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, effectively monitoring the whole of CBD obligations, including that protected areas and OECMs must be equitably managed, is essential.  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.

Embedded within these conceptualizations of governance is a widespread set of assumptions that bear examination—assumptions that:

  • 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:  appreciation of the 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 that accepts current values and identities as givens 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.  On the other hand, when 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 form of unity which embraces and celebrates the diversity of cultures, and is an outcome of creating systems that embody our interconnectedness.

Let the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework be more than 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.


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