TNRC Blog | Building Transparency, Equity, and Fairness into Nature-based Solutions

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Targeting Natural Resource Corruption

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Building transparency, equity, and fairness into Nature-based Solutions

The rise of Nature-based Solutions

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) use the power of nature to address major societal challenges such as climate change. These actions protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use, and manage ecosystems, and by definition, they must also provide human well-being and biodiversity benefits. This approach holds tremendous potential, but in practice, we see examples of conservation projects that have underdelivered benefits to affected communities at best and negatively impacted them at worst. Corruption is a real risk, from deceiving or misleading stakeholders, overpromising benefits that do not materialize, or trying to capture shared benefits for private gain. As interest in NbS grows, those involved in NbS design and implementation—from funders to conservation practitioners—need to ensure that these activities benefit the people who live, work, and depend upon nature.

High-quality Nature-based Solutions must deliver measurable positive impacts for people, nature, and climate. These impacts are particularly important as WWF elaborates its approach to more inclusive conservation, a central tenet of which is respecting and promoting human rights and social justice. Benefit sharing arrangements are a key piece of ensuring those impacts for people, and safeguards for equity, fairness, and accountability in those arrangements are integral to prevent corrupt actors from capturing a disproportionate amount of those impacts for themselves.

Ensuring fairness and equity when benefits flow

As part of efforts to ensure that NbS deliver these benefits while avoiding the mistakes and criticisms of the past, WWF proposed a set of integrity principles for NbS benefit sharing to serve as ambitious ethical guidelines when engaging in this type of work. Benefit sharing arrangements for NbS should be:

  • fair, including deep and significant participation, broad and inclusive representation, distributive equity, and value pluralism;
  • accountable, through enabling transparency, understanding, and real grievance redress;
  • rights-based, guaranteeing respect for Indigenous peoples and local communities and free, prior and informed consent;
  • effective, pursuing net positive benefits, appropriate compensation, positive feedback loops and additionality, and adaptive management.

To put those principles into practice, WWF created guidance to support practitioners developing NbS for climate mitigation and their accompanying benefit sharing arrangements. The idea was to create a set of considerations and recommendations for ensuring good governance and integrity of benefit sharing in a landscape. Focusing on good governance can help design processes that are more inclusive, participatory, and transparent, which can in turn help address unequal power dynamics and limit opportunities for corrupt behaviors like elite capture.

Ground truthing with landscape teams

We knew that the good governance guidance would only be as good as it was relevant to the people designing and implementing NbS activities in partnership with government and local stakeholders. We therefore sought opportunities to work with WWF country offices that were already designing NbS programs through WWF’s Nature-based Solutions Origination Platform, and ultimately developed the guidance in collaboration with staff in Brazil, Madagascar, and Vietnam. Country-specific versions of the guide, considering their specific governance, laws, demographics, economy, and key drivers of environmental degradation, helped ensure the final guidance contained enough instruction, guiding questions, and considerations to make it easily usable by practitioners.

In addition to the first three countries, Mexico and Peru are also in the pilot phase of WWF’s Nature-based Solutions Origination Platform. Teams in all five countries are collaborating with government partners and local stakeholders to develop holistic landscape strategies and priority NbS interventions, including equitable benefit sharing plans. Our collaboration therefore represented a great opportunity, once the guidance was completed, to continue working with country teams to help embed thinking on integrity in benefit sharing into their NbS strategies. Follow-up earning sessions with the teams from each of the five pilot countries shared the basics: what is benefit sharing, why it’s an important part of high-quality NbS, what’s included in the WWF resources on the topic, and how the teams might incorporate this thinking into their design and implementation process.

These sessions proved valuable on both sides. From our side, it was important to make colleagues aware of the work being done to create guidelines helpful to them while also testing whether the existing resources are fit for purpose and what additional support or resources are needed. From the country team side, it was important to understand what is meant by benefit sharing as well as how and when the process of building a benefit sharing arrangement integrates into implementation design. One colleague noted that local communities are often weary of new conservation activities promising positive outcomes, given past experiences of lack of communication and power imbalances. The colleague emphasized that creating more transparent and accountable benefit sharing arrangements could help mitigate those issues moving forward.

We received many good and insightful questions and requests from the teams during the learning sessions. These included requests for concrete examples of benefit sharing implementation in conservation, a desire for a template or step-by-step guide to use to design a benefit sharing plan, and questions about how to balance early stakeholder engagement and participation with the risk of creating inflated expectations from those stakeholders for specific future benefits.

Looking ahead

Distribution of benefits in a manner deemed fair and equitable to all those involved is not easy and does not follow a one-size-fits-all approach. Getting this transparency and accountability right, thereby reducing opportunities for corruption and helping deliver greater measurable positive impacts to local stakeholders, is a “learning-by-doing” process. The feedback from the teams shows that there is more work to be done in creating resources for implementers, collecting existing knowledge on this topic, and generating new knowledge where innovations are taking place.

In the months ahead, our country teams in the five pilot countries will design their benefit sharing plans. They will use these and other existing resources and guidance, tailored to local circumstances and in conversation with partners on the ground. As they do so, they’ll collect lessons learned and best practices along the way that will serve as valuable additions to the growing knowledge base on benefit sharing for NbS. Capturing and sharing this knowledge will be one of the many positive contributions of the NbS Origination Platform and the many people working through it for high-quality, impactful NbS.

Image attribution: © / Jen Guyton / WWF; © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF; © Georgina Goodwin / Shoot The Earth / WWF-UK; © Hkun Lat / WWF-Aus