Governance and rights

Pervasive injustice, inequality and unsustainable use of nature undermine the prospects for human prosperity and nature conservation alike. Persistent gender gaps block the realisation of conservation and undermine sustainable development, while indigenous peoples and environmental defenders face daily threats to their rights, cultures and environments. Youth voices spearhead calls to action at all levels of responsibility. Nature’s contributions to people, both material and cultural, lack recognition and integration into decision making. Equitable and effective governance, the environmental rule of law, and enforcement of environmental obligations remain weak in much of the world. (IUCN 2021-2024 Programme Nature 2030)

Governance is now recognised as a critical determinant of the social equity, effectiveness and sustainability of natural resource use and conservation. Improving natural resource governance, including securing rights and sharing power and responsibilities, benefits both people and nature. The central idea is that governance requires the interaction of the government and citizens but the theory and practice of governance exists and evolves in all societies in different ways. To date no Asian government has defined or described governance.

Natural resource governance refers to the norms, institutions and processes that determine how power and responsibilities over natural resources are exercised, how decisions are taken, and how citizens – women, men, indigenous peoples and local communities – participate in and benefit from the management of natural resources. (Natural Resource Governance Framework IUCN)


Natural resource governance can range from developing natural resource-based policies at the regional and national level to community-based natural resource management advancing IPLC rights and gender equality.


Despite the growing recognition that governance significantly determines both the effectiveness of conservation efforts and the extent to which conservation contributes to human well-being, the concept and practice of governance remains relatively poorly understood and weakly addressed in many natural resource and conservation contexts.

The recent adoption of the resolution on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment by the UN Human Rights Council presents a breakthrough moment for environmental justice. This right has been rooted in the 1972 Stockholm Declaration and is now formally recognized at the global level through a UN Human Rights Council resolution.

What needs to be done?

In line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which has been ratified by all countries across Asia with the exception of Bangladesh, IUCN in Asia will support collaboration across sectors to achieve gender equality and the full realisation of rights and roles of indigenous peoples and local communities, and fully harness the power of youth and inter-generational partnerships for nature conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources. We must secure equitable governance of natural resources and ensure that nature’s contributions to human good health and well-being are recognised, sustained and equitably shared, especially in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery from it. We must close gaps in compliance and enforcement of the environmental rule of law to protect people and nature. We must help build a global culture of conservation. (IUCN 2021-2024 Programme)

Regional initiatives;

  • The BRIDGE (Building River Dialogue and Governance) Project builds water governance capacities through learning, demonstration, leadership, and consensus building, in particular in transboundary river basins.
  • Mangroves for the Future (MFF) Programme was guided by the Gender Mainstreaming Strategy to integrate gender into policy and practical action through small grants. It also adopted the Resilience Framework, an inclusive participatory planning process for determining development priorities and approaches in target areas. From 2022 the Bay of Bengal offers a similar regional to country governance framework to work through to achieve goals relating to good governance in Marine Managed Areas and Small-Scale Fisheries management for building coastal resilience.
  • Inclusive Conservation Initiative (ICI), a global programme operating in Asia in Nepal and Thailand. The objective of the project is to enhance Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ (IPLCs) efforts to steward land, waters and natural resources to deliver global environmental benefits.

Country level initiatives;

  • GEF6 Nepal Access and Benefit Sharing Nagoya Protocol project;
  • The climate change and gender action plan projects in Pakistan and Bangladesh;
  • Strengthening Capacity of Indigenous Women and Youth on Nature-based Solutions in Nepal;

IUCN Secretariat and the six IUCN Commissions share responsibility to contribute to the realisation of governance results. Governance is a prominent focus in multiple IUCN programmes and initiatives globally and in the region – IUCN Nature Based Solutions initiatives, IUCN Green List for Protected Areas, Mangroves for the Future (MFF), BRIDGE Water Dialogues – all examples of rights-based approaches landscape governance, sustainable water, coastal resources conservation.

Governance has been one of IUCN’s main global programme areas since 2013.

IUCN identifies human rights as one of the ethical foundations of good natural resource governance, reflecting the close interlinkages between environmental degradation and the fulfilment or violation of human rights (UNHRC, 2018; Springer & Campese, 2011).