Exploring social development, governance, and wellbeing at the IUCN Oceania Regional Forum

CEESP News: by Dr Lea Scherl and Elise Huffer (CEESP Regional Vice Chair, Oceania).

Side event by CEESP members at the IUCN Oceania Regional Forum looked at the issues of Social Development, Governance, and Wellbeing in Natural Resource Management

Traditional weaving, Arnavon Islands, Solomon Islands

The 40+ participants of the IUCN Oceania Regional Forum were welcomed to the two-hour CEESP side event by Dr Lea Scherl (CEESP member and side-event organiser), Kristen Walker (CEESP Chair) and Elise Huffer (CEESP Regional Vice Chair, Oceania).

At this event, Kristen Walker introduced CEESP’s global work and spoke about the Natural Resource Governance Framework and its relevance to the region through potential linkages with the Pacific Islands Framework for Nature Conservation and Protected Areas. Lea introduced participants to the work of CEESP’s Theme on Human Well Being and Sustainable Livelihoods, and illustrated the relationship between these areas and conservation. She presented on a  6-year long Pacific Islands Global Environmental Facility project, which took place in Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, and Niue, in which it was clear that conservation outcomes would not have been possible without accompanying activities that enhanced livelihoods and wellbeing.  These entailed understanding community social development needs and aspiration, as well as local governance - and in some cases, promoting business ventures with the communities.

The session then brought together a panel of speakers, including three CEESP members: Hugh Govan, Adi Meretui Ratunabuabua, and Jim Thomas, as well as Stacy Jupiter of WCS Fiji, who shared their work on 4 specific but not unrelated areas of work in the region:

1) community management of coastal resources through the locally managed marine areas network;

2) the relationship between cultural values and spirituality in conservation in the Pacific context,

3) Pacific community perceptions of wellbeing in relation to development and conservation, and

4) the Tenkile Conservation Alliance’s experience with focusing on community wellbeing, culture and sustainable livelihoods to enable conservation of two tree kangaroo species in Papua New Guinea.

IUCN RCF SUVAPhoto: IUCN

The main learnings from Hugh’s presentation was that an effective network of Locally Marine Managed Areas exists in the Pacific Island Countries and that this resource should be supported.

Adi Mere’s main message was that a more holistic approach should be taken to ensure that culture be integrated into conservation and development policy at all levels, particularly recognising the contribution of traditional knowledge holders in conservation and formalised in a regional database. 

Stacy, in a telling graph, demonstrated the mismatch between the SDGs and Pacific notions of wellbeing, which include “connection to people and place” and “maintenance of traditional and local knowledge, practice, beliefs and worldviews” - which are poorly represented in the SDGs.  She added that if projects and programs are designed based on indicator frameworks that do not recognize these core Pacific values, they can lead to misdirection of resources, potentially resulting in social harm and fostering continued cycles of environmental destruction, as people lose their connection with nature.

Participatory natural resource mapping, Manus Island, Papua New Guinea

Participatory natural resource mapping, Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Lea Scherl

The results of the research carried out by the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) project on Biocultural Indicators, which both Stacy and Adi Mere have been actively involved in, aim to develop guidance for national-decision makers on how to design and use culturally appropriate indicators for understanding links between nature and well-being. A draft of the guidance document was distributed to interested participants to solicit feedback. Jim’s presentation demonstrated how the Tenkile Conservation Alliance’s initial focus on saving species had to shift towards a more holistic approach to encompass community wellbeing and livelihoods in order to enable conservation of the tree kangaroos.

The panel was followed by a working group session introduced by Etika Rupeni, the CEESP focal point at the Oceania Regional Office. The ‘talanoa’ was divided into 4 topics with participants choosing their group. The four topics: 1) lessons learned in community based management and how the latter can influence national policy; 2) how respect of local values and expressions of culture and heritage can be effectively represented in conservation policy; 3) how spirituality and custom are taking into account in environmental law, and, 4) the challenges and opportunities of addressing social dimensions such as wellbeing, governance, culture in conservation, led to lively discussion and recommendations which can provide some insights for existing and future conservation policy.


The side event organisers are grateful for the financial support provided by the CEESP Theme on Human Wellbeing and Sustainable Livelihoods through its chair Neil Dawson for the venue hire and catering, the support from IUCN ORO staff Maria Muavesi and Etika Rupeni, and the partnership with The Cairns Institute of James Cook University.

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