A social justice framework for conservation


    UEA researchers are informing the global pursuit for equity and justice in protected area governance and supporting progress towards autonomy for indigenous territories in Bolivia.

    The desire to expand Earth’s protected areas of conservation often comes up against social justice concerns, with the United Nations (UN) now acknowledging that such conflicts are a major obstacle when tackling the loss of biodiversity.

    UEA research led by Prof Adrian Martin and Dr Iokine Rodriguez has overcome this obstacle through the development of a social justice framework for conservation. It’s a framework which will enable global conservation to be informed by a more rigorous analysis of social justice concerns, prioritising the rights and livelihoods of vulnerable groups such as the Monkoxɨ indigenous peoples in Bolivia.

    The UEA team’s research findings have informed two key global initiatives, influencing international policy frameworks for biodiversity conservation and supporting indigenous peoples to make the case for indigenous territorial autonomy.

    The UN Convention on Biological Diversity

    The team’s social justice framework for conservation has informed technical guidance adopted within the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the first international agreement that covers all areas of biodiversity. The Convention was inspired by the global community’s commitment to sustainable development and the conservation of biological diversity, and the framework has helped define this ambition, its objectives and outcomes.

    In 2010 the CBD introduced conservation guidance for governments worldwide. One of the targets, was for protected areas to be managed ‘effectively and equitably’ by 2020. But while there was clear tools for assessing effectiveness, there was no clear understanding of how to define equity.

    So UEA researchers joined forces with the International Institute for Environment and Development and other key partners (including the WWF, International Union for Conservation of Nature and the German Agency for International Cooperation) to feed UEA’s research findings into technical policy advice and help define and enable ‘equitable’ management of conservation.

    Then, in 2018, researchers introduced the emerging justice and equity framework to the CBD. This included training on equity to people on the ground, working with the CBD Secretariat to provide more information on equitable management, and submitting a document detailing the framework to the July 2018 meeting of the CBD’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice.

    This document became a formal ‘decision’ at COP14 in Egypt in December 2018 and became a policy guideline for all UN states, except for the USA.

    The SAGE toolkit

    The existence of CBD policy advice in favour of using the framework was important, but now they needed to provide practitioners with the tools to act. So UEA researchers joined a consortium of conservation practitioners and policymakers to develop the SAGE toolkit – the Site Level Assessment of Governance and Equity toolkit – that would help practitioners apply the findings of the framework and ensure protected areas were governed equitably.

    The first edition of the SAGE toolkit was produced in September 2019 and piloted across eight protected areas in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Europe. Users told the team that the toolkit had filled a significant gap in their assessment needs, ultimately helping them understand what ‘good’ equity looked like. A manual for online use of SAGE has now been developed with five new countries already using the manual and six more countries in the process of doing so.

    ‘The current equity framework is an important step forward in helping to ensure that protected areas are governed equitably, especially as we are all engaged in the process towards a new post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.’ – Director of Global Protected Areas, International Union for Conservation of Nature

    A brighter future for indigenous peoples in Bolivia

    The communal indigenous territory of Lomerío covers 256,000 hectares and is home to around 7,000 indigenous Monkoxɨ. There’s a history of tension between the Bolivian government and autonomous indigenous territories like Lomerío and UEA research in Bolivia has led to legislative changes at a national level which explores these tensions and proposes possible solutions.

    The team have worked closely with the Ministry of Autonomy, Vice Ministry of Justice, the national representatives of the UN Environment Programme, seven different indigenous nations and various conservation and indigenous rights NGOs to build bridges and boost a shared understanding of the multiple dimensions of justice, including recognition of indigenous peoples’ own environmental knowledge and governance systems. It's the team’s more holistic and systematic analysis of justice issues that have made it much clearer that the Monkoxɨ people’s claim for territorial autonomy is strongly aligned with prospects for achieving social justice. UEA’s work has been crucial and has supported the Monkoxɨ as one of the first indigenous nations in Bolivia to seek political autonomy as a pathway for a just and sustainable management of its homelands.

    ‘The round tables and joint efforts have helped to build bridges between the Vice-Ministry and Indigenous Union of Lomerío. We continue to participate in the Lomeríano assemblies with the aim of strengthening their demand for territorial-based autonomy which will be prioritised in our work agenda.’ – Vice-Minister of Autonomies, Ministry of the Presidency.

    UEA research also informed the co-production of a history book, a film, and two participatory videos about injustices in forest management that are credited with making a significant impact on revitalising indigenous environmental governance practices.

    Beyond Lomerío, the social justice framework and other UEA-associated impact activities have helped a further seven indigenous nations in Bolivia strengthen their autonomy claims, each of which has the full support of the Ministry of Autonomy and other key stakeholders.

    ‘It has allowed us to have more visibility and impact as an organisation inside and outside our territory. They are our presentation cards.’ Chief General, Indigenous Union of Lomerío (CICOL).

    Read on: Studying ‘just scapes’, ClimateUEA