1 Introduction

In the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), clear targets have been set to achieve a number of goals, such as eradication of extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1), gender equality (MDG 3), and environmental sustainability (MDG 7). While these MDGs and their targets indicate strong linkages between human well-being and environmental objectives, they do not provide an instrument for addressing this interrelationship, dealing with its complexity, and ensuring that achieving one goal does not negatively affect achievement of another.

The concept of developing and applying a rights-based approach (RBA) to nature conservation could be perceived as such an instrument. The objective of an RBA to conservation is to harmonize nature conservation activities with respect for people's rights (in particular, human rights).

Figure 1: Visual Representation of an RBA to Conservation Objective

While linking environment and human rights issues is not a revolutionary suggestion, the RBA is a relatively new and evolving way of thinking about how to adjust legal and policy instruments in order to acknowledge and strengthen this interrelationship so that sustainable development can be achieved. The harmonization of the two dimensions – nature conservation and people's rights – and their integration through an RBA in all relevant policies, legislation, and project activities could even be perceived as concretizing or “simplifying” the concept of sustainable development, which covers a range of ideas that bring together environmental, social, and economic development.1

Figure 2: Visual Representation of RBA to Conservation Outcomes

However, implementation of such an RBA to conservation remains slow to date. As the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment indicates, continuous environmental degradation still adversely affects individual and community rights, such as the rights to life, health, water, food, and nondiscrimination.2 Countermeasures that aim at halting such degradation are often criticized for their negative impacts on people's livelihoods. Furthermore, the vulnerable communities of the world are both the ones that are suffering the greatest burden of environmental degradation and those least able to mobilize against rights abuses.

One reason for only limited implementation of an RBA in the conservation field is the current lack of an operational framework that would guide participants through such an approach. This gap is closely related to different interpretations of the concept among different actors and the absence of a common language that could be used to achieve consensus on what needs to be done and how. Thus further conceptual development and rigorous testing is required to determine how an RBA to conservation would look and how it could most effectively be applied. For this, it is important to start by creating a common understanding of affected people's rights and visualizing their vulnerabilities in different contexts.

With regard to the latter, climate change, forest conservation, and protected areas are addressed in this publication as they are currently considered as priority issues under the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), with clearly rights-related challenges. For example, in its expanded Programme of Work on Forest Biological Diversity, the CBD Parties invite all stakeholders to take into account the adequate participation of indigenous and local communities and the respect for their rights and interests.3 The CBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas also recalls that the establishment, management, and monitoring of protected areas should take place with the full and effective participation of, and full respect for the rights of, indigenous and local communities consistent with national law and applicable international obligations.4 Conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems generally have to be taken into account when developing and implementing measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change, which according to a Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is projected to have implications for the enjoyment of human rights.5

Against this background, this publication has the following objectives:

In order to achieve these objectives, Chapter 2 introduces the concept of conservation with justice through an RBA and suggests a step-wise approach for its implementation. Chapter 3, 4, and 5 examine how this suggested concept may be applied to develop law and policy in the context of climate change, forest conservation, and protected areas, where activities conducted by numerous actors have the potential of particularly negative impacts on conservation and livelihoods and where introducing an RBA might be significantly positive for both. It is expected that implementing an RBA to conservation in relation to the three topics will facilitate cooperation among the many relevant actors to shape policies, legislation, and projects towards conservation while ensuring justice among the various stakeholders. Finally, Chapter 6 draws a brief conclusion from the previous chapters and provides the outlook for future research needs and opportunities for promoting the implementation of an RBA to conservation.

Throughout the different chapters, the concern of the authors is to identify how an RBA for proposed and on-going activities can be used to ensure positive conservation impacts, effectiveness, and equity and justice. In this regard, an RBA to conservation – like an RBA to development – follows the principle that the realization of conservation goals (like development goals) should be accomplished in a relationship between rights-holders and the corresponding duty-bearers.


1 See IUCN, The Future of Sustainability – Re-thinking Environment and Development in the Twenty-first Century, Report of the IUCN Renowned Thinkers Meeting, 29–31 January 2006 (Gland, Switzerland: 2006). Available at cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/iucn_future_of_sustanability.pdf.

2 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2005). [Link]

3 CBD Decision VI/22, Annex.

4 CBD Decision VII/28, 22.

5 “Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Relationship between Climate Change and Human Rights” (A/HRC/10/61), available at daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G09/103/44/PDF/G0910344.pdf?OpenElement.

< previous section  < index >  next section >