What is environmental governance?

Environmental governance is a topic that has received a fair amount of attention in the academic and applied literatures on conservation and environmental management in the last few years. However, there remains a significant amount of confusion about what governance is, how governance is different than management, and what topics and questions governance scholars examine. In this open access extended review in the journal Conservation Biology, I provide answers to these questions while reviewing Peter Jones’ book “Governing Marine Protected Areas: Resilience through Diversity“. Excerpts from the text of “Governing marine protected areas in an interconnected and changing world” follow below.

What is governance?  – “Governance is an umbrella term that refers to the structures, institutions (i.e., laws, policies, rules, and norms), and processes that determine who makes decisions, how decisions are made, and how and what actions are taken and by whom.”

How does governance differ from management? – “Although the umbrella of governance facilitates (or undermines) effective environmental management, it can be differentiated from management as the resources, plans, and actions that result from the functioning of governance (Lockwood 2010). The objectives of both environmental governance and management are to steer, or change, individual behaviors or collective actions and, ultimately, to improve environmental and societal outcomes. Without good governance combined with effective management, [environmental management and conservation initiatives] are unlikely to succeed socially or ecologically (Bennett & Dearden 2014).”

What topics do environmental governance scholars examine? – “Scholarship on environmental governance has grown significantly over the last few decades, ranging in ecological scale from individual species (e.g., whales) to resources or ecosystems (e.g., forests, coral reefs) to global concerns (e.g., climate, oceans). Specific policy realms (e.g., fisheries, agriculture, or MPAs) are also the subject of governance analyses and planning. Environmental governance studies focus on 2 central and interrelated areas: governance design and implementation and governance performance…Environmental governance can be evaluated either or simultaneously on whether processes are fair and legitimate and whether outcomes are socially equitable or ecologically sustainable…Disagreement remains about whether outputs of governance analyses should be descriptive or prescriptive.”

What questions do environmental governance scholars explore? – “Questions and ideas that have been taken up by environmental governance scholars…[include]: How are individual and collective behaviors shaped by different governance institutions? What is the ideal governance structure for managing people and resources: community based, top down, or comanagement? How and why do governance institutions change and to what effect? What decision-making processes are more socially acceptable and lead to better ecological outcomes? What are the roles of different actors and organizations (e.g., governments, NGOs, private sector, local stakeholders, and resource users) in shaping governance processes and determining outcomes? How can governance address interconnected social-ecological systems and interactions across ecological, social, and institutional scales? How can governance be designed to fit different sociopolitical and ecological contexts? What limits are placed on governance by different social, political, and ecological factors? What norms or ideals (e.g., transparency, accountability, trust) should guide governance? What is the appropriate scale for governance to occur? How can collaboration and cooperation be facilitated most effectively? How can governance be designed to be stable and also to adapt to mounting social and ecological changes and unpredictable circumstances? These are not merely academic concerns. Insights provided by answers to these questions would help in the formulation of appropriate, acceptable, and supportive environmental governance policies and processes, enabling more effective management and ultimately enhancing…social and ecological outcomes.”

The full text of the article can be downloaded from the blue links below:

Bennett, N. J. (2015). Governing marine protected areas in an interconnected and changing world. Conservation Biology, 29(1), 303–306. http://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12458 [OPEN ACCESS]

Ocean Grabbing: Robbing Small Scale Fishers and Coastal Communities of Marine Resources or Spaces

The following open access article on Ocean Grabbing has just been published in Marine Policy: Bennett, N. J., Govan, H., & Satterfield, T. (2015). Ocean grabbingMarine Policy57, 61–68

Dark TrawlerHighlights:

  • Ocean grabbing refers to acts of dispossession or appropriation of marine resources or spaces.
  • Ocean grabbing robs fishers and communities of use, control or access to resources, land or the sea.
  • This paper presents a framework to evaluate conservation or development initiatives for ocean grabbing.
  • Three factors, governance, human security and well-being, determine what constitutes ocean grabbing.
  • A systematic program of research into the phenomenon of ocean grabbing is proposed.

Abstract: The term “ocean grabbing” has been used to describe actions, policies or initiatives that deprive small-scale fishers of resources, dispossess vulnerable populations of coastal lands, and/or undermine historical access to areas of the sea. Rights and access to marine resources and spaces are frequently reallocated through government or private sector initiatives to achieve conservation, management or development objectives with a variety of outcomes for different sectors of society. This paper provides a definition and gives examples of reallocations of marine resources or spaces that might constitute “ocean grabbing”. It offers a tentative framework for evaluating whether marine conservation, management or development is ocean grabbing and proposes an agenda for future research. For a reallocation to be considered ocean grabbing, it must: (1) occur by means of inadequate P1020882governance, and (2) be implemented using actions that undermine human security and livelihoods, or (3) produce impacts that reduce social–ecological well-being. Future research on ocean grabbing will: document case studies, drivers and consequences; conduct spatial and historical analyses; and investigate solutions. The intent is to stimulate rigorous discussion and promote systematic inquiry into the phenomenon of ocean grabbing.

The publication can be downloaded from here or here.

Ecologically sustainable but unjust? Negotiating equity and authority in common-pool marine resource management

A paper titled “Ecologically sustainable but unjust? Negotiating equity and authority in common-pool marine resource management” co-authored by Sarah Klain, Rachelle Beveridge and myself was just published in Ecology & Society. The article asks: a) whether natural resource management can be ecologically sustainable but unjust at the same time, and b) if distribution of harvesting rights and socio-economic benefits and inclusion in management is unfair, how might access to resources and governance institutions be re-oriented. We explore these questions through a case study of indigenous peoples’ involvement in commercial sea cucumber and geoduck fisheries on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada using Elinor Ostrom’s social-ecological systems framework and common pool resource design principles.

Central Coast Fishing Boat

Klain, S., Beveridge, R, Bennett, N.J. (2014). Ecologically sustainable but unjust? Negotiating equity and authority in common-pool marine resource management. Ecology & Society 19(4), 52.

ABSTRACT: Under appropriate conditions, community-based fisheries management can support sound resource stewardship, with positive social and environmental outcomes. Evaluating indigenous peoples’ involvement in commercial sea cucumber and geoduck fisheries on the central coast of British Columbia, Canada, we found that the current social-ecological system configuration is relatively ecologically sustainable according to stock assessments. However, the current system also results in perceived inequities in decision-making processes, harvesting allocations, and socioeconomic benefits. As a result, local coastal resource managers envision a transformation of sea cucumber and geoduck fisheries governance and management institutions. We assessed the potential robustness of the proposed institutions using Elinor Ostrom’s common-pool resource design principles. Grounded in the region’s legal, political, and historical context, our analysis suggests that greater local involvement in these invertebrate fisheries and their management could provide more benefits to local communities than the status quo while maintaining an ecologically sustainable resource. Our research highlights the importance of explicitly addressing historical context and equity considerations in social-ecological system analyses and when renegotiating the institutions governing common-pool resources.

The article can also be downloaded from this page.

Marine Protected Areas and Fisheries: Bridging the Divide

A new open access article titled “Marine Protected Areas and Fisheries: Bridging the Divide” has just been published online here. In this article, my co-authors and I explore lessons for effectively bridging the divide between biodiversity conservation and fisheries sustainability goals using marine protected areas through drawing on 8 case studies from around the world.Map of MPA sites

Abstract: Long-term and well-managed marine protected areas (MPAs) can, under the right circumstances, contribute to biodiversity conservation and fisheries management, thus contributing to food security and sustainable livelihoods. This article emphasizes (1) the potential utility of MPAs as a fisheries management tool, (2) the costs and benefits of MPAs for fishing communities, and (3) the foundations of good governance and management processes for creating effective MPAs with a dual fisheries and conservation mandate. This article highlights case studies from numerous regions of the world that demonstrate practical and often successful solutions in bridging the divide between MPA management and fisheries sustainability, with a focus on small-scale coastal fisheries in order to emphasize lessons learned. To be an effective fisheries management tool, MPAs should be embedded in broader fisheries management and conservation plans. MPAs are unlikely to generate benefits if implemented in isolation. The spatial and temporal distribution of benefits and costs needs to be taken into account since proximal fishery-dependent communities may experience higher fishing costs over the short and long-term while the fisheries benefits from MPAs may only accrue over the long-term. Key lessons for effectively bridging the divide between biodiversity conservation and fisheries sustainability goals in the context of MPAs include: creating spaces and processes for engagement, incorporating fisheries in MPA design and MPAs into fisheries management, engaging fishers in management, recognizing rights and tenure, coordinating between agencies and clarifying roles, combining no-take-areas with other fisheries management actions, addressing the balance of costs and benefits to fishers, making a long-term commitment, creating a collaborative network of stakeholders, taking multiple pressures into account, managing adaptively, recognizing and addressing trade-offs, and matching good governance with effective management and enforcement.

The article can also be downloaded from here.

Weigel, J.Y., Mannle, K.O., Bennett, N.J., Carter, E., Westlund, L., Burgener, V., Hoffman, Z., Da Silva, A.S., Kane, E.A., Sanders, J., Piante, C., Wagiman, S. & Hellman, A. (2014). Marine protected areas and fisheries: Bridging the divide. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 24(S2), 199-215.

From measuring outcomes to providing inputs for more effective marine protected areas

Figure 1

Marine protected areas from inputs to outcomes

An OPEN ACCESS article titled From measuring outcomes to providing inputs: Governance, management, and local development for more effective marine protected areas was just published in time for World Oceans Day. This articles asks: What governance, management and local development inputs are likely to lead to more effective and successful marine protected areas?

Abstract: Marine protected areas (MPAs) have the potential to conserve marine resources as well as provide social and economic benefits to local communities. Yet the percentage of MPAs that might be considered “successful” or effective on ecological and/or socio-economic accounts is debatable. Measurement of biophysical and socio-economic outcome indicators has become de rigeur for examining MPA management effectiveness so that adaptive feedback loops can stimulate new management actions. Scholars and practitioners alike have suggested that more attention should be given to the inputs that are likely to lead to successful MPA outcomes. This paper briefly discusses the potential ecological and socio-economic outcomes of MPAs then reviews the literature on three categories of inputs – governance, management, and local development – that lead to effective MPAs. In conclusion, the paper presents a novel inputs framework that incorporates indicators for governance, management P1010715and development to be used in the design and analysis of MPAs.

Bennett, N. J., & Dearden, P. (2014). From measuring outcomes to providing inputs: Governance, management, and local development for more effective marine protected areas. Marine Policy, 50, 96–110. doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2014.05.005

The capacity to adapt?: communities in a changing climate, environment, and economy on the northern Andaman coast of Thailand

The following article was just published:

Bennett, N. J., P. Dearden, G. Murray and A. Kadfak. 2014. The capacity to adapt?: communities in a changing climate, environment, and economy on the northern Andaman coast of Thailand. Ecology and Society 19 (2): 5. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss2/art5/

P1010346Abstract: The health and productivity of marine ecosystems, habitats, and fisheries are deteriorating on the Andaman coast of Thailand. Because of their high dependence on natural resources and proximity to the ocean, coastal communities are particularly vulnerable to climate-induced changes in the marine environment. These communities must also adapt to the impacts of management interventions and conservation initiatives, including marine protected areas, which have livelihood implications. Further, communities on the Andaman coast are also experiencing a range of new economic opportunities associated in particular with tourism and agriculture. These complex and ongoing changes require integrated assessment of, and deliberate planning to increase, the adaptive capacity of communities so that they may respond to: (1) environmental degradation and fisheries declines through effective management interventions or conservation initiatives, (2) new economic opportunities to reduce dependence on fisheries, and (3) the increasing impacts of climate change. Our results are from a mixed methods study, which used surveys and interviews to examine multiple dimensions of the adaptive capacity of seven island communities near marine protected areas on the Andaman coast of Thailand. Results show that communities had low adaptive capacity with respect to environmental degradation and fisheries declines, and to management and conservation interventions, as well as uneven levels of adaptive capacity to economic opportunities. Though communities and households were experiencing the impacts of climate change, especially storm events, changing seasons and weather patterns, and erosion, they were reactinKo Sin Hi Pierg to these changes with limited knowledge of climate change pe se. We recommend interventions, in the form of policies, programs, and actions, at multiple scales for increasing the adaptive capacity of Thailand’s coastal communities to change. The analytical and methodological approach used for examining adaptive capacity could be easily modified and applied to other contexts and locales.

This and other publications can be found here: https://nathanbennett.ca/publications/

Visual Methods Workshop at the University of British Columbia

The Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability and the EDGES Research Collaborative invite you to join this informal workshop, led by Crystal Tremblay, Jonathan Taggart and Nathan Bennett, who will share their experiences in using video and photography in their research with local and international communities. They will each present some of their recent research followed by a hands-on workshop to provide some tools and creative approaches to using visual methods.

When: Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 10am-12pm

Where: Room 420, AERL, University of British Columbia

PLEASE RSVP BY MARCH 15th – Spaces are limited! Judy Chang: ljudychang@gmail.com

Visual Methods Workshop EDGES

Using Scenario Planning for Adaptation in Coastal Communities


Three Scenarios Coastal fishing communities everywhere in the world are experiencing significant environmental and social changes. In many places, the health and productivity of the marine environment is threatened by overfishing, coastal development, and pollution. Fisheries are often in decline. The climate is changing – bringing rising sea levels, warmer temperatures, changing seasons and rainfall patterns, and more severe storms. These environmental changes bring about changes in livelihoods, quality of life and customs. Communities are also subject to the whims of global economies, national politics and demographics. Broader environmental, political and economic changes can also lead to new policies and programs that impact communities. Change is constant. Whatever the root cause of change, communities have no choice but to adapt. The manner in which adaptation occurs can be proactive or reactive and results can be beneficial or detrimental.

In June an July of 2013, our research team conducted community-based scenario planning workshops…

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Why local people do not support conservation: Community perceptions of marine protected area livelihood impacts, governance and management in Thailand

An Open Access article titled “Why local people do not support conservation: Community perceptions of marine protected area livelihood impacts, governance and management in Thailand” was recently published in Marine Policy (Link to the article and PDF of article)

Article Abstract

Conservation success is often predicated on local support for conservation which is strongly influenced by perceptions of the impacts that are experienced by local communities and opinions of management and governance. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are effective conservation and fisheries management tools that can also have a broad array of positive and negative social, economic, cultural, and political impacts on local communities. Drawing on results from a mixed-methods study of communities on the Andaman Coast of Thailand, this paper explores perceptions of MPA impacts on community livelihood resources (assets) and outcomes as well as MPA governance and management. The area includes 17 National Marine Parks (NMPs) that are situated near rural communities that are highly dependent on coastal resources. Interview participants perceived NMPs to have limited to negative impacts on fisheries and agricultural livelihoods and negligible benefits for tourism livelihoods. Perceived impacts on livelihoods were felt to result from NMPs undermining access to or lacking support for development of cultural, social, political, financial, natural, human, physical, and political capital assets. Conflicting views emerged on whether NMPs resulted in negative or positive marine or terrestrial conservation outcomes. Perceptions of NMP governance and management processes were generally negative. These results point to some necessary policy improvements and actions to ameliorate: the relationship between the NMP and communities, NMP management and governance processes, and socio-economic and conservation outcomes.

This and other publications can be found on my publications page: https://nathanbennett.ca/publications/