Sub-theme 9. Conservation, environmental justice and the commons
Reimagining ‘Commoning’ Processes in Biodiversity Governance
The ‘commons’ have long featured in biodiversity discussions, with biodiversity regularly framed as a ‘global commons’. Past research has developed the role of place-based Natural Resource Management and critically examined how and why commons are shrinking worldwide. However, there has been little effort to investigate how commoning processes can support new governance approaches. We seek to explore the productive potential of commoning processes to jointly enhance biodiversity conservation and social justice.
We intend to explore knowledge, narratives, practices, institutions and structures that enable ‘commoning’ spaces that enhance (rather than erase) bio-, cultural- and social- diversity. In doing so, we seek to connect various disciplines to move forward discussions of the biodiversity governance and ‘commons’ beyond time-worn solutions to the supposed ‘tragedy of the commons’ and simplistic solutions that seek to common in the name of biodiversity at the expense of other forms of diversity (e.g. through creation of strict protected areas).
This research is therefore interested in drawing upon diverse ideas and disciplines to consider how to (re)imagine commons and commoning of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in the current era? Questions that we hope to address include (but are not limited to):
- How have commons and commoning processes changed historically in biodiversity governance, and in what ways have emerging commons and commoning processes persisted despite or throughout historical developments?
- What ‘commoning’ processes contribute to biodiversity governance?
- How can commons and commoning be encouraged through new forms of biodiversity governance across scales while being sensitive to what is excluded and how?
1. Analytical Perspectives on the Truth(s) of the Customary Institutional Systems in the Radical Futures of Commons- from the Lens of Environmental Justice: A Case of Kenya’s Indigenous Pastoralist, Forest, and Fisherfolk People
Kenyatta University & Natural Justice, Kenya
Commons in Kenya’s indigenous people territories of life, as well as the traditional knowledge and customary institutions to manage it are facing increasing pressure and multiple threats. Literature contesting the truths on socio-political dynamics restraining commons governed through local institutional arrangements and how these are interacting with new institutional arrangements, are emerging but crucial gaps still exist. This paper; guided by the principles of environmental justice principles: public participation, access to information and access to justice explores cases of terrestrial and marine protected territories of life (inhabited by pastoralist, forest and fisherfolk people in northern, rift valley and coastal counties of Kenya, respectively) being earmarked for large-scale projects and investments under Kenya’s Vision 2030. The theory of ‘economies of anticipation’ (discussed in Cross, 2015) is used to understand how transformative institutional governance play out, and how it (re)shapes customary institutions, their associated meaning, authority, and legitimacy in governing of commons. The study raises critical questions and reflections on customary justice, institutional innovation, and sustainability, as well as the returns of other overlapping governance systems. It further reveals how the dynamics of environmental justice principles play a key role in influencing these institutional dynamics.
2. Atmospheric Commoning
University of St. Andrews, Scotland, UK
This paper puts three strands of thought into discussion on the question of the role of environmental conservation in biodiversity governance. The first strand is that of convivial conservation and its insistence that environmental conservation be pursued in the awareness of a dialectical integration of nature and culture (Buscher and Fletcher 2020). The second is that of Malcom Ferdinand’s decolonial ecology and his reparative gesture of worlding in view of what he describes as modernity’s racial and environmental double fracture (Ferdinand 2022). The third is my own related conceptualization of racial enviro-histories as tripartite, having emerged from the historical co-constitution of nature, labor and conceptions of race in the Caribbean (Collins, 2021). While Buscher and Fletcher’s work convincingly takes conservation to task for failing to address staggering biodiversity loss and accelerating climate change, it insufficiently deconstructs the Anthropocene’s generalized figure of humanity in its attribution of responsibility to ‘anthropos’ for these events. Ferdinand, on the other hand, proceeds by highlighting the formative role of race and colonialism in the ecological crisis. Yet, his work paints environmentalism with much too broad a brush, overlooking the various strands of ecological thought that have sought to integrate concerns for racial and colonial injustice into their rubric. Hence, I argue that a combination of these two approaches and a conceptual focus on atmospheres has the potential to act as a suturing, commoning space for blurring the nature-culture divide problematized by Buscher and Fletcher, and for mending the double fracture pinpointed by Ferdinand.
3. Biodiversity conservation through Re-Commoning of Himalayan Rangelands?
Ambedkar University Delhi, India
Rangelands have been historically used as commons by pastoralists of South Asia. They are managed by sophisticated formal and informal institutions nested in the local knowledge of the users. However, with the unsettled ecological debates on the role of grazing, they continue to be appropriated by the state-induced ‘green projects’, legitimized under the global conservation benefits.
Himalayan rangelands are home to a great diversity of pastoralist communities. Forceful evictions and recreation of protected areas as an exclusive site of access for local and global elites is a common conservation model in the region. In the Indian state of Sikkim, a grazing ban was implemented to ‘save’ the rangelands from pastoralists in the years 2000-2002. This study was conducted in Khangchendzonga National Park after fifteen years of the ban to understand the long-term social as well as ecological implications of the pastoralist evictions. I argue that the ban reconstructed the commons of the region, with a transition in access through elite capture, and changes in local livelihoods and local ecologies. While the commoning of resources in the region persisted, the historical meanings, access, and users of the commons stand altered.
This paper contributes a case study and identifies solutions for sustainable pastoral livelihoods and biodiversity conservation in the ‘re-commoning’ of the Himalayan commons with special attention to bringing pastoral voices to the centre while engaging critically with the locally important aspects of caste, class and gender.
4. Legal challenges and opportunities for coexistence: Building commons in rural areas in France and the U.S.
Université Panthéon-Sorbonne, France
Protecting biodiversity is so complex that it creates challenges even in France and the U.S. These challenges are commonly addressed by a top-down approach from the ‘urban’ center that is often rejected by rural communities. However, another path is possible. From a legal perspective, I analyze two governance structures that place local populations at the core: the Blackfoot Challenge (BC) and the Institution Patrimoniale de Haut-Béarn (IPHB). They are located in rich biodiversity spots where rural communities, mainly ranchers and shepherds, live next to protected areas. While the landscapes have been preserved thanks to their rural lifestyle, the arrival of large carnivores has created additional burdens. The BC and the IPHB include all the stakeholders and allow cross-scale interactions. They were set up to adapt to ecosystems instead of political subdivisions, and they have a social-ecological approach (water, forests, biodiversity, and economic livelihood). The BC and the IPHB were expected to succeed, but the results are mixed. Although there are multiple variables, I focus on Law from an external and internal perspective. In fact, without an initial top-down decision, large carnivores wouldn’t be there, but without the local community’s involvement, there are no sustainable solutions. Thus, the external aspects involve the legal incentives for biodiversity protection, the role of property arrangements, and the legal cultures concerning commoning. Regarding internal variables, we know that the relationship between government and communities is key to building biodiversity commons. I claim that since all interests are human-biased, we need to redefine how to represent environmental interests in the decision-making process.