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DEV Key Contact: Adrian Martin

Dates: 2013 - 2016

Project status: Complete





Forest conservation initiatives are often driven by motives that arise at national and even global levels. These motives include the preservation of valuable resources for the national economy, the conservation of biological diversity and, increasingly, the mitigation of climate change through enhanced storage of carbon in forest biomass. Whilst conservation is largely framed in terms of such global goods, there is increasing agreement that it should not harm  the rights of current people who live within or adjacent to those forests.

This research project aims to contribute to the challenge of reconciling the objectives of  forest conservation with commitments to social justice. To do so, the project is undertaking research to understand what environmental justice means to different stakeholder groups. What conceptions of justice are used by different local people when they make claims about the rights and wrongs of current forest governance? And how do these justice claims differ to the ideas about justice embodied in forest policies and projects instigated by government agencies and NGOs?
The project is conducting research in three main case studies in China, Tanzania and Bolivia, plus a smaller piece of casework in Venezuela. In each site we are researching local conceptions of environmental justice, for example what different groups of local people consider to be the fairest way of making decisions about forest management options, and what they consider to be the fairest way of distributing the costs and benefits associated with any intervention.

We are conducting mixed methods research in order to gain different perspectives on how people think about justice and how they make cases about justice in private and in different public forum. Our ethnographic methods include interviews to explore private views of environmental justice, as well as observation of community events and meetings to explore constructions of environmental justice deployed in public forum. We are also using Participatory Video wherein communities make their own films about environmental justice issues. The ethnographic methods are complemented by semi-structured interviews and experimental economic games which we use to test hypotheses about principles of justice derived from major ethical codes such as utilitarianism and rights-based justice.

A key part of the future  will be to compare our learning about local conceptions of justice with our analysis of the conceptions of justice employed in the conservation interventions in that particular site – for example with the prevailing national forestry policy, the rules of participatory forest management, or of REDD+. In that way, we will be investigating any areas of divergence and seeking to understand how this impacts on local receptivity to the intervention. In other words, we will be looking at divergence and convergence between different stakeholders' conceptions of justice and fairness, as a basis for understanding conservation conflicts and cooperation. 

DEV Researchers:

  • Bereket Kebede
  • Nicole Gross-Camp
  • Iokine Rodriquez Fernandez
  • He Jun


Selected Outputs: