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INTRODUCTIONConservation strategies and framings evolve (Mace, 2014). Successive shifts in frames, from valuing “nature for itself” in the 1960s and 1970s, to “nature despite people” in the 1980s and 1990s, to “nature for people” in the early 2000s, and to “people and nature” as the new century advanced, reveal how conservation responds to changing views, interventions, and research (Mace, 2014). As nations act to implement the new Kunming‐Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, we argue that conservation is now in a fifth phase that requires us to ask, “conservation for whom?” Climate change impacts (IPCC, 2022) and biodiversity loss (Dasgupta, 2021) coupled with social challenges from rising inequality (Hamann et al., 2018; Piketty, 2020) pose critical threats to communities around the world. Noting systemic connections between these human and environmental challenges (Berthe & Elie, 2015; Diffenbaugh & Burke, 2019; Hamann et al., 2018), the predominance of biodiversity in the tropics (Dasgupta, 2021; UNEP, 2017), home to the majority of low‐ and middle‐income countries, and the disproportionate impacts of climatic changes on the poor (Diffenbaugh & Burke, 2019), we propose to call this global phase in conservation “nature and equity.”“Nature and equity” offers an important and timely new frame that recognizes growing calls for conservation approaches to correct historical wrongs, acknowledge diverse voices, and center around the priorities of rightsholders and interested parties to deliver fair outcomes (Archer et al., 2022; Collins et al., 2021; Crosman et al., 2022; Dawson et al., 2021; Hamann et al., 2018; Reyes‐Garcs‐ et al., 2022). This recognition of the need for equitable conservation is powered by shared public concerns about pervasive global inequalities (Hamann et al., 2018; Piketty, 2020), social movements that draw attention to linked environmental and social challenges and solutions (Reyes‐García et al., 2022; Temper et al., 2020), and a mounting acknowledgment of the importance of human rights for meeting sustainable development outcomes (Kaltenborn et al., 2020). The “nature and equity” frame does not mean conservation actions are now broadly equitable. Rather, it reflects the emphasis conservation actors increasingly place on equitable solutions that promote a fair distribution of power, costs, and benefits.Equitable conservation also offers strategic value for meeting environmental objectives (Friedman et al., 2018). Recognizing local power dynamics and engaging with interested parties to advance fair solutions can increase community cooperation (Oldekop et al., 2016; Pascual et al., 2014), reduce conflicts (Pascual et al., 2014), lower implementation costs (Chhatre et al., 2012), and contribute to the sustainability of conservation interventions (Chhatre et al., 2012; Crosman et al., 2022). In addition, there is a growing appreciation of the need for, and conservation benefits from, partnering with Indigenous and local communities (Dawson et al., 2021; Sze et al., 2022; Tran et al., 2020). Thus, for reasons both normative and strategic, contemporary conservation actors are attending to who shapes and benefits from their actions.Biodiversity, threats to biodiversity, and economic inequality co‐occur in many countries (including low, middle, and high income) around the world, offering potential opportunities for finding shared solutions. Figure 1 shows how biodiversity (Panel A) and threats to biodiversity (Panel B) increase, broadly, as national income inequality increases. Though income distribution reflects only one aspect of social equity, and this association is driven by the biodiversity of vascular plants (Pandit & Laband, 2009), general trends emphasize the value of considering inequality when modeling national biodiversity declines (Holland et al., 2009) and attending to the economic and political pathways through which imperiled biodiversity and income inequality may be linked (Berthe & Elie, 2015). Further, countries with high income inequality, poverty, biodiversity, and threatened biodiversity may offer opportunities to address inequities by enhancing human well‐being through equitable conservation.1FIGUREGini Index by Total Animal and Plant Species (a), and Gini Index by the Proportion of Extinct or Threatened Animal and Plant Species (b). The Gini Index reported here measures the distribution of income across households within a country. A higher Gini Index score represents greater income inequality. Animal and plant species data represent all species identified by the IUCN. Extinct and threatened species refer to IUCN categories, including Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild, and Extinct. The size of the points represents Income Poverty, identified as a percentage of households making a living on less than $1.90 per day, with a larger circle representing a higher proportion of the population living on less than $1.90 per day. The colors for the points represent Income Categories, which are determined from Gross National Income per capita by the World Bank in 2020 (IUCN, 2021; The World Bank, 2022a, 2022b, 2022c). For a figure with complete country labels and a table with all country‐level information, please see the Supplemental Information.Joint nature and equity solutions, however, are challenging to implement. In some cases, conservation interventions may result in positive human well‐being outcomes overall, but may simultaneously increase inequities within communities either because of elite capture (Verde Selva et al., 2020) or because outcomes are dependent on a household's initial conditions and assets (Crosman et al., 2022). In still other instances, successful conservation outcomes may not need broad stakeholder participation; rather, they may hinge on the cooperation of elite leaders or only a small number of community members (Hamann et al., 2018; Klein et al., 2015). Within‐group inequalities can also have divergent effects on how communities may cooperate to manage natural commons and local public goods (Hamann et al., 2018).Thus, to better understand how and why conservation approaches that support nature and equity may emerge, this article scrutinizes five conservation programs in differing complex social and political settings. Drawing on insights from these programs, we identify a set of equity instruments that work in practice and demonstrate how different enabling conditions shape approaches to equitable conservation. We conclude by discussing critical considerations that can enhance nature and equity.INTEGRATING EQUITY INTO CONSERVATIONSocial equity can be broadly defined as the fair or just treatment of individuals or groups (Crosman et al., 2022; Friedman et al., 2018). Addressing equity may mean “recognizing” differences among and between communities affected by conservation, their practices, rights, and knowledge systems; expanding “procedures” that strengthen participatory decision‐making and community leadership; or addressing the “distributional impacts” of interventions (Friedman et al., 2018; Pascual et al., 2014), in some cases, broadly defined as improving economic outcomes for the poor (Hamann et al., 2018). Context, including the underlying configuration of power and wealth, influences different equity dimensions (Friedman et al., 2018; Gill et al., 2019; Pascual et al., 2014). This framework, which underscores the recognitional, procedural, and distributive dimensions of equity and acknowledges the influence of contextual conditions on each of these dimensions, offers a useful roadmap for integrating equity into conservation.Here, we identify how different dimensions of equity are addressed in practice by examining the activities of five programs run by The Nature Conservancy and its partners in Australia, Chile, Kenya, Peru, and Solomon Islands (Figure 2). These programs vary in their scope and scale. The Australia program works to strengthen Indigenous people's desire to exercise their land and water management rights (Walton & Fitzsimons, 2015); in Latin America, we draw attention to efforts to conserve temperate and coastal forests in Chile (The Nature Conservancy, 2022a) and sustainably manage artisanal fisheries in Peru (Molina, 2017); in Kenya, the focus is on improving watershed management around Nairobi (Schmitz & Kihara, 2021) and in Solomons Islands on reducing social and environmental impacts of mining, given its potential to become a key driver of economic growth (The World Bank, 2017).2FIGUREFive conservation programs with varied objectives use multiple strategies to integrate different dimensions of equity into conservation actions. HWB, human well‐being.Our case analyses seek to understand how conservation programs integrate equity into their programs. Thus, programs were selected to cover diverse contexts, scales of activity, and equity considerations in conservation strategies. Data were gathered through structured key informant interviews with program teams using a pretested questionnaire. Teams, who are also represented by several coauthors of this article, were identified through a snowball sampling strategy. While we did not directly interview Indigenous peoples or local communities for this work, several coauthors have multiple years of experience working with communities. We use the recognitional–procedural–distributive equity framework (Friedman et al., 2018; McDermott et al., 2013; Pascual et al., 2014) to catalogue different equitable conservation strategies deployed by program teams (Figure 3).3FIGUREDifferent equity instruments address recognitional, procedural, and distributive aspects of equity. Capacity building that supports knowledge development and reduces contextual inequities offers a fourth set of instruments. Enabling conditions encompass strong community connections, contextual local and Indigenous knowledge, organizational support and guidance, and external drivers, including financing and market opportunities.Each program integrated equity into its work for both strategic and normative reasons. Programs started with or progressed to focus on human well‐being and equity because either they saw opportunities to improve conservation outcomes or they were confronted with acute inequities that made conservation activities challenging. The Australian and Solomons teams, for instance, began with an explicit recognition of the role of local communities in achieving environmental goals. In supporting Indigenous land rights and women's groups, they saw strategic prospects to improve land management while tackling historical and contextual inequities. In the case of Kenya, women's participation in water‐saving infrastructure investments was initially low, even though women were the dominant water managers, leading to a gender strategy to strengthen women's participation. The Peru program was interested in improving the management of small‐scale open‐access fisheries, including through participatory monitoring and site closures. However, as community engagement in conservation was contingent on income security, the program evolved to focus on livelihood and distributive outcomes. In Chile, early efforts to strengthen participatory planning and make progress with communities on reserve management were further consolidated when funds became available through the sale of forest carbon offsets.STRATEGIES IN PRACTICEThe five conservation programs used different approaches to strengthen equity considerations in their work. Figure 3 identifies these strategies, with associated details provided in Table 1.1TABLECase study descriptionsProgram (start–end date)Conservation goalsEquity challengesEquity instrumentsStrategic partnershipsaEquity outcomesIndigenous Lands, Australia (2010–)Increase land managed for biodiversity and human well‐being outcomesIndigenous communities have limited capacity to exercise rights and make land‐management decisions while having some form of rights over large areas of land.Partnerships and networks to support the government designation of Indigenous protected areasCommunity‐based conservation planningSupport for Indigenous fire management regimesGovernance capacity and skill building for rangersMimal Land Management Aboriginal CorporationKimberley Land CouncilDarwin Centre for Bushfire Research, Charles Darwin UniversityIndigenous Land and Sea CorporationBush Heritage AustraliaIndigenous Carbon Industry Network Ltd.Tropical Forests and People Research Centre, University of the Sunshine CoastMultiple local organizations and individualsMore than 30 Indigenous savanna fire management for carbon regimes that recognize Indigenous knowledge and practicesExpanded Indigenous management of protected areasIndigenous Ranger programs increasing employment and incomeImproved economic and governance capacity to manage land and water resourcesValdivia Coastal Forests, Chile (Purchased 2003; new activities launched 2013–)Conserve marine and terrestrial biodiversity and cultural and carbon reservesPovertyHistorical dependence on reserve resourcesInsecure rights over resourcesWater and sanitation investmentsCodified marine and terrestrial resource rightsCommunity cattle‐grazing zonesIncome generation from reserve activitiesInclusive ecotourism microenterprises with a focus on womenNational Forestry CorporationNational Fisheries ServiceAgricultural Development InstituteDirectorate of Hydraulic WorksUniversidad Austral de ChileFORECOS FoundationIncome from ecotourism and forest/cattle/marine productsSecure access to homestead lands and natural resourcesImproved water and sanitationWater Fund, Kenya (2016–)Improve water quality and quantityWomen were a fraction of initial programmatic engagementWomen heads of households likely to have lower incomesGender strategyLarger subsidies to women farmers for water conservation measures, including “water pans” (lined ponds that capture and store rainwater)Nairobi City Water & Sewage CompanyInternational Fund for Agriculture DevelopmentGlobal Environment FacilityEqual participation rates among farmers adopting better management practicesArtisanal Fisheries, Peru (2015–)Sustainable management of wild fish stocksFinancial distress affected fishers’ ability to sustain responsible fishing practicesNo user rights to traditional fishing groundsFormal fishing regulations limited participation of fishersCommunity‐led planning and provided small grants, on‐the‐job trainings, and mentoring for its implementation (e.g., capacity building through pilots on commercialization designed by the community)Studies and fishers’ exchanges to guide the design of a new regulation for co‐management and rights‐based schemes for benthic fisheriesFisher groups participation in a workshop to revise fisheries regulationMinistry of Production of PeruCare Peru and Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA).TNC Chile and TNC Global teamsInternational experts (Chile and Spain)High‐end restaurant and middlemen with responsible commitmentsIncreased household fishery revenuesIncreased fishery association savings2021 national regulation recognizing the role of communities in the management of their traditional fishing groundsMining Policy, Solomon Islands (2012–)Improve mining management in coastal rural areasWomen underrepresented in land management decisions because of challenges posed by prevailing patriarchal norms and institutionsCommunity training on “What is Mining” to enhance participation environment and social impact (ESI) processesStrengthen women's networks to diffuse training in mining areasFacilitate community engagement with government and companies in a mining forumSupport women and communities to develop ESI submissionsSupport women to develop content, knowledge, and confidence to advocate for equitable rightsMinistry of Mines, Minerals, Energy and Rural ElectrificationMinistry of Environment, Climate and Disaster ManagementChurch of MelanesiaMothers Union Network (Diocese of Isabel)Choiseul Provincial Council of WomenWorld BankProvincial Governments (Choiseul, Guadalcanal, Choiseul)National minerals policy reflecting diverse voicesSome mining halted because of ESI and Free, Prior and Informed Consent processStrengthened individual and women's community groups capacity to make natural resource decisionsSource: Authors.aPartnerships expand beyond those identified in this table to include multiple individuals and informal groups and local organizations.Acknowledging people's history, rights and practices, and contextual inequities is a critical first step to forging equitable solutions. In Australia and Solomon Islands, Indigenous communities and women represent natural resource‐dependent communities who are often excluded from decision‐making over land management. Recognizing these inequities, The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with other civil society organizations, supported both the development of community networks and their capacity to lobby for changes in policies. Government policies that declared Indigenous protected areas in Australia (Hill et al., 2013) and laws that integrated community considerations in siting mines in the Solomons (Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification, 2020) were advanced by these long‐term strategic partnerships. In both countries, communities were supported to convene, discuss, and share information and make submissions to the government on land‐related legal changes and environmental impact assessments. Similarly, in Peru, data on self‐regulated fisheries, mentoring of fishers on regulations, written input on draft regulations, and discussions between fishery associations and the Government between 2018 and 2020 culminated in a regulation that recognizes small‐scale fishers’ rights to co‐manage benthic fisheries (Ministry of Production, Government of Peru, 2021). Such policy efforts represent broad and enduring approaches for enhancing recognitional equity.Conservation planning, when undertaken with communities, facilitates procedural equity. In Australia, a tool called Healthy Country Planning (Carr et al., 2017) supported Indigenous communities in articulating their aspirations and plan for the future use of their territories. Similar planning efforts were initiated in Chile and Peru. Additionally, when The Nature Conservancy in Chile became the owner–manager of the Valdivia Reserve in 2003, an important step was to codify and grant communities access rights to fisheries, grazing sites, nontimber forest products, and homestead lands in alignment with historic uses. In Peru, fishers were introduced to communication, financial, and conflict‐resolution strategies. A different approach was used in Solomon Islands where a core group of 40 trained facilitators reached out to some 6000 rural women and their communities (∼9% of the population) to create awareness on mining‐related activities. By building women's networks and knowledge and bringing them from remote areas to participate in national policy discussions (an approach similar to the strategy in Peru to advance fishery co‐management regulations), the voices of those impacted by policy changes helped shape policy development.Distributive outcomes, particularly in low‐income contexts, are tied to income and livelihood improvements. These outcomes were realized by lowering the costs of conservation to communities through improved access to new markets and subsidies that facilitated participation in economic and resource management activities. Program managers in Peru enabled fishers to increase incomes by selling a portion of their wares in wholesale fish markets. In the case of Chile and Australia, carbon offsets financed community activities and investments in, amongst other things, water and sanitation infrastructure (Chile) and fire management (Australia). In Northern Australia's Fish River protected area, for instance, Indigenous fire management practices, financed through the Australian Government's Carbon Offsets program, contributed to methane and nitrous oxide emissions’ reductions and to jobs (Walton & Fitzsimons, 2015). In Kenya and Chile, gender‐based subsidies and grants were critical in helping women heads of households build water‐management infrastructure and launch micro‐ecotourism enterprises.Addressing contextual inequities often requires capacity building. Conservation practitioners addressed capacity gaps through skill‐building and mentoring programs, some of which were requested by local communities, and others that provided topical information. Capacity development contributed to accounting and business skills among fishers in Peru, and technical knowledge on mining and facilitation skills among women leaders in Solomon Islands. Governance support to Indigenous ranger systems in Australia varied from creating new management structures, to strengthening governance capacity, to emphasizing cultural rules, and to supporting financial accountability.DISCUSSIONShaping equitable conservation solutions will require acknowledging the multiple dimensions of equity. Equity dimensions, while potentially aggregative, are not always mutually exclusive; for instance, stakeholder influenced policies that acknowledge community claims to natural resources enhance both recognitional and procedural equity. In most of our cases, a first step toward equitable conservation was recognizing differences within and among different groups, including between conservationists and local communities, which then progressed to addressing participation and procedural inequities. As programs evolved, they focused on distributive issues. Still, addressing different dimensions of equity is not necessarily a linear endeavor. In Peru, for instance, conservation teams started with a more traditional approach geared toward community monitoring of fisheries but pivoted toward livelihood enhancement as local constraints became clearer. Thus, the contextual interplay of conservation actors and stakeholders, as well as the broader socioeconomic and political context, shapes how equity is integrated into conservation efforts.Frontline conservation managers point to several enabling conditions that facilitate equitable solutions (Figure 3). At the local level, strong partnerships that empower communities to identify their own solutions, the presence of able and legitimate community leaders, and time to build trusted partnerships are critical for discovering and implementing equitable strategies. Low trust can have negative development outcomes (Keefer & Scartascini, 2022), underscoring its role in facilitating equitable conservation. Contextual knowledge is another important feature. Equity integration into program design requires a meticulous and shared understanding of people's needs, local institutions, and contextual inequities that may drive programmatic participation and distributive outcomes. A third key enabling condition is organizational support in the form of skilled teams and leadership, communities of practice, and guidance. For instance, internal organizational networks and guidelines related to Indigenous communities, local people, and human rights (The Nature Conservancy, 2022b, 2022c) helped several programs build their own familiarity with and confidence in addressing equity considerations. Enabling conditions external to programs include flexible donor funding for capacity building (Kenya), accessible market opportunities (Peru), and good government relations (multiple countries).Barriers to equity inclusion into conservation range from funding constraints to organizational skepticism about the benefits to conservation. Notably, well‐honed traditional blueprints for conservation may be untenable. This is particularly relevant in contexts such as Northern Australia, where Indigenous worldviews and time frames differ from those of non‐Indigenous government and conservation community actors. Complex social and cultural norms can also offer challenges. For instance, in the work in Kenya, several men opposed the idea of women heads of household receiving subsidies, and in Solomon Islands, women were initially prohibited and then reluctant to participate in networks because their historical exclusion from decision‐making contributed to reputational and safety risks. The programs we discuss addressed these challenges through targeted strategies and by raising flexible and longer term funding and engaging with supportive partners, within‐organization champions, and networks.The “nature and equity” frame highlights the potential for triple wins from equitable, economically viable, and environmentally sound outcomes. However, trade‐offs can emerge among different dimensions of equity (Friedman et al., 2018), among conservation, efficiency, and human well‐being goals (Hegwood et al., 2022; Klein et al., 2015), or across geographic and temporal scales (Gill et al., 2019; Hamann et al., 2018). In Chile, for instance, prioritizing community needs meant that they were allowed grazing rights in designated areas within the reserve. In Peru, implementing effective closures for octopus population recovery resulted in increased pressure on snail stocks, which was eventually ameliorated when fishers were able to raise incomes by accessing wholesale markets. While the probability of encountering trade‐offs is likely to increase as programs increase in complexity (Hegwood et al., 2022), trade‐offs can be better addressed if anticipated.Resourcing the management of trade‐offs and enabling conditions is a critical way forward (Tran et al., 2020). In most of the cases examined, equitable solutions required investments in human capacity and community institutions, increasing transaction costs to both communities and programs. Such costs point to the need for more inclusive forms of conservation financing. Additionally, as the example from Kenya suggests, community‐oriented investments need to reckon with contextual inequities that affect who participates and how outcomes are distributed (Gill et al., 2019; Hamann et al., 2018).Equitable conservation requires a co‐production of priorities and time to pursue collaborative approaches (Collins et al., 2021; Dawson et al., 2021; Tran et al., 2020). Often, conservation interventions have deadlines that are out of step with the pace set by communities, and power imbalances contribute to organizations managing activities based on internal or donor priorities rather than those of communities. Thus, a commitment to sharing power over decision‐making is vital. In addition, expediency, or the speed with which outcomes are expected, may be a trade‐off between equitable conservation and alternate approaches. Inclusive programs that lack the ability to engage with local communities over long time horizons also risk failure (Erbaugh, 2022). Thus, one tenet of conservation equity inclusion would be to invest in long‐term collaborative engagement between conservation programs and local communities, with potential intergenerational benefits.Our cases allude to the possibility of equity integration strengthening the resilience of conservation work and community partners. In Kenya, Upper Tana farmers are more resilient to financial shocks because the project helped build material well‐being. In Northern Australia, Indigenous control over land management decisions has resulted in improved capacity and momentum, ultimately strengthening resilience to shocks. In Solomon Islands, The KAWAKI Women's Network had been creating awareness about natural resource conservation, water and sanitation, and nutrition, including the role of traditional foods. These lessons appear to have helped communities when COVID resulted in supply ships being grounded, reducing access to commercial products. Improved economic well‐being and inclusive institutions (aligned with distributive and procedural equity) seem to enable communities to better cope with external shocks. Still, our cases do not provide conclusive information on the resilience of equitable conservation measures, an issue that needs further examination.Enhancing conceptual and empirical understandings of equitable conservation approaches can accelerate momentum toward nature and equity pathways. Future research should focus on systematizing knowledge from case studies, examining the effects of global and national forces, and measuring the equity impacts of conservation interventions. For instance, a useful next step may be to identify the range of tools available to address different dimensions of equity. Both science and local knowledge can be critical to discovering equitable solutions. In Australia, for example, scientific efforts, together with local ecological knowledge, contributed to estimating carbon benefits from Indigenous fire management practices; in Peru, social science studies clarified community needs; and, in Kenya, quantitative survey data revealed gaps in women's programmatic participation. “Implementation science” on how equity is defined in place, opportunities and costs associated with scaling Indigenous and local community practices, and the relationship between enabling conditions and equity instruments can clarify theories of change, provide contextually relevant information on trade‐offs, and generate new hypotheses (Friedman et al., 2018). Nature and equity science will also need to attend to macro influences that emerge from global markets (e.g., carbon offset markets) and national and/or intergovernmental conservation approaches (e.g., targets associated with the Global Biodiversity Framework).While our analyses highlight instruments available for integrating equity into conservation, data limitations and the complex long‐term nature of conservation interventions preclude any evaluation of causal outcomes. Rigorous causal inference methods that quantify the impact of equity instruments on conservation and human well‐being outcomes can provide lessons for practitioners about when, where, and how equitable conservation generates different impacts. Case study analysis and rigorous causal inference alike will require close partnerships among scientists, conservation practitioners, and Indigenous and local people, to ensure conservation science is aligned with equity considerations (Archer et al., 2022; Gill et al., 2019; Trisos et al., 2021). Investing in science, particularly social science and Indigenous and local knowledge, will be critical to advancing research in the era of “nature and equity” (Crosman et al., 2022; Tran et al., 2020).Our overlay of the recognitional–procedural–distributive framework on existing examples of conservation practice suggests that this framework can be useful to practitioners. It may offer a starting point for some conservation groups or broaden their approach to equitable conservation. However, it is not the only way to make progress on equitable conservation, particularly since our analyses are based on only five cases. Additionally, frameworks are useful if they offer strategic guidance, but become less helpful if used to nominally check a box without doing the deep work that may be required. This concern remains true for the equity framework that we highlight.CONCLUSIONS“Nature and equity” offers an important frame reflecting an evolution in global norms, strategies, and science related to conservation. The complex challenges posed by climate change, biodiversity loss, and the growth in inequality require potentially intertwined and durable responses. Identifying equitable conservation solutions is particularly important as global programs such as the UN Decade on Restoration or the 30 × 30 initiative to protect 30% of earth's oceans, waters, and lands seek to redirect resource use in ways that will have significant impacts on livelihoods and human well‐being around the world. 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Conservation Letters – Wiley
Published: Jul 1, 2023
Keywords: Australia; Chile; conservation; enabling conditions; equity; equity instruments; Kenya; nature; Peru; Solomon Islands
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