6 Conclusions and Outlook

The goal of applying a rights-based approach (RBA) to conservation is to ensure equity – or in a “simpler” word, justice – within but also through nature conservation. At the same time, an RBA to conservation shall promote conservation efficiency and conservation effectiveness through greater respect for people's rights in all public or private activities related to the environment (including the development and implementation of policies, legislation, programmes, projects, and actions), which will lead to their greater support and acceptance by all stakeholders.

Based on this understanding, an RBA to conservation is perfectly in line with the vision of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which aims for “a just world that values and conserves nature by influencing, encouraging and assisting societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable”.1 This correlation between the goal of an RBA to conservation and the vision and mission of IUCN is underlying IUCN Resolution 4.056 “Rights-based approaches to conservation”,2 which was adopted by the IUCN membership at the Fourth IUCN World Conservation Congress held 5–14 October 2008 in Barcelona, Spain.

I The Step-wise Approach as a Benchmark or Standard

In the case of an official adoption of an RBA to conservation by States, State agencies, conservationists, land owners and occupiers, scientists, private industries, and other resource users (as requested by IUCN Resolution 4.056),3 an RBA will be used by these diverse players in order to integrate rights into their different types of environment-related actions. In this context, it is important to understand that the RBA is a process rather than a goal. As mentioned above, the goal of an RBA to conservation is to harmonize all environment-related activities, including those undertaken in the name of nature conservation, and people's rights in order to ensure equity and nature conservation. The RBA itself is a possible tool that will help achieve this goal.

However, a major challenge for all actors is how to put such a policy statement into practice. Confusion about terminology – for example, whether it is a rights-based approach or rights-based approaches, or whether it is a human rights-based approach or a rights-based approach in general – can turn out to be counterproductive for reaching the RBA to conservation goal. Also, disputes among the different players and stakeholders about the specific requirements and obligations of applying an RBA to conservation can lead to high transaction costs, legal uncertainty, lack of transparency, and in the end barriers to the accomplishment of the goal. The step-wise approach for applying an RBA to conservation, as presented in Chapter 2, is one way to shed light on this issue and promote a standardization of the RBA process that could help overcome the barriers and turn theory into practice.

As shown in the Chapters 3, 4, and 5, the step-wise approach provides a comprehensive and logical framework that has the potential to strengthen the coherence of thinking and programming. If implemented correctly, it ensures proper identification as well as clarification of relevant rights and allows a change from concepts with unclear rights/value systems to a standard process with increased clarity and coherence. At the same time, it provides for certain recourses in order to support the progressive realization of these rights according to applicable principles. The step-wise approach could thus serve as a benchmark for evaluating the “quality” of any RBA to conservation activities undertaken by different actors.

Going a bit further, the step-wise approach could also be promoted as a standardized process. Nevertheless, when talking about standardization of the RBA to conservation process, it must be remembered that the decision makers who are supposed to go through this process are so diverse that it is scarcely possible to propose a full-fledged step-wise approach that foresees every possible detail. Such a rigid framework would also hardly be acceptable to all actors. But as Chapter 35 indicate, the step-wise approach can be adjusted to all kinds of subject matters – from climate change mitigation to community forest conservation and the creation of protected areas – as well as to issues not analysed in this publication, such as water resources management and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. This flexibility is an important characteristic that allows the step-wise approach to be incorporated into all environment-related activities, such as the development and implementation of policies, legislation, and project activities at both international and national levels. It thus has a great potential to be accepted by all kinds of players not only as a benchmark but as a standard to follow.

Another challenge that all actors face when trying to harmonize conservation and people's rights is how to be sure that all rights that need to be respected are actually taken into consideration. Social, political, and legal rights can differ from country to country, and even from one location to another within a country. While the step-wise approach per se does not provide an easy answer in the form of a simple list of rights that need to be respected in each individual case, it nevertheless offers a process for identifying the relevant rights at stake and ensuring that these rights are properly balanced against each other and against conservation interests. After the identification of people's rights has taken place, the list of recognized human rights (see Chapter 2) can serve as another benchmark in order to test whether an appropriate rights standard has been met.

Regardless of whether the step-wise approach is accepted as a benchmark or as a standard process, another important issue is how the application of an RBA to conservation can be further encouraged and, if necessary, enforced. In this context, awareness raising and further learning are key, as discussed in the next section. Furthermore, different triggers could be used to encourage a comprehensive application of RBA to conservation, as suggested in the step-wise approach.

A first trigger can be seen in the development of RBA policies. Such policies can be adopted by all relevant actors, the public sector, private business, and also nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) representing civil society. These policies can be developed in different forms – for example, national RBA policies as well as government support programmes, corporate social responsibility standards, and common institutional principles developed jointly by NGOs. These policies could directly introduce the step-wise approach or at least use it as a benchmark during the development phase.

While the development of such policies is a vital first step, it is important to complement these “voluntary” standards with “mandatory” requirements to apply the different steps and actions of the step-wise approach, or at least to test all environment-related activities against this benchmark. Such mandatory requirements can be included in existing laws on strategic environmental assessment or environmental impact assessment, or even in standalone laws requiring a social impact assessment. For this, existing legislation would usually need to be reviewed and, if necessary, revised, in order to meet the “standard” set by the step-wise approach for applying an RBA to conservation. If such laws do not yet exist, the step-wise approach could guide the drafting of new laws.

The value-added of making use of such legal instruments is that they:

II An RBA to Conservation Clearing-house as a Platform for Learning

As mentioned earlier, encouraging a comprehensive application of an RBA to conservation will require further efforts to raise awareness as well as to build capacities for an RBA to conservation. IUCN Resolution 4.056 clearly stresses this need within the conservation community and its partners and requests IUCN “to engage with IUCN's members, representatives of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and other relevant partners to:

(a) facilitate exchange of experiences, methods, and tools on rights-based approaches to conservation;

(b) develop greater understanding and capacity for rights-based approaches;

(c) actively promote and support the adoption and implementation of such approaches”.4

A logical response to this request is the development of an “RBA to conservation clearing-house”, which should be available free of charge on the internet. The aim of establishing such a clearinghouse is first of all to provide a “one-stop shop”, meaning a central point for collecting and sharing relevant information on an RBA to conservation. Developing the clearing-house as an online tool will ensure that a wide range of stakeholders around the world can be reached who need to have easy access to the information and the opportunity to learn and make use of it. In addition, providing a central online platform for all stakeholders to contribute to and share information on will be critical in order to have everyone helping to analyse the very dispersed information about an RBA to conservation. Furthermore, creating a central point of information that can grow interactively will increase the chances of this tool being accepted by all relevant actors.

In order to fully understand the need for and niche of such a clearing-house, it is important to recall that the issue of a rights-based approach has mostly been addressed in the development and business context, but the concept is still rather new to conservation. So far, no web-based information platform concentrates on an RBA to conservation, provides a comprehensive understanding of the topic, and facilitates its promotion in the international environmental policy arenas or its implementation at national and local levels.

Again, when building the clearing-house the step-wise approach for applying an RBA to conservation as described in Chapter 2 can be very helpful. This approach offers a logical, cross-sectoral structure around which the information platform could be built and that could be used to:

It can be concluded that an RBA to conservation can be seen as a systematic process through which rights of all stakeholders are respected or, in the case of conflicting rights, are at least considered and balanced in decision-making processes according to reasonable criteria.

The different steps and action points of the suggested step-wise approach to applying an RBA to conservation can be seen as possible components of future instruments that aim at promoting the linking of people's rights (in particular, human rights), nature conservation, and poverty reduction strategies. Or the different steps and action points could be used as indicators that will allow decision makers to evaluate whether their activities fully or at least partly comply with RBA requirements.

Taking the step-wise approach to applying an RBA to conservation serious will not per se mean achieving all the goals on conservation and rights agendas. But it will help disqualify activities that fail to achieve conservation objectives simply because rights concerns have been ignored, and vice versa.

While the step-wise approach and its action points are surely not a revolutionary suggestion, they have clear advantages, such as standardizing language on an RBA to conservation, being cross-sectoral, and providing flexibility on the different types of actions that need a rights-based approach, which will be crucial for the future promotion of the idea. The step-wise approach thus has the potential to communicate and clarify a rather new way of thinking that has to be integrated in the environmental dimension as well as in human rights and poverty reduction strategies.


1 See the vision and mission of IUCN at www.iucn.org/about.

2 See all resolutions from the Fourth World Conservation Congress at www.iucn.org/congress_08/assembly/policy.

3 IUCN Resolution 4.056 states under point 1: “CALLS ON IUCN's governmental and non-governmental members as well as non-member states and non-state actors, to:
(a) develop and/or work towards application of rights-based approaches, to ensure respect for, and where possible further fulfilment of human rights, tenure and resource access rights, and/or customary rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in conservation policies, programmes, projects and related activities;
(b) encourage relevant government agencies, private actors, businesses and civil-society actors to monitor the impacts of conservation activities on human rights as part of a rights-based approach;
(c) encourage and establish mechanisms to ensure that private-sector entities fully respect all human rights, including indigenous peoples' rights, and take due responsibilities for the environmental and social damage they engender in their activities; and(d) promote an understanding of responsibilities and synergies between human rights and conservation;”

4 Resolution 4.056 is available at intranet.iucn.org/webfiles/doc/IUCNPolicy/Resolutions/2008_WCC_4/English/RES/res_4_056_rights_based_approaches_to_conservation.pdf.

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