For co-existence, (bio)diversity and justice in conservation

Convivial Conservation Manifesto

The Convivial Conservation manifesto is now available online. To dive deeper into each of the ten principles, read more below.

Convivial conservation offers a radical alternative to dominant approaches to biodiversity conservation, grounded in 10 central principles. Together these make up our manifesto intended to help guide activity in pursuit of convivial conservation in policy discussions and diverse local spaces. This manifesto has been drafted by a broad global team dedicated to furthering the convivial conservation paradigm to redirect conservation politics, policy and practice in support of systemic change. 

The manifesto is a continual work in progress; these are the principles as we see them now. Convivial conservation is but one stream in a broader river of movements, struggles and ideas that seek to transcend the unsustainable and inequitable status quo. As the movement grows, new voices and perspectives are encouraged to join and refine the manifesto. Want to join us? Stay in touch!

As convivial conservationists, we commit to: 

1. Promote integrated spaces where humans and other species co-exist respectfully and equitably

Humans have always shaped the ecosystems in which they live, thereby co-producing a range of living landscapes across the globe, which have in turn shaped the people within them. Yet conservation interventions have often encouraged the separation of people from the surrounding ecosystem based on the unfounded assumption that local communities pose a threat to biodiversity. This assumption is undermined by growing evidence that humans, especially Indigenous peoples, have actively managed and transformed what are today considered ‘wild’ areas throughout the world, from Yellowstone in the US, the Amazon in South America to the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple tiger reserve in India. Going forward, there is a need to promote landscapes that integrate people and nonhuman species to not only acknowledge the past but also plan for a just and equitable future. The question, ultimately, is not whether people should live with the rest of nature, but how we do so. 

2. Understand conservation as the stewardship of a global commons, collectively owned and managed by and for all life on the planet 

Conservation that views biodiversity only as ‘resources’ to be used by people for profit and other economic ends undermines the global commons, even if it enables some species to thrive in some areas in the short term.  After all, all living things are connected by the atmosphere and the air, water and soil they depend on. Pollution of the air, oceans, forests and other global commons that connect life on the planet therefore does not stop at boundaries of protected areas or privately held stocks of resources and carbon. Yet, inequalities within and between countries and regions contribute to the destruction or sustainability of the global commons. This reality calls for the purposeful building of common, equitable stewardship of ecosystems, centered around those who live within them on a daily basis, but building on this to develop and nurture extra-local commons institutions, rules and economies based on values of responsibility and care to ensure cross-generational and cross-scale conviviality. This work must be supported (financially and otherwise) by others who live far away but who benefit from the labor of those living within biodiverse spaces.   

3. Decolonize conservation policy and ensure that the interests, voices and territories of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) are central in conservation planning

Conservation must actively undo its ties to (neo)colonialism, including the privileging of institutions and forms of knowledge grounded in western rationality and imperialism that marginalize other ways of knowing and relating to the nonhuman world. In practice, this requires a turn away from the conservation priorities and agendas of the dominant conservationists and NGOs of the Global North, toward those of the people living directly with, and relying on, the ecosystems in question. Convivial conservation supports territorial claims of local people struggling against current and past dispossession processes attached to capital expansion and (neo)extractivist endeavors. It reasserts that these claims are the material basis for a more sustainable future for both human and nonhuman life on the planet. Conservation efforts should focus on promoting areas for conservation with the people that protect them, rather than protecting supposedly pristine areas from people. 

4. Challenge dominant perspectives to incorporate non-Western, diverse worldviews and forms of knowledge into research, policy-making and practice  

Protected area development and management has usually embodied the propagation and use of Western scientific knowledge paradigms. This has often been done at the expense of rich local and indigenous knowledge, philosophies, histories and practices that shaped human-nonhuman natures prior to imposition of these external approaches. Philosophies and practices such as Ubuntu, Buen Vivir, and Eco-Swaraj promote life through mutual caring and sharing between and among humans and nonhumans, discouraging individualism and excessive extractions of nonhuman natures.

There is therefore an urgent need to encourage the incorporation of place-based Indigenous and local communities’ philosophies and histories in conservation science, policies and practices through respectful partnerships rather than tokenism or extractivism. This means moving away from technocratic decisions and dismantling the prioritized legitimacy of natural science-based mechanisms, towards transdisciplinary engagement with local knowledge. This could be done through including and embracing voices from the local and indigenous communities in policy arenas, documenting and disseminating alternative approaches that are rooted in local and indigenous philosophies and histories, and/or advocating for the development of conservation curricula that embrace these perspectives.

5. Challenge dominant forms of political power to practice inclusive deliberation and decision-making 

Conservation has often been imposed top-down by powerful political elites. Challenging these dominant forms of political power requires advocating instead for inclusive deliberation and decision-making processes to ensure that all relevant actors participate, with those most closely associated with the ecosystems in question made central to the process. Although a nod to participation is included in virtually all conservation planning these days, in reality many projects entail only token efforts, rather than the serious and systematic deliberation direct democracy requires. Direct democracy, however, is hard work and should not be romanticized: it requires long-term struggle across and within class, caste, gender, race, age and other differences, taking into account and challenging structural power dynamics around property, labor, knowledge and more.

6. Place most decision-making power at the local level, with higher-level processes supporting local autonomy 

The principle of subsidiarity, common in direct democratic decision-making arrangements, holds that all decisions that can effectively be reached at a local level, should be. Higher-level processes should support local autonomy, only intervening when action is needed that cannot be handled locally. In conservation, this means that community-led conservation should be privileged, while also acknowledging the myriad constraints to which most communities are subject as a result of the broader political-economic contexts in which they exist. In this way, convivial conservation can help support place-based networks of experience and care where the ones who protect their territories are able to decide and implement conservation measures themselves. 

7. Decommodify biodiversity to treat life on earth as a public good that should not be subjected to financialisation, extraction or off-setting

The mindset that nature must pay for itself, and therefore that biodiversity can only be protected through ascribing monetary value to it, is dangerous and counterproductive. Instruments like ‘payments for environmental services’, REDD+, carbon credits and other forms of financializing biodiversity employ the logic of the problem (capitalist accumulation through natural resource use) as the logic of the solution, which does not work to build a sustainable world. This also conflicts with the tradition and culture of convivial coexistence with nonhuman species practiced by many local and Indigenous peoples. There is therefore a need to separate biodiversity from economic valuation and understand it as a fundamentally public good that deserves balanced, long-term and convivial management and governance.

8. Value species and ecosystems because they are important in themselves, or have a spiritual meaning or cultural significance, not just because of their economic value and the services they provide to people 

In place of commodification we need alternative forms of value. The desire for conservation among Indigenous as well as many traditional agricultural and working class communities around the world emanates from the ancient ties that people maintain with their land, kept alive in rituals, origin myths and the treasure trove of stories passed down through the generations concerning people’s relationship with nonhuman natures. For these communities, connection with nonhuman nature fosters a relationship with the spiritual world: mountains, forests, water bodies and more are sacred sanctuaries where ancestral spirits and deities reside. Valuing non-human living communities in abstracted and universalist categories of economic use or exchange value undermines value frameworks that emerge through place-based tapestries of relations, histories and memory and impoverishes the cultural imagination. Acknowledgement and appreciation of ancient traditions, including adopting a fundamentally ethical or spiritual mode of relating with the rest of nature, must inform convivial conservation.

9. Fund conservation through equitable redistribution of the wealth and resources we already have, including through historical reparations, instead of relying on financial growth
Local people involved in conservation must be able to continue pursuing their livelihoods as they choose, rather than being forced into “alternative” modes that render them dependent on external markets. Where traditional livelihoods are not or no longer possible because of past destruction, mechanisms to redistribute existing wealth and resources are necessary to allow people – especially working class but also others – to develop new livelihoods that depend neither on structural resource depletion (e.g. jobs in the extractive sector) nor on unsustainable global markets they have little to no control over (e.g. ecotourism employment). This must be coupled with efforts to end the flow of harmful subsidies and investments as well as contesting trade arrangements that have shaped historic and present environmental harms through extractive wealth transfers to further enrich a privileged minority. Financial resources should instead be redirected towards local stewardship and reparations for the impacts and social and environmental legacies of colonialism and the ongoing impacts of coercive conservation policies.

10. Confront broader social, political, and economic influences and powerful systems that inhibit the cultivation of convivial relationships 

While local communities should be supported in their conservation efforts, they should not be made solely responsible for conservation, as they frequently are. Too often, marginalised people and communities living in or close to conservation areas are those expected to change their behavior most to make conservation work. Yet the greatest threats to conservation are usually not these people, but larger industrial extractive interests and the elites who direct and benefit from them: people who are often not considered in conservation efforts since they tend to live far from conservation spaces and appear too powerful and intractable to influence. It is their production, consumption and general life patterns that affect global biodiversity most. Conservationists should avoid appeasing and overlooking the impacts of these forces, and instead must challenge both regimes that indulge in human rights violations and displacement in the name of conservation efforts, and rights of global or national elites to control or hinder those efforts.