Report back on Governance, Rights, TK/IKS and adaptation

07 December 2011 | Article

TILCEPA Chair Nigel Crawhall participated in a working group discuss ing rights and governance issues related to the integration of traditional / indigenous knowledge into national adaptation policy and platforms. H e noted that both indigenous and State systems have normative aspects of governance. The indigenous and other long established rural local systems are located in specific biological and landscape contexts.

Human culture emerges and is in part shaped according to the abundance and management of access to resources – i.e. bio-cultural diversity is the result of the interface of sustained exploitation of certain biological / ecological niches by specific peoples. This bio-cultural interaction is exemplified in diverse types of culturally-based natural resource access regimes, and associated knowledge, rights and governance systems.

Indigenous peoples' natural resource governance systems are informed by sets of rights and responsibilities. The sets of rights and responsibilities apply to members of the core group, often structured in clan rights and responsibilities, but also extending to neighbouring peoples. The regimes also include trans-generational obligations and relationships between humans and other species. This last aspect includes such elements as mythology, totems and gender specific rituals associated with certain foods and species. Traditional knowledge then is directly associated with the rights and responsibility of stewardship / custodianship of specific landscapes and or seascapes.
They key point about indigenous governance regimes are that they are founded on the interface between social systems and ecological systems – that is to say that humans organise themselves socially around biodiversity abundance and ecosystems capacity.

The modern African State system is also founded on rights and responsibility sets, with its own normative frameworks. There are national constitutional, legal, judicial and political systems which define access, benefits, governance, rights and responsibilities. The State system is also associated with regional and international norms and standards, including the Africa Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the United Nations, for example the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Theoretically, the universal human rights standards which have been elaborated at the international level trump national sovereignty, though in practice this may not be the case. The African State, which was born out of the colonial and liberation heritage, is however not base on any ecological logic. It is based on political and economic characteristics and logic, which is formally shaped by the legal normative frameworks, and informally shaped by uneven distribution of power and control of resources.

Climate change puts increased pressure on inter-community relationships as well as access and benefit-sharing of natural resources. This may destabilise established stewardship systems, triggering migration, resource competition and possible conflict. These dynamics pose a challenge to the State which does not have an inherent ecological logic, but is meant to mediate relations between citizens, collectivities, and other resource users including national and transnational industries with regards natural resources access, stewardship, right and responsibilities. In some cases, there is contestation between peoples and States about access and control over natural resources and territories. This has manifested in armed conflict in some parts of the continent.

Adaptation presents the opportunity for the various rights holders / stewards / stakeholders and agencies to re-assess their relationships and functions. Ideally, this is a process of harmonising local governance with national frameworks. The group noted that there are many pieces of the ‘adaptation puzzle' which need to come on to the national table, rather than on the State's table. This means that the role of the State itself may require some review to stimulate an ecological logic which goes beyond specific traditional knowledge systems. Adaptation therefore means that rights and governance will themselves also become fluid and require dialogue, clarification and possible reconfiguring to allow the localised stewardship to adjust itself within an unstable national climatic and biological context.

Nigel Crawhall, Chair of TILCEPA, IUCN (CEESP – WCPA)