- A recently published horizon scan on community-based conservation identified 15 topics that offer opportunities to yield positive change for people and the planet, as well as provide insights on avoiding pitfalls in achieving 2030 global policy targets.
- These resulted from work undertaken over the past two years by a group of 39 conservation practitioners from around the globe, including staff at Mongabay.
- Community-based conservation has for decades tried to tackle these interrelated challenges with mixed success and, at times, counter-productive results, but has arisen as a promising and popular approach on global agendas.
Community-based conservation, which seeks to simultaneously benefit people and nature, is a promising approach for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change and socioeconomic inequalities. A recent publication identifies 15 key emerging threats and opportunities in community-based conservation. These resulted from a horizon scan for community-based conservation undertaken over the past two years by a group of 39 conservation practitioners from around the globe, including staff at Mongabay. The group, coordinated by Wilder Institute, analyzed input from a global online survey that received responses from 555 individuals plus 36 groups with a diversity of knowledge backgrounds spread across 109 nations.
There are several concrete steps and recommendations that can be drawn from the 15 topics identified. Here are just a few.
One topic highlights recently amplified calls for economic reform, or at least green economic recovery. Yet, green growth will not address the climate and biodiversity crises unless social, ecological and intergenerational outcomes are prominent in evaluating wealth. There are growing efforts to identify more comprehensive indicators of well-being.
Community-based conservation, already pursuing holistic conceptions of what constitutes “wealth,” can both guide and benefit from wider adoption of transformative, sufficiency-focused frameworks such as doughnut economics, convivial conservation and Buen Vivir, each of which consider environmental as well as human needs. A resulting recommendation to government bodies is to develop well-being budgets as, for example, done by New Zealand. Communities can be asked for input to identify the most valued indicators and underlying elements of well-being, specific to their local contexts.
“Strengthened corporate norms and standards” came up as another important topic. As regulators, investors and consumers pressure corporations to improve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) outcomes, private sector partnerships for community-based conservation initiatives may grow. Encouragingly, environmental reporting increasingly includes biodiversity impacts, and there are growing efforts to standardize metrics to minimize greenwashing. It is important, however, that safeguards are contextually tailored and reflect local sociocultural conditions.
The International Sustainability Standards Board would do well to mandate standardized metrics for ESG reporting that speak to the importance of genuine community involvement and respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities (IP&LC).
Investors in sustainable finance and the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) could contribute by exploring and connecting community-based conservation enterprises for potential investment; and by advising community-based conservation initiatives on the type of data and metrics needed, such as IRIS+ standards, to evaluate and demonstrate impact and become attractive for impact investing. Organizations that certify for social and environmental standards could do well to ensure that self-assessment and certification protocols are accessible to community initiatives and/or provide training/advice/pro-bono services to community-led not-for-profit/profit-for-purpose enterprises in the Global South that are seeking certification.
In December, parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) finalized the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). Target 3 of the GBF aims to conserve 30% of Earth by 2030, and parties agreed this is to be implemented with equitable governance, respect for IP&LC rights, and to accommodate genuinely conservation-compatible sustainable use. This target could expand area-based conservation beyond conventional protected area management and governance categories, for example, to other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs).
This is conducive to community-based conservation and IP&LC stewardship. While the target’s wording tries to guard against top-down, fortress-style conservation and promises to strengthen IP&LC rights, it may still drive such outcomes to the detriment of IP&LCs and community-based conservation, depending on how the GBF is implemented within national political and policy contexts. Therefore, it will be critical for parties and those advising governments on implementing CBD commitments to ensure that resulting national legislation and policies do not disenfranchise IP&LCs or marginalized groups but instead engage community-led organizations and community leaders in identifying appropriate actions, such as the designation of OECMs. Engagement might be modeled on guardian programs, such as the Reef Guardians in Australia or Indigenous Guardians in Canada.
Donors and funding agencies could do well to create or join networks of like-minded donors, e.g., the Environment + Justice Donor Circle, to share best practices, increase commitments to grassroots groups or pledge support similar to the Climate Funders Justice Pledge, which encourages transparent grants for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC)-led groups.
This recommendation stems from the topic advocating for conservation finance for grassroots and IP&LC initiatives and ensuring that funds are more accessible to the local level. Funders, as well as emerging markets and new financing mechanisms, such as carbon finance, biodiversity credits and debt-for-nature swaps, could be tailored to suit and reach grassroots organizations. Combined with capacity building and strategic support, these can potentially strengthen community-based conservation by aligning decision-making with local-level resources. Otherwise, grassroots access to resources will continue to remain rare, and top-down imposition of locally inappropriate conservation measures will continue to pose risks, reduce impact and efficiencies.
Based on the full list of 15 topics identified by the horizon scan, there are additional recommendations for diverse sets of audiences and players.
The research also highlighted a number of outstanding questions. Key among them is the need to shrink the time gap between communities engaging in conservation efforts and experiencing tangible socioeconomic benefits; and understand and accelerate how quickly and effectively community-based conservation initiatives can build resilience in the face of extreme climate events and other disruptive social, political and cultural changes.
Platforms to facilitate knowledge exchange and learning among different initiatives, such as PANORAMA, CCRN and Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange, known as CAKE, offer a first step toward identifying answers.
Esmail, N., McPherson, J. M., Abulu, L., Amend, T., Amit, R., Bhatia, S., … & Wintle, B. (2023). What’s on the horizon for community-based conservation? Emerging threats and opportunities. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2023.02.008