitoring framework to contribute to transformative governance, therefore, is to use the targets and indicators of that framework to stimulate dialogue and the building of trust between government, indigenous and local communities, and other stakeholders.

Transformative governance also requires that the structures and processes of governance not simply mediate amongst various conflicting values, interests and identities, but that they take an active role in shaping new shared values and a new shared culture founded on the principles of justice, recognition of humanity’s interconnectedness with nature, and unity in diversity.  Among such perceptions-based governance indicators could be a set of questions through which stakeholders consider whether and to what extent the governance arrangements for protected areas and OECMs (a) are fair and (b) contribute to creating these kinds of shared values.

For example, indicators such as the following, each of them assessed by various stakeholder groups, might be included in such a system:

  • Local stakeholders groups gain or retain their rights in the establishment and management of the protected area/OECM.
  • A free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of local communities within and adjacent to the protected area/OECM has been obtained. [iv]
  • Systems of decision-making and management for protected areas and OECMs are helping to build trust among local communities, government, and other stakeholders.
  • The decision-making and management systems for the protected area/OECM contribute to the development of shared values among different stakeholder groups.

The urgent and heartfelt appeals for a stronger approach to conservation to be embedded in more ambitious targets are justified.  However, an exclusive focus on the spatial extent of protected and conserved areas distracts from the more fundamental problems of how we as human beings relate to nature and govern our actions.  Instead, at the heart of a new set of targets should be the effort to transform governance and transform our relationship with nature so that we can live in harmony with nature rather than needing to protect it from us.

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[i] International Union for the Conservation of Nature. (2020). Review comments on the draft monitoring framework for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for the Conservation of Nature.  URL:

[ii] International Union for the Conservation of Nature. (2020). IUCN Position: Zero Draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for the Conservation of Nature.  URL: and

[iii] Zafra-Calvo, N., U. Pascual, D. Brockington, B. Coolsaet, J.A. Cortes-Vazquez, N. Gross-Camp, I. Palomo, N.D. Burgess.  2017.  Towards an indicator system to assess equitable management in protected areas. Biological Conservation, 211, 134–141.  URL:

[iv]  The first two bullets are adapted from Zafra-Calvo et al. (ibid).