Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Photo by Paul-Vincent Roll on Unsplash

In libreria

Benefit-sharing in Environmental Governance

by Louisa Parks

13 maggio 2020
Versione stampabile

Taking a bottom-up perspective, this book explores local framings of a wide range of issues related to benefit-sharing, a growing concept in global environmental governance.

Benefit-sharing in Environmental Governance draws on original case studies from South Africa, Namibia, Greece, Argentina, and Malaysia to shed light on what benefit-sharing looks like from the local viewpoint. These local-level case studies move away from the idea of benefit-sharing as defined by a single international organization or treaty. Rather, they reflect different situations where benefit-sharing has been considered, including agriculture, access to land and plants, wildlife management, and extractives industries. Common themes in the experiences of local communities form the basis for an exploration of spaces for local voices at the international level in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), often argued to be the most open arena to non-state actors, and therefore vital to how local voices may be included at the global level. The book analyzes the decisions of the CBD parties to produce an in-depth reflection on how this arena builds and delimits spaces for the expression of local community themes, and paths for local community participation including community protocols. The book then situates the bottom-up findings in the wider debate about global civil society and deliberative democracy in environmental governance.
This interdisciplinary book will be of great interest to students and scholars of environmental politics, environmental law, political ecology and global governance, as well as practitioners and policymakers involved in multilateral environmental agreements.

Louisa Parks is associate professor at the University of Trento, Department of Sociology and Social research

From Chapter 1: Studying the benefit sharing from the bottom up (pag.1-4)

This book began as an investigation about the ways that local communities experience benefit-sharing, asking what issues those experiences raised, whether arenas of global environmental governance address those issues, and whether local communities participate in those debates. The guiding principle for the study was to begin from the bottom and move up – in other words, to let local experiences of benefit-sharing provide the parameters for studying global arenas. As is usually the way in empirical research, the study shifted as it unfolded, and opened up reflections which, though they began with local community discussions around benefit-sharing, moved beyond this narrower focus to touch on central themes of fairness, participation, and democratic environmental governance. In this sense, the research presented here contributes to a view of global governance from below, and benefit-sharing emerges as a starting point for an exploration of wider themes at the fore of many different disciplines that seek to grapple with the dilemmas of environmental politics and governance today. The initial focus on benefit-sharing is a window to look at how we might go about including local communities more effectively in seeking and implementing solutions to environmental problems via participation from the local level through to the global. […]

The research presented in the following chapters was carried out within the framework of a five-year project investigating benefit-sharing both as an evolving concept in different sites of global environmental law and from the perspective of local community experiences.1 The important point to emphasize for the purposes of this work is that benefit-sharing is not a concept with a fixed and clear meaning. Its definition and implementation (where schemes are in place) vary both across sites of international environmental law (Morgera, 2016; see Savaresi and Bouwer, 2018, on climate change; see Tsioumani, 2018, on agricultural biodiversity), across regional and national regimes, and at the local level. In addition, few functioning benefit-sharing schemes are in place (Robinson, 2015), limiting the scope for research on best practices. Due to this, a gap has emerged between different applications and the principles that benefit-sharing – or fair and equitable benefit-sharing at least – seeks to support. Benefit-sharing attempts to Studying benefit-sharing from the bottom up 3 address questions of equity in environmental governance, particularly with regard to developing countries, indigenous peoples, and local communities (Morgera, 2016). In inter-State benefit-sharing (between States), it should involve the rewarding of efforts for environmental protection via, for example, payments, financing, technology transfers, and capacity-building. In intra-State benefit-sharing (within States2), benefits such as profit-sharing, the recognition of customary practices, job creation, and other ‘goods’ should flow to communities that are environmental custodians (ibid.). Yet in practice, many scholars have found this latter type of intra-State benefit-sharing wanting in terms of effective contributions to equity. On the contrary, they have found that it risks reproducing colonial patterns of governance where genetic resources are concerned (e.g. Mulligan, 1999), leads to the imposition of organizational forms on communities that exclude many from benefits (Vermeylen, 2007), or is used as nothing more than a mechanism for the exchange of money between community leaders and external actors in return for consent to carry out environmentally and socially harmful projects (Gilbert and Doyle, 2011).

It is this gap between the theory and practice of intra-State benefitsharing that drives this research, which departs from studies of local communities. This local-level focus invites further observations about the concept of benefit-sharing, namely that it resembles common practices applied by some local communities for centuries. The rules local communities develop for access to common pool resources – forest products or water sources for example – have been proved to be valid sustainable models since Elinor Ostrom’s work (e.g. 1990) decisively challenged Hardin’s ‘tragedy of the commons’ hypothesis (1968), which links open access to inevitable environmental degradation. Commons approaches recall features of what intra-State benefit-sharing seeks to achieve. They are approaches to the sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of all in the immediate community that may also deliver global goods in terms of environmental conservation and protection. Work on the commons also highlights that in order to work, commons approaches need to exist within wider supportive governance regimes (Ostrom, 1990). Intra-State benefit-sharing goes a step beyond this to envisage more than support and compensation, but positive returns beyond these for environmental stewardship (Morgera, 2016). The most developed source on fair and equitable benefit-sharing is the CBD, which means it is a good focus to begin to look at how issues linked to benefit-sharing by local communities are reflected at the international level. As explained in more detail in Chapter 4, the CBD has near universal membership, is binding on its parties, and the text of the treaty names fair and equitable benefit-sharing as one of its three objectives alongside the conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity) and the sustainable use of its components.

The Nagoya Protocol to the CBD lays out rules for access and benefit-sharing (ABS) related to genetic resources (Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010). In addition, CBD decisions have progressively 4 Studying benefit-sharing from the bottom up come to refer to indigenous peoples and local communities as actors that should be involved in the governance of biodiversity over time. It also recognizes the importance of their traditional knowledge, innovations, and practices in conserving biodiversity in its articles 10(c) and 8(j). Given all of this, the research presented in this book aims to investigate how issues linked to benefit-sharing are perceived at the local level, before examining where there are spaces for themes important at the local level to be raised at the international level in the CBD. It aims to do this in an interdisciplinary perspective, yet the main focus of the work remains sociological in that it deals primarily with the social meanings attached to issues linked to this international policy in different local contexts. The need for an interdisciplinary approach to benefit-sharing lies in its lack of fixed meaning. Understanding the way that this concept is translated or framed within different social sites, and how the meanings attached to it shift or diffuse, can shed light on its potential for addressing equity concerns. An interdisciplinary approach is also dictated by the observations of legal scholars who place benefit-sharing in the space of global law (see, e.g. Parks and Morgera, 2015). Global law describes a ‘pattern of heavily overlapping, mutually connected and openly extended institutions, norms and processes’ (Walker, 2014: 11–12) that make up some legal regime. Benefit-sharing, as already noted, has evolved at different levels, sites, and with reference to different natural resources.


The Open Access version of this book is available under the terms of a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence.