Fisher harvesting aquatic plants on Inle Lake, Myanmar.

From Threat to Solution: Rethinking the Role of Communities in Nature Conservation

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Environment and Natural Resources | Biodiversity Conservation and Natural Resource Management | Natural Climate Solutions
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What needs to change to create the conditions necessary for communities to pursue sustainability? Michael Brown, Samantha Cheng, and Jim Tolisano propose a two step solution.

This post originally appeared on Mongabay.

Photo courtesy of Samantha Cheng.

The imperative for nature conservation has never been greater. A widely publicized intergovernmental report predicts extinction for more than a million species over the next few decades unless we drastically change human consumption and economic growth. This loss of species will threaten the global supply of food, water, clean air, and human health. Societies and economies will be drastically altered and depleted, especially for marginalized peoples who are likely to experience and suffer the consequences of declining ecosystems first.

Faced with the numbers, our combined efforts have not slowed global biodiversity loss, nor the progressive unraveling of our ecosystems and climate, despite decades of efforts to protect nature and billions in funding. Reversing this trajectory and achieving sustainability for both people and nature will require drastic and profound changes in how we extract, use, and protect resources.

However, there is a less obvious, though equally profound, change that must accompany this transformation: We must make changes to the “engagement” of frontline communities — those people who are intimately situated in and around landscapes targeted for conservation. These communities hold key leverage for the sustainable future we need, but the way in which they are currently engaged by conservation efforts is too limited, constraining any significant progress. We argue that the role that frontline communities play in planning and directing nature conservation must dramatically change to one of leadership over both the short and long-term. Solving this problem will carry us a long way towards sustaining nature in ways that can endure, and are the key first steps in a solution to the downward spiral we collectively face.

The relationship between conservation and communities has long been challenging. The historical legacies from colonialism and continuing power imbalances have produced a predominance of nature conservation initiatives driven by “outsiders” — in that, by and large, conservation programming in developing countries, where much global biodiversity occurs, has been driven by global priorities initially identified outside of these countries. Modern nature conservation practices may have evolved beyond this history, but this legacy still lingers. For example, while people, no doubt, pose the greatest threat to global ecosystems, this often devolves into a one-sided blame game that rarely reflects local perceptions, realities, nor needs. Blaming others becomes a road-block to more equitable, respectful, and inclusive efforts to find a balance between the needs of nature and the needs of people … Read the full article on Mongabay.

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About Michael Brown

Michael Brown is the former director of the Environment and Natural Resources Practice.

About Samantha Cheng

Samantha Cheng is a biodiversity scientist with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History.

About Jim Tolisano

Jim Tolisano is a principal at Innovations for Conservation and an adjunct professor at New York University.