TNRC Blog Conservation, Corruption, and Civic Space

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Conservation, Corruption, and Civic Space

This blog post captures key learning from a TNRC Virtual Panel on 25 May 2021 on Conservation, Corruption, and Civic Space. This panel brought together experts from Transparency International, Open Government Partnership, World Resources Institute, and WWF-International to discuss the intersection of conservation and open government. The virtual event was attended by practitioners based in 28 countries. A recording of the panel is above, and a PDF of slides can be downloaded here.

Key Takeaways

  • Achieving conservation goals depends on healthy civic space, respect for human rights, ambitious reforms and investments that are not diverted for private gain.
  • Crackdowns on civic space, human rights violations, and corrupted policymaking are common, especially for those on the front lines of safeguarding natural resources.
  • While these are political, sensitive topics, conservation organizations can address them and still maintain important relationships. The key is empowering and partnering with a range of stakeholders and reform champions in both government and civil society.

The sensitive, political nature of the anti-corruption agenda can be a real challenge for conservationists. Efforts to increase the public’s access to information, empower local people with greater say over public decisions, or enhance the enforcement of laws and sanctioning of lawbreakers might seem like unnecessary politicization of conservation outcomes. But conservation is inherently political. Without those efforts, hidden interests, elite capture of projects, and networks for the powerful or connected to evade accountability put desired outcomes at risk. This panel was assembled to discuss this complicated topic.

What are key challenges and action areas for conservation organizations engaging in issues of human rights, corruption, and civic space?

Delfin Ganapin, Governance Practice Leader, WWF-International

Defending nature requires a “whole of society” approach. Disempowered citizens, inequity, injustice, and violations of human rights lead to environmental degradation. Corruption enables them all. That’s why WWF’s Governance Practice focuses on power: addressing power asymmetries for inclusive conservation, guiding the use of power for integrated, sustainable development action, and addressing power dysfunctions that enable environmental corruption (that, in turn, enables environmental degradation).

There are challenges to conservation organizations taking on these topics, from potential safety risks, to the need to strategically collaborate, with the aim of influencing positive outcomes, with actors who may be part of the governance problem. But there is also possible action, including:

  • Empowering the frontliners and recognizing the rights of IPLCs to their lands;
  • Working with existing country institutions on human rights and anti-corruption; and
  • Using an organization’s relationships and convening power to provide access to duty-bearers.

What is the value of open government approaches for conservation, and what are examples of successful efforts?

Adna Karamehic-Oates, Senior Program Officer, Open Government Partnership

Government is more effective and credible, and serves its citizens better, when it is transparent, participatory, inclusive, and accountable. This is true both in general and in governmental efforts to support conservation. OGP has seen several promising commitments in this area, including:

These are all locally-led initiatives; the OGP process is for each country to collaborate, government and civil society to decide on their priorities and develop domestic actions. At the same time, OGP provides a platform to lift up local champions for openness, including champions for openness on conservation issues.

What are some of Transparency International’s core research results and lessons learned on climate governance integrity?

Brice Böhmer, Head of Programs and Climate Lead, Transparency International

There are proven linkages between the climate crisis, environmental degradation and corruption. Corruption allows for the theft of large portions of development funds; funds that should be used to benefit local communities and help prevent environmental degradation.

Our research identified four factors to help address corruption and improve accountability:

  1. More transparency is key: stakeholders should be able to identify and receive open information
  2. The people most affected must be heard: consultations have to be organized throughout initiatives
  3. Monitoring and complaint mechanisms must be strengthened: more outreach to civil society is necessary
  4. Supervisory bodies must be stronger: specific capacity building efforts are needed for these bodies

All of these are possible entry points for conservation organizations. In particular, creating multi-stakeholder initiatives will help close the implementation gap. It is crucial that Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and communities get better equipped to demand accountability and give a voice to the victims to reach fair redress.

Note: Transparency International will soon be launching an online atlas of climate corruption cases. Keep an eye out for this forthcoming resource.

What has been learned from applying monitoring tools to support land-tenure rights, accountability and justice?

Ruth Noguerón, Senior Associate, Forests Program, World Resources Institute

One concrete way to empower frontline environmental defenders is to provide them supportive tools and technologies. Global Forest Watch provides near real-time data on tree cover change and, together with the app, Forest Watcher, forest defenders get early warning alerts of forest clearings. They can use these tools to monitor indigenous territories and protected areas, document violations, and then work with law enforcement authorities to stop the damage and hold the responsible to account.

Larger international CSOs can work with CSOs and people at the frontlines to leverage these sorts of technologies. However, monitoring is just one of the various pieces required. To be successful, it relies on well-functioning institutions to act on the information provided. Corruption can undermine that. In addition, it is a time-consuming process. The monitoring efforts require dedicated, long-term resources to be sustainable in the long run.

This panel signaled that international conservation organizations can help in situations where civic space is limited by lending their power and relationships to lifting up local stakeholders and providing international connections and a platform for local voices to be heard. They can also help to identify, develop, and maintain possible champions (including in government) and possible entry points for reform, and invest in those local champions’ capacity to push for needed reforms.

Further Reading

© WWF-Malaysia / Mazidi Abd Ghani

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