People and Protected Areas: Equity and Governance

Sustainable use of natural resources cannot be achieved unless fair access and control to natural resources are available to local people, without discrimination based on gender, class, ethnicity, age or other social variables. There is a need to empower communities and local users, recognising their rights and responsibilities, ensuring their means to sustainable livelihoods and human development. Fair and safe tenure systems for land and natural resources increase social stability and local resources users' incentives and abilities to participate in resource management decisions in effective ways.

Protected areas are one of the most important tools for biodiversity conservation and have traditionally been a key field for IUCN. Many protected areas of the world, including marine areas, overlap with lands, territories and resources of indigenous, traditional and rural peoples. As an example, in Latin America, it is estimated that 86% of national parks are inhabited by local populations, most of them indigenous; in Central America, about 85% of the total land within protected areas is inhabited by indigenous communities. Many conflicts have emerged from the fact that in many cases protected areas have not respected the rights of local populations. Therefore IUCN seeks to:

  • Promote participatory management in Protected Areas and promote national processes that empower local communities’ rights and responsibilities to fully participate in the planning, implementation and decision-making processes affecting resource management in their lands and territories.
  • Support governments and nations to invest in stakeholder consultation and negotiation mechanisms and to adapt legal and institutional frameworks to allow participatory management of natural resources in and around Protected Areas. 
  • Promote tenure systems that support fair access to the land and to natural resources beyond gender, caste, class, ethnicity, age, or any other social discrimination, as basic foundations for achieving conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
  • Promote processes that support local institutions, and strengthen local communities' secure access to, and control over, land and resources, equitable sharing, education and training, as well as full and fair participation in decision-making processes.
  • Involve different stakeholders in Protected Areas by working at the local level to promote decision-making institutions and collaborative management, and building a partnership based on trust, respect and solidarity.
  • Support and promote protected areas that are established and managed by indigenous peoples and traditional and local communities, and that are respectful of the local cultures.

Recalling the WCC Resolution 1.42 on Collaborative Management for Conservation, IUCN seeks, in particular, to promote the participation of local groups and communities, which are frequently marginalised in resource management and development processes.

IUCN's inter-disciplinary Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) acts as a source of expertise on economic and social factors that affect natural resources and biological diversity and works actively on issues related to communities and Protected Areas.

Governance, Communities, Equity, and Livelihood Rights in Relation to Protected Areas
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    TILCEPA logo


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    Photo: IUCN WCPA

Local communities and protected areas