International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • Date submitted: 31 Oct 2011
  • Stakeholder type: United Nations & Other IGOs
  • Name: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (1 hits), JPoI (0 hits),

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Effective Governance for Sustainable Development: Lessons from Nature

Nature is our life support system, benefiting all and vulnerable to the actions of all. Nature is local and global, requiring public participation in decision-making at all levels. Nature cuts across all sectors, yet most decisions affecting nature are made in silos by stakeholders with limited knowledge of the combined impact on nature. Governance of the three pillars of sustainable development (environment, economic, social) is still not integrated, four decades after the Rio Summit.

According to the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (2002) ?good governance within each country and at the international level is essential for sustainable development?. For the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) , the concept of good governance includes not only clear direction, effective performance and accountability, but also rests on strong ethical components such as fundamental human rights and values, including fairness, equity and meaningful engagement in and contribution to decision-making. Taking lessons from the interaction of nature and people, IUCN believes that governance for sustainable development should follow three principles:

a) Inclusive and integrated decision-making, giving civil society an effective role in decisions on environmental, social and economic sustainability;

b) A bottom-up / community-led approach, based on subsidiarity of decision-making and nested governance, i.e. empowering decisions at the lowest appropriate level supported by effective governance at higher levels; and

c) A rights-based approach to environmental governance, which protects the rights of the weakest and most vulnerable and enforces responsibilities for sustainability.

1) Inclusive and integrated governance

Governance of natural resources and sustainable development is shaped by norms, institutions and processes that determine how power and responsibilities over the resource are exercised, how decisions are taken, and how citizens ? men and women ? participate in development and the management of natural resources. The quality of these decision-making processes is one of the most important determinants of sustainable development. Sharing power, responsibility and benefits in natural resource management, as well as strengthening governance arrangements, including legal entitlements, to make decisions more transparent, inclusive and equitable, are good for people, for biodiversity and for sustainable development.

Coherence in national level decisions on the different dimensions of sustainability is an essential precondition for coherence at the regional and global levels, thus enabling global organizations to become relevant to local action. Overcoming fragmentation in the institutional framework and in decision-making is a prerequisite for sustainable development.

At the global level, there is still much to be done to strengthen linkages and to ensure coherence among organizations working to enhance sustainability. The World Trade Organisationīs Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) provides a good example since it has contributed to identifying and promoting the relationship between trade and the environment, with a view to promote sustainable development. While greater simplicity is needed in the international institutional framework, inter-agency coordination bodies and mechanisms, such as the UN?s Environmental Management Group, can and should increase coherence in their deliberations.

 IUCN calls on national and local governments to support efforts to address fragmentation and to strengthen the global institutional framework for sustainable development among others through:

o Building the capacity of, and linkages between concrete programs for inclusive and integrated governance ;

o Promoting synergies between the Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs) at the institutional and programmatic levels by enhancing coordination between UN bodies and environmental treaties around specific issues or clusters;

o Facilitating the streamlining of MEA reporting requirements and scientific assessment needs ;

o Rationalizing the meetings of MEAs and subsidiary bodies;

o Enhancing the presence of the environment within the UN system; and

o Promoting a strong, credible and accessible science base and policy interface, such as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), and securing sufficient funding for this purpose.

2) Subsidiarity and ?nested governance?

IUCN emphasizes the need to empower and strengthen local governance systems, as they are closer to the ecosystems and the livelihoods of the people who depend on them. Global, regional and national structures need to apply a bottom-up approach and respond to local needs. In line with the principle of subsidiarity, international governance structures can and should play a vital role in empowering local decisions on sustainable development since they are part of an international network of governance levels. At the national level, central governments must empower local governance structures including through the provision of adequate financial and human resources, and by allowing for their meaningful involvement in decision-making processes.

IUCN believes that such a model of ?nested governance?, linking decision-making processes at multiple levels, has proven to be most appropriate and effective. Governance institutions at all levels

? local, national, regional and global ? should be mutually reinforcing. As one moves from the local to the global, interests and agendas tend to get more aggregated. The challenge of nested governance is to maintain the agendas at a level of relevance that is mutually reinforcing.

Still, decisions must be made at the right level, as in the case of transboundary biomes and bioregions, which require regional level governance to achieve effective management of natural resources.

National governments should cooperate with neighboring countries in order to address environmental issues that cannot be solved at the local and national level.

At the global levels, efforts should be focused on responding closely to regional, national and local needs through, for example, capacity-building, the provision of scientific information, knowledge management or facilitating the transfer of technology.

 In the context of subsidiarity and nested governance for sustainability, IUCN calls on governments to:

o Decentralize to local and community levels whenever this is effective and feasible; and

o Encourage and develop partnerships with neighboring countries to strengthen regional cooperation and address transboundary issues.

3) A rights-based approach to good governance, placing civil society at the centre of the institutional framework for sustainable development Governance for sustainability is about people. It is essential to adopt rights-based approaches to conservation and natural resource management, including through the implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (access to information, participation in decision-making and access to justice) to advance open, inclusive, transparent decision-making and promote accountability at all levels.

Adopting a rights-based approach implies focusing on the need for civil society to exercise its right to access relevant information, to participate in decision-making processes and to have access to justice. Such an approach means taking into account the rights of those people whose human health and wellbeing can be affected by unsustainable development, such as forced resettlement, exclusions, economic and cultural impoverishments, impacts on livelihoods through contamination, droughts resulting from climate change, unregulated extraction of natural resources, etc. The rights-based approach also acknowledges the particular vulnerability of women, indigenous peoples and marginalized groups.

Underpinning the rights-based approach is the obligation of States, individuals and all actors of civic life to exercise their citizenship responsibly and sustainably. The sum of individual rights and obligations constitutes a system of accountability with human rights-related responsibilities of state as well as non-state actors, including the private sector, financial institutions, development banks, NGOs and environmental organizations.

In the context of accountability, corruption is a major challenge in the governance of sustainable development. Corruption is one of the main sources of unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, unequal distribution of wealth and, simply, poverty. The need for transparency to fight corruption is of paramount importance.

The rights-based approach (and Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration) includes rights, to ensure that procedures designed to provide access to information, public participation and administrative proceedings are respected and properly implemented.

This approach can also build capacity for self-organization and enhance the sense of ownership which, accompanied with the appropriate level of decentralization, will make societies more resilient to environmental degradation, climate change or other threats. IUCN is currently drafting a rights-based approach policy.

 IUCN calls on national and local governments to:

o Implement the Bali guidelines on national legislation and to include Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration within their statutes, rules of procedures or regulations;

o Renew their commitment to regional conventions relating to the promotion of access to information, public participation and access to justice, such as the 1998 Aarhus Convention;

o Ensure the enforcement of rights and responsibilities, by inter alia:

− Facilitating access to information, e.g. through the drafting or sharing of impact statements to ensure accountability:

− Developing international and/or national courts for environmental issues; and

− Broadening the functions of existing courts to include environmental issues.


Transitioning to a Green Economy: Building on Nature

Nature-based Solutions for a More Balanced Global Economy

The global economy has grown and changed considerably since the 1992 Earth Summit. It has seen a drastic rise in social inequalities and environmental degradation and has not helped societies achieve sustainability. Today, as governments around the world struggle to address rising public debts and unemployment rates, it is becoming clear that economic growth driven by a ubiquitous pursuit of efficiency gains and profits is no longer possible. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) believes that it is high time for countries to act collectively on the widely shared objective of reforming the economy so that it supports ? and does not undermine ? poverty reduction, ecosystem functions, and sustainable development. In the face of climate change, growing water scarcities, rising prices for food and energy, accompanied by an increasingly unstable and risk-laden global economy, the notion of transitioning to a ?Green Economy? has become increasingly relevant. These changes need to be ambitious and far-reaching, and should be elaborated in consultation with civil society, through platforms such as IUCN?s

World Conservation Congress.1

 IUCN strongly urges all governments to engage in a global transition towards a Green Economy, by:

o Developing nationally-appropriate reforms to economic planning, accounting, finance, and infrastructure development in order to eradicate poverty, sustain ecosystems, and deliver sustainable development;

o Providing enabling conditions within which private sector leadership and innovation can flourish and which provide strong signals that favor small-medium sized green enterprises and that marginalize wasteful, inequitable and unethical practices; and

o Making full use of the solutions that nature offers to tackle global challenges, such as climate change, food insecurity, natural resource scarcities and biodiversity loss, recognizing that investing in nature-based solutions will improve the resilience, equity, and overall sustainability of our global economy.

Resilience, Equity, and Natural Capital

In order to steer society towards sustainability, IUCN believes that urgent action is needed to make governments, institutions, and markets more responsive and adaptive to economic, social and environmental changes. In today?s rapidly changing world, resilience stands out as a particularly essential condition for sustaining economic development. The transition to a Green Economy needs to ensure that our economic systems are not only striving for efficiency, but that they also aim to build greater resilience into the social and ecological fabric that supports their sustainability.

A more resilient global economy needs to complement competitiveness with inclusiveness and diversity. The growing inequalities and power imbalances of our economic systems are not only unjust, but inherently unsustainable. A Green Economy transition must make economic development more inclusive and equitable. Promoting greater equity should become an overriding principle of a Green Economy transition. Hence, Green Economy policy frameworks must strengthen local-level capacities, skills, and institutions and should support participatory governance systems based on multi-stakeholder engagement, and particularly the engagement of women and vulnerable groups, as stated in IUCN?s position paper on institutional framework for sustainable development.

Resilience also highlights the socio-economic significance of sustainable ecosystem management by underlining the strong dependency that humans have on natural resources and ecosystem services. A truly resilient economy preserves and enhances its natural capital and invests in the restoration of landscapes to support local as well as global livelihoods. Resilient economies enhance the quality of life, and optimize the delivery of ?regulating? ecosystem services (e.g. water filtration, carbon and nutrient cycling, storm mitigation). A nature-based economy is one which thrives on these ecosystem services by empowering those communities who depend directly on natural resources and processes. Indigenous communities in general ? and women in particular, often play a central role in the management of natural resources. A Green Economy needs to recognize and value their role as stewards of our precious natural capital and biophysical systems.

 IUCN urges governments to consider resilience, equity, and natural capital as three fundamental pillars of the transition to a Green Economy.

Placing Nature at the Centre of a Green Economy Transition

There is no one-size-fits-all model for designing an effective Green Economy. In today?s globalized and highly interdependent economy, solutions require systems-based approaches to improving sustainability. This means going beyond a sectoral approach and single-mindset solutions, but rather developing solutions that embrace the complexity and interconnectedness of the global economic system. Current discussions have tended to place a strong emphasis on one specific aspect of the problem: reducing our carbon footprint.

While the focus on low-carbon development and resource efficiency is critical, and ongoing efforts to develop low-carbon action plans are a major step forward, they do not go far enough. Most importantly, they do not address the more fundamental problem, which is the unsustainable way in which our natural resources are managed. Water scarcity, food insecurity, energy dependency, biodiversity loss, and climate change are all manifestations of the urgent need to improve society?s appreciation of the value of our planet?s precious natural systems which cannot be extended beyond their limited carrying capacity.

 IUCN is committed to support the development and deployment of nature-based solutions2 Nature-based Solutions to Greening the Economy to greening the economy, and strongly encourages governments and businesses to keep nature at the centre of the debate to ensure that society can thrive on healthy ecosystems to achieve sustainability.

The capacity that humans have to thrive on the ecosystems they depend upon for their well-being represents a fundamental building block for strengthening socio-economic resilience. IUCN firmly believes that any transition to a Green Economy must be squarely centered on maintaining the biophysical processes that societies depend upon for their livelihoods. IUCN therefore urges governments to apply nature-based solutions to their Green Economy policies and actions through two main areas of intervention: 1) Mainstreaming environmental values into the economy, and 2) Investing in ecosystem services as natural forms of infrastructure.

Mainstreaming Environmental Values

IUCN joins those who recognize GDP as an inaccurate and insufficient indicator of human wellbeing, and expresses its willingness to support governments, and others, in the development of alternative measures of economic prosperity, building notably on efforts to go ?beyond GDP?3 . The recognition of the inherent value of vital public goods, such as biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides, and the incorporation of these values into decision making, is absolutely essential to building a Green Economy. Although there has been significant progress in strengthening the economic case of natural capital, notably through the global study on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), more work is needed in order to make sure that the main lessons learned are adequately integrated into policy and practice. An important forthcoming challenge will be the effective integration of ecosystem values in economic accounting systems. This is a commitment that several governments have already taken through Agenda 21 (Chapter 8, section D) ?Establishing Systems for Integrated Environmental Accounting?) and through the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity with its twenty ?Aichi Targets? adopted in 2010 in Nagoya by the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

IUCN believes that, by meeting Target 2 of the Biodiversity Strategic Plan, i.e. ?By 2020, at the latest, biodiversity values have been integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies and planning processes and are being incorporated into national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems?; governments will make a considerable step towards measuring the transition towards a Green Economy. The Global Partnership for Wealth

Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES)

In order to go further in correcting markets and implementing the deep changes needed for an effective transition to a Green Economy, governments must also comply with Target 3 of the Biodiversity Strategic Plan, i.e. ?By 2020, at the latest, incentives, including subsidies, harmful to biodiversity are eliminated, phased out or reformed in order to minimize or avoid negative impacts?? Government support for destructive and inherently unsustainable enterprises, such as overfishing and the extraction of fossil fuels, needs to be phased out and shifted towards activities which ensure a utilization of natural resources that is sustainable and which generates employment (e.g. sustainable energy, waste management and recycling, ecosystem restoration, sustainable agriculture and forestry, etc.). offers a strong foundation for further strengthening this important area of work.

 IUCN urges governments to take concrete measures to honour their commitment to implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, and in particular targets 2 and 3, which are key objectives of the transition to a Green Economy.

 IUCN urges governments to re-examine their economic indicators to identify those which can more faithfully and rigorously reflect the status of human wellbeing, and to make sure that the full value of biodiversity and ecosystem services is reflected in national accounts and associated fiscal and planning policies. Investing in Ecosystem Services

The transition to a Green Economy needs to be built on a stronger appreciation of the role of healthy ecosystems in supporting local livelihoods as well as providing investment opportunities for business. Although their economic significance is commonly underappreciated, ecosystem services are essential for achieving resilient and productive food, water and energy systems. They represent the direct and indirect benefits that humans derive from biodiversity, such as the pollination of plants, the cycling of nutrients, and the regulation of water flows. Maintaining the capacity that our surrounding environment has to provide ecosystem services is particularly important for those communities and societies that are most vulnerable to risks, such as those heavily affected by a changing climate (e.g. flooding, droughts, sea-level rise, storm damage, etc.).

Biodiversity and ecosystems play a particularly critical role in supporting water infrastructure. Conventional water investments, however, too often ignore the economic importance of water basins and ecosystems as natural infrastructure. Natural infrastructure can be defined as the stock of ecosystems providing services needed for the operation of the economy and society that complement, augment or replace the services provided by engineered infrastructure. The traditional and cumulative practices of building hard engineering structures to support failing slopes, prevent beach erosion or contain river systems, are not necessarily improving the integrity of the ecosystem. In fact, they might be impairing the ability of ecosystems to deliver critically needed services.

Our economies need to support the people who manage their resources sustainably. Addressing the tragedy of hunger and malnutrition, which affects close to one billion people worldwide, will require the deployment of economic systems based on productive and resilient food systems. Improving agricultural support services for women, who play a central role in supporting food security, is one example of the type of investment needed to strengthen the resilience of our socio-economic systems.

In relation to energy, many of the solutions towards a low-carbon economy depend on coastal, river, and forest ecosystems as sources of energy. IUCN urges governments to not only reduce the impact of energy production on the environment, but also ensure they maintain nature?s ability to provide sustainable and renewable sources of energy, for instance by conserving and restoring upstream forest ecosystems that regulate water flows used for hydroelectric power. Overall, investments in strengthening food, water, energy and human security need to recognize the importance of using innovative solutions thinking to find the right balance between natural and built infrastructure. Given the right policy frameworks, investments made in building resilience through natural infrastructure are highly cost-effective, due notably to the multiple benefits (low maintenance costs, alternate and diverse livelihood sources, carbon sequestration), its multi-functionality (ecosystems respond to many needs i.e. water and energy supply, food security as well as touristic/leisure-related activities, etc.) and the opportunity it provides for poverty reduction.

 IUCN urges governments to support investments in natural infrastructure and ecological restoration and to facilitate the creation of jobs through the development of markets which value the regulatory services provided by ecosystems.

 IUCN urges governments to meet Target 115

 IUCN urges governments to adopt and implement the recommendations made following the mid-term review of the Hyogo Framework for Action of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and to use protected areas as a means of preserving the ecosystem services that are enjoyed in the broader landscapes and seascapes.

 IUCN strongly encourages governments to develop appropriate economic tools, incentives, and policies, including Payments for Ecosystem Services, in order to fully account for the benefits of ecosystems and water/food/energy security for livelihoods and sustainable development.
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