Recent studies, including the major IPBES report launched in June 2019, show that extinction rates are accelerating and that global biodiversity thresholds may soon surpass ‘planetary boundaries’ beyond which even more dramatic decline is inevitable.
Developed by professor Bram Buscher and associate professor Robert Fletcher of the Sociology of Development and Change (SDC) group at Wageningen University, convivial conservation is a new approach to addresses this challenge. ‘Our earlier research always highlighted the problems of conservation policy. We often got the question: but what is your alternative? That is why we developed our approach of convivial conservation’, says Robert Fletcher.
Convivial (literally: ‘living with’) conservation offers an integrated approach to understanding and practicing environmental conservation. Based on a holistic ‘Whole Earth’ vision and existing examples from innovative conservation efforts in development around the world, the principle is that human places and nature can and should be integrated within both rural and urban spaces. The idea is to build on this conceptualization and promising examples of existing practice to develop a general conservation model that can be adapted to specific contexts throughout the world.
Conservation basic income
To facilitate this approach a transformation of the global economy and a more equal distribution of wealth are needed, says Fletcher. ‘People living near biodiverse areas should be supported to develop sustainable livelihoods that don’t require market engagement, for instance through what we call a “conservation basic income”. Meanwhile, those with the largest footprints should change their livelihoods and lifestyles the most even if they live far from conservation areas.’
The CONVIVA research project funded by Belmont Forum and NORFACE as part of the Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) initiative has been developed to operationalize the convivial conservation vision. CONVIVA - headquartered in the SDC group - is a collaboration among researchers and practitioners based in six different countries: Brazil, Finland, Tanzania, the United States and the United Kingdom as well as the Netherlands. Non-academic partners include IUCN-Netherlands and WWF-Netherlands.
The research project focuses on transforming conservation policy and practice in relation to four apex predators: jaguars in the Atlantic forest in Brazil (where state funding for conservation and development has declined); Grizzly bears in California (where grizzly reintroduction efforts are being discussed); wolves in North Karelia in Eastern Finland (where the number of wolves is declining for unknown reasons) and lions in Tanzania (where the aim is to contribute to finding spatial strategies for convivial conservation under different governance arrangements).
Fletcher explains: ‘Top predators are charismatic. They are umbrella species that keep nature areas in balance. They are also highly mobile, need a lot of space. These animals are the hardest to live with. Human - wildlife conflicts regularly occur. You can say: if convivial conservation works with these species, then it will potentially work with all species.’
CONVIVA’s hypothesis is that ‘living with’ apex predators can be effectively combined with new forms of governance and economic development. Fletcher again: ‘Together with local communities and partners we work on dialogue and developing best practices. In this way we aim to arrive at a set of more general principles. We learn from our partners and they learn from us and each other.’
The CONVIVA project aims to establish a transformational approach to conservation that benefits both wildlife and humans, and that combines structural change with grassroots solutions to promote co-existence, (cultural and bio)diversity and justice. ‘With our approach we work simultaneously at the global and the local level’, says Robert Fletcher. ‘Local areas are part of a global ecosystem. Global markets are the main driving forces of biodiversity loss. Therefore consumption patterns must change worldwide. We can do everything we can to protect nature in specific places, but if we don't also change the political and economic system, we'll do nothing but polish brass on the Titanic.’
Something radically different
The convivial conservation vision seems to fall into fertile soil. ‘In the past decade criticism has also grown within the nature conservation organizations about the traditional approach of setting up nature reserves from which people are excluded as much as possible. Our approach has therefore generated a lot of impact in terms of attention as more and more people recognize that something radically different is needed’, says Fletcher.
Among various collaborators, SDC is currently working with the Dutch Planning Bureau for the Environment (PBL) to build convivial conservation scenarios that can inform post-2020 biodiversity frameworks. ‘We are also engaging on outreach to and collaboration with a variety of other conservation organizations focused on similar issues’, says Fletcher.