Avoiding environmental decisions where good intentions have bad outcomes

25 Sep 2017
Ecotourism in The Lost City, Colombia Credit:  Elizabeth Law

How can communityvalues be included in environmental management decisions?

In a new University of Queensland-led study, Dr Elizabeth Law and colleagues from UQ’s Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science explored ethical frameworks and decision-making processes to guide conservation scientists and policy makers to more equitable conservation decisions.
Dr Law said there were many reasons scientists and policy makers were interested in social equity in conservation contexts.

“Firstly, it’s a socially responsible thing to do and secondly, having community support can really benefit environmental outcomes,” she said.

“We appreciate that different people value different things differently. 
“The challenge comes when we want to include everyone’s perspective in conservation solutions. Sometimes there will be trade-offs.”
The research synthesises different ways in which decision-makers can understand and navigate trade-offs between nature and people, and between people and people.

Dr Law said one example was the issue of ecotourism.

“On one hand, encouraging people to enjoy nature is good, but on the other, large numbers of tourists can degrade the biological integrity of an area,” she said.

“Who should decide if and how ecotourism should occur?”

Dr Law said equity was not just a matter of what was decided, but also who had the authority to make decisions, whose information was recognised in the process, and how different needs or perspectives were considered.

“We want to avoid cases where good intentions have bad outcomes,” she said.

"These trade-offs between nature and people are a reality of conservation, and navigating them fairly to achieve both conservation and social goals (that is, people’s well-being) will be important for implementing conservation in systems across the globe.”

The study, which also involves researchers from The University of British ColumbiaUniversity of Nottingham, and the University of Exeter, is published in Conservation Biology (doi: 10.1111/cobi.13008).

Media: Dr Elizabeth Law, e.law@uq.edu.au, +61 7 336 52527.