Reflections from the Tuesday parallel session “Weaving Social Justice into Resilience Theory & Practice; Linking Local Cases and Global Levers to Propel Sustainable and Equitable Transformation”

“Every person on Earth has the right to food, water and a healthy environment — and to participate in decisions that affect their lives”. This statement is in one of the front pages of the website of Conservation International, a well-known conservationist NGO, and it suddenly came to my mind during this session about linking social justice, resilience and human rights.

Human rights are those basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity. Living in a healthy ecosystem underpins not only human dignity and well-being, it is also fundamental for the realization of other fundamental human rights. Recognition of rights is also essential in order to achieve environmental justice. Mostly, justice is associated with the fair sharing of benefits and distribution of burdens across society. However, a fair distribution alone doesn’t ensure justice. The distribution of benefits and burdens are unlikely to be fair if it fails to consider procedural justice, that is, how distributive decisions are made. The lack of procedural justice is then linked to the inadequate recognition about who has the right to take decisions. In reality, the idea is more complex and it is constructed within historical and cultural contexts, as well as determined by several levels of legal frameworks.

During the session presenters shared experiences from Kenya, India and Canada. These included cases on human rights and environmental safeguards into policies and laws; applying laws for upholding human rights and providing responses to biodiversity and climate change crises. Participants were divided up into three discussion groups to converse in further detail about four main issues that at national level can hamper or foster human rights in the case studies presented. The aim was to start a conversation to discussing about two main hypothesis:

How to take advantage of the momentum provided by the Sustainable Development Goals, where human rights are cross-cutting? How to deal with lack of transparency and high levels of corruption in institutions? Big questions and not really time for fully responding to them in this session:

At global level the opportunity to establish communities and indigenous conserved areas has been presented as a condition for justice and ecological sustainability. However, global sustainability initiatives can only be successful when they address human rights and support the development of a strong civil society locally. Local people would participate (in this case) in decisions that affect their lives and who knows, maybe then achieve a healthy and diverse environment.

Inspiring readings and references

Schlosberg, D. (2007). Defining environmental justice: Theories, movements, and nature. New York: Oxford University Press.

West, S.P., L. Schultz. (2015). Learning for resilience in the European court of human rights: Adjudication as an adaptive governance practice. Ecol Soc 20(1): 31.

Martin, A., Coolsaet, B., Corbera, E., et al. (2016). Justice and conservation: The need to incorporate recognition. Biol Conserv 197: 254-261.

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Noelia Zafra-Calvo is a transdisciplinary conservation social scientist. Her work aims to understand the human and social dimensions that enhance or hamper nature conservation. She is currently a postdoc at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate (University of Copenhagen). Noelia moved from systematic conservation planning approaches to focus mostly on including social justice in conservation after ten years of professional experience working with multiple non academic actors in African countries.


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