Current levels of unprecedented and potentially irreversible environmental changes are leading to negative implications for economic and social development. Despite the advances made in international environmental governance and the new institutions created since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, the state of the environment is still declining and impacts on human well-being are still being felt. Indeed, there is a need to build resilience to these impacts, which may have consequences on livelihoods or sometimes lead to disruptions in terms of peace and security. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2008) defines resilience as “[t]he ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning, the capacity for self-organisation, and the capacity to adapt to stress and change.”

Effective governance includes among others respect for human rights, accountability, transparency, rule of law, participation in decision-making, access to information and justice on environmental issues. The concepts of effective governance and human rights should thus be seen as mutually reinforcing. “[A] country cannot achieve sustained progress without recognizing human rights principles (especially universality) as core principles of governance.”1 In addition to this, adopting participatory approaches are essential to build resilient governance, an issue which takes on increasing importance in an era of profound global change.

Recognising the importance of strengthening participatory governance and the empowerment of people for sustainable development and for building resilient governance structures, IUCN underlines the importance of accountability as crucial component of any effective governance framework and considers adopting a focus on securing and realizing the rights of all stakeholders (the use of rights-based approaches) in conservation and environmental and natural resource management as a crucial underlying principle for its recommendations on governance.

Calling for a strong implementation of principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, IUCN urges governments to:

  • Promote subsidiarity, by empowering and strengthening local governance systems as they are closer to the ecosystems and to the livelihoods of the people who depend on them;
  • Place civil society at the centre of decision-making processes, by developing tools to ensure accountability and by adopting a rights-based approach; and
  • Build institutional coherence, by consolidating and ensuring adequate exchange and access to information, so that governance at all levels can be mutually reinforcing.


1 (UN OHCHR, FAQ on a human rights-based approach to development cooperation (New York and Geneva: 2006) pp. 10, 16.