IU anthropologist urges collaboration with local peoples in creating climate mitigation policies

Post by Kevin Fryling, who normally writes at the Science at Work blog:

Large-scale, international conservation and climate change mitigation efforts must engage with the voices and needs of local and indigenous people, IU anthropologist Eduardo S. Brondizio writes in an essay published June 10 in the journal Science. The essay was written in collaboration with Francois Michel Le Tourneau of the New Sorbonne University in Paris.

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Photo by Kevin Frayer/Stringer/Getty Images

The paper was partially inspired in part by the Paris Climate Change Conference, officially called the Conference of the Parties in Paris, or COP21, in December, which brought new hopes and commitments from public and private sectors to mitigate climate change. Among the goals to emerge from the conference were landscape restoration, protection of watersheds, carbon sequestration and the expansion of renewable energy programs.

“This was good news, but it also raises questions about where and how such commitments will be realized. The types of cooperation between stakeholders, including researchers, needed to connect a complex matrix of ideas, goals, cost-benefit, resources and governance approaches,” said Brondizio, a professor in the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Anthropology.

A significant portion of international efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change focus on sparsely populated areas, he added, especially in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Northern latitudes. But Brondizio writes that the onus of these plans — in terms of costs and restrictions on local livelihoods or unfair distribution of the benefits — increasingly falls on the shoulders of rural and indigenous populations, whose needs are pressing and often not heard.

“Although we tend to think about sparsely populated landscapes in distant regions and corners of the world as encompassing small segments of the population, in many regions, in fact, they include large sectors of society,” said Brondizio, a member of the IU faculty since 1998.

About 57 percent of Asia, 81 percent of North America and 94 percent of Australia have population densities under 1 person per square kilometer. These areas comprise the world’s small towns, agricultural spaces and pasturelands, extractive economies, indigenous lands and conservation areas. Even in the United States, over 70 percent of the country’s continental area presents population densities lower than 10 habitants per square kilometer.

“The people of these regions are increasingly expected to take a growing role as environmental stewards, but often they’re simply struggling to survive, to protect ways of life and to find opportunities for their families,” said Brondizio, who is also director of the Center for the Analysis of Social-Ecological Landscapes and affiliated faculty member of the Ostrom Workshop, both of which help support his work on these issues. “If we want global conversations and climate mitigation efforts to succeed, we’ve got to do more to recognize the voices, cultural perspectives and economic needs of local populations from the start.”

If the voices and needs of local populations are not heard, it may foster potential conflicts of legitimacy between those who own, or are legally entitled to, the land and those who may impose rules on its use, he added. The absence of these voices “risks projecting climate change mitigation and nature conservation as environmental colonialism that will undermines the effectiveness of even the most well-conceived institutional arrangements to manage resources and greenhouse gas emissions.”

In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, where Brondizio has conducted extensive field studies since the 1980s, large-scale corporate logging, ranching, mineral extraction and hydro-electrical dams continue to expand despite over 40 percent of the region being designated indigenous reserves and conservation areas, creating “islands of cultural and biological diversity” that undermine their long-term effectiveness. In the Tibetan plateau, the Chinese government has imposed environmental restrictions on 1.5 million square kilometers of grasslands for over 30 years, including the resettlement of the region’s nomadic herders. Their environmental policies have produced controversial conservation outcomes, including potential degradation of grasslands and waterways, endangering rivers that provide water to 1.6 billion people.

Eduardo Brondizio

Eduardo Brondizio. Photo by Indiana University

There are also examples of local and regional conservation models that address these problems, which Brondizio said should be “valued and mainstreamed” as part of national and international efforts.  Collaborative networks such as the Global Landscape Forum, led by the Center for International Forestry Research, have fostered new ways to approach landscape governance that “bring together a wide range of stake-holders to share ideas, propose solutions and make commitments for the inclusive management of landscapes.”

Around the world, other approaches include integrated rural development projects, co-management of forests, grasslands and conservation areas, and programs that encourage multifunctional management of landscapes.

These new approaches to inclusive governance of landscapes and resources are urgently needed to meet the goals of projects such as COP21 — as well as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, a multinational treaty signed by 159 states and the European Union to increase the planet’s protected land and inland waters by over 3 million square kilometers over the next four years.

“Amid the superlative financial commitments to technological innovations and carbon compensation announced at COP21 in Paris, the social dimensions of climate and environmental mitigation of vast sectors of the population remain largely unaddressed, unresponsive to strong local demands for political inclusion, service provisioning and economic development,” Brondizio said. “New forms of representation and collaborations involving indigenous communities — as well as farmers and ranchers and other stakeholders — are needed if the overarching aim is to achieve long-lasting integrated landscape governance. If local societies managing vast landscapes continue to feel as though they are not integrated into solutions involving their territories, the successes of these efforts will be compromised.”

Brondizio’s work combines field-based longitudinal studies of the transformation of rural and urban areas and populations in the Amazon with research on global change and sustainability. His current research includes analysis of social-environmental vulnerabilities of the Amazon delta and application of complexity systems approaches to analyze the coevolution of rural, urban, conservation and indigenous areas in the Amazon. He is also member of the science committee of the Future Earth program and co-editor-in-chief of Current Opinions in Environmental Sustainability.

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