Why should ecosystem services be used for poverty alleviation? Establishing the ethical foundations of ESPA. (Short title: WhyESPA)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Geosciences


This proposal outlines research asking a fundamental question: why should ecosystem services be used for poverty alleviation? It is a fundamental question because, in the presence of ecological and social trade-offs, ecosystem services (ES) do not automatically benefit poor people, but have been demonstrated to accrue to better-off and more powerful actors (Ronnback et al., 2007; Daw et al., 2011). It is also a timely question, not only because many environmental interventions continue to take place in settings characterised by entrenched poverty but also because demand for ES from non-poor and spatially distant actors is predicted to rise in coming decades (Meyfroidt et al., 2013). It is a particularly timely question for the conservation community, with whom we will work, because of active debates about the 'new conservation' and the ethical principles underpinning conservation practice (Lalasz et al., 2011; Soule, 2013). While a growing body of ESPA research now exists, none has comprehensively considered the ethical foundations of the ESPA proposition. This proposal is designed to address this gap and influence the terms of debate on environmental management in this decade and beyond, by harnessing contemporary debates in conservation. It comprises three bodies of work addressing the question of why ES should be used for poverty alleviation (PA): 1) Through empirical work, we seek to understand how conservation practitioners in the global north and south rationalise whether and why ES should be governed for PA; 2) Through novel theoretical work, we identify theories in political philosophy and environmental ethics underpinning the proposition that ES should be governed for the poor; 3) in a Think Tank event with practitioners, we co-produce knowledge about the ethical underpinnings of governing ES for PA.
The transnational conservation sector provides an appropriate focus for this research because conservation is a deeply ethical undertaking, having concerns for the common good, non-human nature and the prospects of future generations at its core. The strength of disagreement in debates about the 'new conservation' signifies the underlying ethical concerns and the importance attributed to decisions over trade-offs. From an ethical perspective, the most critical trade-offs can be characterised as: a) human wellbeing vs. non-human nature, b) current vs. future generations and c) the poor vs. the greater good of all humans. It is around these trade-offs that both the empirical and the theoretical work will be situated.
We focus upon conservation NGOs for two reasons. Firstly, they form the vanguard of international thinking about conservation (Adams, 2004), and their influence is significant because of their transnational reach. Secondly, our previous work indicates that ES concepts have important implications in the conservation sector, in particular allowing some conservation organisations to renew rationales for prioritising poorer people as beneficiaries of conservation (Fisher and Brown, submitted). These indications, combined with fresh debates about the 'new conservation', may signify the emergence of a hybrid conservation ethic combining concern for humans and ecosystems, related somehow to the concept of ES. Therefore, it is timely to investigate these phenomena empirically in the conservation sector.
We hypothesise that turning attention to ethical concerns might serve to resolve ES tradeoffs, through the identification of an explicit and defensible case, from practitioners and supported by theory, of why the poorest should take priority. Making this case has the potential to be transformational, as the reality is that in many instances, the poor and poorest cannot maintain access to ES, particularly when governance changes. Hence, the research we propose has the potential to provide a step-change in how poverty and the governance of ES are conceptualised, and in turn, how related trade-offs may be resolved.

Planned Impact

The proposed research will achieve development impact by identifying a robust theoretical, and practitioner-led case for why conservation might promote the governance of ES for the poor. We will capitalize upon the emerging 'new conservation' debates, which are fundamentally about the ethical foundations of conservation. We will achieve impact by generating theoretical insights on the ethical principles underpinning the relationship between poverty and ES, and also by facilitating a conversation amongst members of the transnational conservation community about the ethical foundations of conservation's interaction with the global poor. We contend that the empirical approach to justice we have promoted has the potential to provide a step-change in how poverty and the governance of ES are conceptualized, and in turn, how related tradeoffs may be resolved. We anticipate that this work will help the ESPA global forum, and the conservation community, to articulate a more reasoned (theoretically-justified), hence more robust, case regarding why the poor should benefit from ES. Through a programme of impact activities, we will coproduce and share widely findings with these communities.

Ultimate beneficiaries: poor people in LICs will benefit from ES-based interventions that serve conservation and poverty alleviation simultaneously.
We reach the ultimate beneficiaries through the following intermediaries:
Conservation practitioners in UK and US working in organisations operating transnationally, in areas where biodiversity and poverty coincide. Changes in their practice as a result of this research will have direct impacts in LICs.
Conservation practitioners in Bolivia, China, Nepal and Uganda where our research partners facilitate direct access to national conservation networks. Uganda and Nepal are World Bank defined LICs, and China's rapid development masks a significant poor rural population, while Bolivia's rural poverty is also extensive. Our interactions will facilitate the inclusion of southern perspectives in the emergent global debate on ethical foundations of conservation.

Pathways to impact
Our impact will be developed through the following linked pathways:
1. Impact through changing the frame of debates about ESPA. We seek to change the debates about ESPA issues by identifying an explicit and defensible ethical case, from practitioners and supported by theory, about why ES management should prioritise the poorest. We anticipate that this will have far-reaching implications in the next decade, and beyond, through a diffuse pathway in which the ideas of policy-makers and practitioners shift. This pathway will be secured through effective communication with practitioner communities such as those associated with our partners Fauna and Flora International (FFI) and the Conservation Initiative on Human Rights (CIHR).
2. Dissemination of preliminary findings at International Conference on Conservation Biology. ICCB is the biannual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology. It presents the chance to highlight our conceptual approach and preliminary findings amongst academic and practitioner audiences.
3. The third pathway consists of a Think Tank to be co-organized by UoE and UEA together with FFI, the UK's longest established conservation organization. The think tank draws from our expertise in these events and involves a novel form of engagement between researchers and practitioners to co-produce knowledge pertaining to why poor people should benefit from ES. One aspect of the event will be the co-writing of a think piece for internet circulation.
4. Through the think tank event, we will invite practitioners to contribute to the 'testimonies of justice' series of videos on the UEA/DEV youtube channel. Hosting these on the UEA platform will also allow us to leverage the existing interest in these videos, which have together generated thousands of views in a year.


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Description 1. In relation to Objective 1, we find three distinct perspectives on conservation and poverty. Perspective 1 promotes a moral imperative for poverty alleviation, prioritises humans above non-human nature, and focuses upon human rights and do no harm principles. In this perspective, poverty is not considered a conservation threat. Perspective 2 has an ecocentric moral reasoning, and human interests are not prioritised in conservation planning, but importance is nonetheless placed on rights protections for humans and do no harm principles. Perspective 3 is relatively nuanced, promoting a moral imperative for poverty alleviation, prioritising humans but without promoting do no harm or rights principles and sees poverty as a threat to biodiversity. This information is useful to people trying to advocate for a pro-poor agenda in conservation, as messaging will need to be targeted according to these three perspectives.

2. In relation to Objective 2, we review empirical literature on social trade-offs in ecosystem services governance in order to identify the prevalent conceptions of justice that inform scholarly assessments of current practice. We find that empirical studies do present specific notions of justice as desirable benchmarks for ecosystem services governance but that they rarely attempt to spell out the precise meaning of these notions or what makes them desirable. For those notions of justice that we identify in this literature - sufficientarianism, egalitarianism and participatory approaches - we draw on philosophical justice literature in order to better articulate the normative arguments that could support them and to be more precise about the kind of actions and expectations that they invoke. We also point to some striking ethical silences in the ecosystem services literature. We conclude that the ecosystem services justice discourse would benefit from more conceptual clarity and a broader examination of different aspects of justice.

3. The associated Future of Conservation project, drawing on a sample size of 9000 conservation professionals in 180 countries (the largest ever survey of conservation professionals), has a number of interesting findings, in brief here:
Three axes distinguish professional conservationists' views on how conservation should respond to 21st Century challenges. These include an axis based on statements relating to people-centred conservation, an axis about 'conservation through capitalism' and an axis relating to scientific protectionism (protection of biodiversity in protected areas, supported by biological science evidence). These axes are important for ESPA-related work as the targeting of messaging about poverty alleviation in conservation will be most effective with those well disposed to the people-centred conservation axis. We find that over 90% of respondents favour people-centred conservation and scientific-protectionism, but that views are much more divided about the role of capitalism and markets in relation to conservation. We have some interesting results about how demographic factors influence perspectives on conservation.
Exploitation Route These findings could be important to the activities of conservation NGOs in planning their work with local communities.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Although it is relatively early, we think there are good indications of the emerging impact of the project. We have had strong interest from all of the partners who engaged with the interview rounds in Work Package 1, and are engaged in our results dissemination and the think tank meeting we hosted in Dec '17. With the allied 'Future of Conservation' project, we have significant interest and reach into the conservation community, through 9000 respondents in 180 countries having engaged with the work. We have received funding to develop further impact from this project from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and the Edinburgh University ESRC Impact Accelerator Account. In particular, this will maximise impact from the findings of the research within conservation NGOs.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Cambridge Conservation Initiative Collaborative Grants
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Cambridge 
Department Cambridge Conservation Initiative
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
End 06/2018
Description ESPA Synthesis Projects (2016)
Amount £200,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P008356/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2016 
End 12/2016
Description ESPA Synthesis Projects (2016)
Amount £200,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P008097/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 03/2018
Description ESRC Impact Acceleration Account Edinburgh University - Booster Funding
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Edinburgh 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2018 
End 03/2019
Description Impact Accelerator Awards
Amount £19,995 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2019
Title Future of Conservation Survey 
Description The Future of Conservation project, which is associated with the WhyESPA grant (through Fisher's involvement in both) has developed a very successful tool for engaging conservationists about how their views on topical debates compare with the views of others. We built a web tool that allows this comparison, with shareable figures on social media, as well as collecting data on these perspectives and demographic factors. As a result of demand from various conservation NGOs, we are in the process of refining this tool for use within groups of colleagues or amongst students in the class. This is the GO-FOX project, which has received funding from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and the Edinburgh University ESRC Impact Accelerator Account: http://www.cambridgeconservation.org/collaboration/go-fox-%E2%80%93-group-and-organisation-future-conservation-survey 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This tool has allowed us to collect the largest ever database of perspectives of conservation professionals (n=9000 respondents). The Future of Conservation study (http://futureconservation.org/) has garnered quite a lot of attention, on blogs and in conservation media/twitter, etc. For instance: https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets|ical=default&q=futureofconservation&src=typd https://sti-cs.org/2017/05/15/the-conservation-conversation-what-type-of-conservationist-are-you/ https://conservationbytes.com/?s=future https://conservationbytes.com/2016/09/06/conservation-is-many-things-to-many-people/ 
URL http://futureconservation.org
Description Beyond do no harm: should conservation seek to be pro-poor 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We hosted this debate event in partnership with the International Institute for Environment and Development in early Dec '17. This involved a series of presentations from WhyESPA project investigators and a few external people with relevant interests. There was also time for debate and discussion. The event was attended by around 60 people and there was some social media activity around it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Ongoing engagement between WhyESPA project team and Fauna and Flora International, and the Conservation Initiative on Human Rights 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The project has informed discussions within Fauna and Flora International, and the Conservation Initiative on Human Rights on the rationales and approaches that conservation NGOs take in addressing livelihoods and governance issues in our work. For FFI, this has been particularly timely in that they are currently embarking on a new 5 year strategic planning process in which how they address issues of equity and social justice is an important topic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017