Targets and Indicators for Transformative Governance in the Post-2020 GBF

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.

* * *

[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).


Transforming Governance so that Governance can Catalyze Transformative Change

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.

Our current crisis

The interlinked crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and land degradation are generally treated as a series of discrete problems, each needing its own measures.  While specific actions to address specific environmental problems are needed, a piecemeal approach will never be enough, because these crises are all part of a larger, more fundamental crisis.  The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, recently expressed it in clear, stark tones:

To put it simply, the state of the planet is broken.

Dear friends,

Humanity is waging war on nature.i

In a previous post, we asserted that we, the human race, need to transform our relationship with nature, and that in order to do that we need to transform how we think about governance.  Governance itself needs to be transformed so that it can catalyze transformative change.

In further exploring ideas here on transformative governance, we make no attempt to lay out a fully formed theory or model of what this would entail.  Indeed, to do so at this stage would be premature, for reasons we’ll return to below.  Instead, here we just share a few initial thoughts on what transformative governance might entail and what it would mean in practice, particularly with respect to the worldwide biodiversity conservation efforts promoted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the place-based strategies that form one of the cornerstones of the CBD: protected areas, and what CBD jargon refers to as “other effective area-based conservation measures” or OECMs.


Principles for transformative governance and their implications for conservation

We have previously proposed some principles that we think should be at the heart of transformative governance:  interconnectedness, appreciation of the nobility of the human being, and justiceInterconnectedness, for example, involves recognizing both the oneness of the human race and our connections to and reliance on the natural world.  An implicit assumption in how governance at the level of national politics is typically structured is that the human race is a battlefield of competing social groups.  The conflict and polarizing influences embedded in our political systems spill over into society at large, affecting how collective decisions are made at the municipal and community level and sometimes even within voluntary groups and other civil society organizations, as well as shaping social identities that are defined in opposition to other, enemy groups.  This vision of society as being made up of different groups perpetually in competition and conflict with each other becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Governance systems founded on the principle of interconnectedness, however, would aim to foster a form of unity that embraces diversity while finding common ground and strengthening the ties that connect us human beings.

Sadly, in the realm of biodiversity conservation, conflict between parks agencies and other conservation authorities on the one hand, and indigenous peoples and local communities whose livelihoods are based on natural resources on the other, is all too common.  Such conflict sometimes results from communities being forcibly relocated in order to remove them from newly created parks and other kinds of protected areas, and often also from those communities being denied the right to harvest natural resources and access traditional sacred spaces in those protected areas.  In the war on poaching, moreover, communities living adjacent to national parks are frequently assumed, often without evidence, to be part of the problem.  What is most worrying is that this even happens to indigenous communities that have coexisted sustainably with nature for centuries.

Another principle that we propose be placed at the heart of efforts to foster transformative governance is community-driven development.  The word development itself has become suspect and has taken on a variety of cynical, shallow, and purely materialistic meanings.   For us, however, development is a process through which individuals learn and take action together in communities to become protagonists of their own advancement.  It is inextricably linked with the cultivation of individual and collective capabilities that enable people to realize their full potentiality as human beings.  The starting point for this kind of development is at the grassroots within communities, and it moves forward through the creation of communityCommunity is the expression in culture of interconnectedness and is an essential component of sustainable development.  Where societal forces of materialism and radical individualism have undermined community, community must be reanimated, and where they have corrupted people’s relationship with nature, it is first and foremost at the grassroots that this needs to be repaired.

In the sphere of conservation, national and international programs, institutions and policies have a role to play.  However, the need for a mode of development in which individuals and communities develop their potentialities in a context of strengthening healthy relationships among themselves and with nature suggests that place-based processes at the community level must play a primary role.  This has implications for place-based conservation actions such as the ways in which protected areas are created, governed and managed.  It implies, for instance, that protected areas should only be created when local communities are full partners.  This is not about mere “benefit-sharing” from conservation or about simply consulting these communities about decisions that are ultimately taken elsewhere.  We propose that transformative governance requires that indigenous and local communities who live in and adjacent to protected areas and OECMs should always have a seat at the table where the decisions about creating and governing these spaces are made.

Furthermore, when the principles of interconnectedness and community-driven development are considered together with the principle of justice, it becomes clear that conservation actors and governments must learn how to embrace cultural diversity and recognize the rights, the cultures, and the institutions of indigenous people.  A transformation in governance for sustainable development must include a transformation in the way that protected areas are created, as well as redressing wrongs that have been carried out in the name of conservation in the past.

Learning is another principle that we propose be at the heart of transformative governance.  Governance that is built around learning and that contributes to building unity while embracing diversity would need to foster widespread interchange of perspectives and ideas through dialogue and deliberation.  This goes far beyond elected officials seeking input from constituents; the aim rather should be that more and more people become active participants rather than mere constituents.

This is why we suggested above that it is impossible today for us or anyone else to sit and devise a full-fledged model of transformative governance.  Identifying what transformative governance is will itself require ongoing dialogue in deliberative spaces from the local to the global.  It will also require a change such that knowledge is not generated only through formal conservation science but also through learning processes that happen at the grassroots.  Indigenous peoples have a wealth of experience and knowledge on living in harmony with nature and conserving natural resource heritage, but far too little is being done to mobilize this knowledge or to continue generating new knowledge at the community level.  If policies and programs for conservation can recognize and empower indigenous peoples’ conservation efforts and facilitate cross-fertilization between such efforts around the world, it would transform how learning for effective conservation happens, which in turn will help to transform how conservation is done.


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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, 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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