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Presentation: IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP)

Gaëll Mainguy

Editor's notes

Authors: Richard Cellarius, Aroha Mead & Georgina Peard

Author's notes

Commission Chair: Aroha Te Pareake Mead, IUCN, E-mail:,; Site:

Full text

About us

1The IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) is a network of over 1,400 volunteer experts from 106 countries that provides multidisciplinary knowledge and expertise on the linkages between environmental, economic, cultural and social factors impacting natural resource conservation in order to assist society in finding solutions that are both sustainable and equitable. The Commission's work is carried out by specialist groups dealing with such topics as rights-based approaches to natural resource and protected area management and governance, indigenous and community conserved areas, food and agricultural policy for sustainable livelihoods, the impact of economic policies on natural resource management and conservation, and the social and environmental responsibility of the private sector.

Background and mission

  • 2  Including “Commission on Sustainable Development” and “Commission on Environmental Strategy and Pl (...)

2CEESP traces its origins to the “Commission on Ecology”, created in 1954, which recommended the establishment of a "Commission on Landscape Planning" in 1956. Subsequently, following the work of the Committee and the Sub-commission on Landscape Planning, the "Commission on Landscape Planning" was established as a permanent Commission in 1969. Reflecting emerging knowledge and changing priorities, the Commission was reconstituted as the “Commission on Environmental Planning” in 1971. This new Commission "is involved particularly with matters such as the urban/rural development cycle, land use planning, planning of human settlements and the application of ecological principles to development and to concrete action programmes. It pays attention to matters concerning the planning and management of cultural landscapes that need to be conserved."1 The name of the Commission changed several more times2 while maintaining and expanding on the foci outlined above, the current name being adopted at the 1st World Conservation Congress in Montreal in October 1996.


3A world where equity is at the root of a dynamic harmony between people and nature, as well as among peoples; a world of diversity, productivity and integrity of natural systems; a world in which production and consumption patterns are sustainable; a world where cultural diversity is intertwined with biological diversity and together they generate abundant and sustainable livelihoods opportunities.


4To contribute to the IUCN Mission by providing insights and expertise and promoting policies and action to harmonize the conservation of nature with the crucial socioeconomic and cultural concerns of human communities—such as livelihoods, human rights and responsibilities, human development, security, equity, and the fair and effective governance and equitable sharing of natural resources.

5In order to realize this mission, CEESP provides a platform to understand and debate global challenges facing society, as well as the pros and cons of current and alternative models of natural resource governance. It seeks to foster a holistic approach to nature conservation across IUCN and the conservation community, embracing complexities and facilitating dialogue and collaborative learning based on cultural and social values and on knowledge and experience from diverse regions, communities, genders and ages.

6CEESP supports delivery of the IUCN programme through:

  • Documenting experience – CEESP documents, synthesizes and provides sound analysis of experiences in natural resource governance, including capturing the experiences and voices of marginalized groups.

  • Providing advice – CEESP generates and disseminates credible and trusted knowledge, including local and traditional knowledge, in order to advise IUCN and the conservation community, as well as external audiences where relevant.

  • Building capacity – CEESP works with partners and stakeholders to develop or adapt tools and help build capacity within IUCN and the conservation community, local communities, indigenous peoples, and private and economic sectors to sustainably and equitably manage natural resources.

  • Convening – CEESP helps to convene, mediate and build partnerships for action between civil society, in particular local communities, women and indigenous peoples, and the conservation community, governments and private sector.

  • Advocating – CEESP engages in focused advocacy based on sound knowledge and concrete results and in line with IUCN programme and policies.

Achievements to date

7The nature of the Commission's work as outlined above is such that its major achievements are often best reflected in its publications and presentations and advice given in a variety of international conferences and intergovernmental "Conferences of the Parties" (COPs). Since the outcomes of this work depend on the actions and willingness of other organizations and governments to act, the impact is often difficult to measure in the short term. The following provides some examples of past achievements.

Historical Achievements

8CEESP has championed ‘participatory conservation’ and ‘rights-based conservation’ as inclusive processes to ensure that communities, particularly indigenous and local communities, are involved in all aspects of conservation policy design and implementation. CEESP and its predecessor commissions have produced well over 100 publications all dealing with aspects of balancing conservation of nature with sustainable livelihoods. Two of the most well-known and cited CEESP publications are:

  • “Sharing Power, Learning by Doing in Co-Management Throughout the World”(Borrini-Feyerabend et al., 2004)

  • “Participatory Conservation: Paradigm Shifts in International Policy” (TILCEPA, 2004)

9Complete citations are available on the IUCN Publications website3.

10CEESP also produces an annual peer-reviewed Journal “Policy Matters” on specific issues such as: History, Culture & Conservation (Issue 13); Poverty, wealth and conservation (Issue 14); Climate Change, Energy Change & Conservation (Issue 16); Macroeconomic Policies, Livelihoods & Sustainability (Issue 18). Policy Matters can be downloaded directly from the CEESP website.

More Recent Achievements

Good Governance in Protected Areas

11CEESP has played a leading role in the promotion of good governance in protected areas. At the Vth World Parks Congress (Durban, 2003) CEESP members were catalytic in a process to systematize the concept of “governance of protected areas” and gain recognition of the role of indigenous peoples and local communities as crucial actors in conservation. This was done through workshops, promotion of specific text in the Congress proceedings and of adopted resolutions in the Action Plan. Based on this Parks Congress Action Plan and follow-up efforts by CEESP members, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), at its COP in Kuala Lumpur (2004), approved a Programme of Work on Protected Areas (PoWPA). This included a “new approach” to protected areas calling governments to pay attention to the variety of potential protected area governance types and quality, equity in conservation, and indigenous peoples’ rights. This was also the recognition that rights and benefit sharing are the foundation for sustainability and conservation, i.e. addressing poverty and creating shared platforms. While the governments agreed to the principles and text, they have not however reported effectively against their PoWPA obligations, which is an area CEESP is currently working on with the CBD Secretariat and others.

Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas

12Building on this momentum, CEESP promoted indigenous and community conserved areas (ICCAs) as an important form of protected areas governance. Although ICCAs are by no means a new way of ‘managing’ natural resources, CEESP members worked determinedly to take the idea of ICCAs from a concept to broader recognition and acceptance in international policy, thus giving legitimacy to the ways in which indigenous peoples and communities may ‘manage’ their resources. CEESP generated knowledge and technical guidance around ICCAs in collaboration with the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), helping to demonstrate the critical role of ICCAs in biodiversity conservation. CEESP has consistently brought this knowledge to inform deliberations of the Parties to the CBD, thus strengthening the PoWPA in relation to governance, participation, equity and benefit sharing and specifically calling to respect the customary governance systems that have maintained ICCAs over time.

  • 4 "Em Governança Partilhada!: um guia prático para as áreas marinhas protegidas da África Ocidental" (...)

13CEESP members field-based in West Africa have been engaged in training on shared governance of marine protected areas for about a decade. They published a guide on marine protected areas under shared governance4, available in English and Portuguese. Additional trainingtook place in South-east Asia with a four year program on co-management of protected areas with local indigenous peoples.

Sharing Power

14In 2004 CEESP members produced "Sharing Power – A Global Guide to Collaborative Management of Natural Resources", a joint publication of IIED, IUCN, CEESP and Centre for Sustainable Development (CENESTA). This was the first effort to comprehensively describe, promote and provide technical assistance and advice on shared management and governance possibilities at the local level and specifically with indigenous peoples. Drawing on the experience across the network, this publication is an in-depth resource, filled with real-world examples, lessons from success and failure, as well as practical guidance on enabling negotiated agreements on roles, rights and responsibilities for decentralized governance on natural resources. This text has been used extensively for training in the field and adopted in schools in many countries.

Sharing Power Conference - A New Vision for Development

15Building on the momentum of the publication, in January 2011, IUCN and CEESP sponsored the Sharing Power Conference, held in Whakatane, New Zealand, in collaboration with two Maori (indigenous) organizations, Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa (a tribal authority), Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi (a Maori university) and Victoria University of Wellington. This first ever CEESP global conference brought together a unique mix of scientists, economists, indigenous leaders, environmentalists, academics, policy makers in national governments and international agencies, and many others who care about the quality of heritage this generation passes on to future generations. The Conference focused on the need for policy and decision makers in Governments and Corporations to accommodate a greater level of inclusion of indigenous peoples and all citizens, in national and international policies on the management and governance of bio-cultural resources, and advocated the rights of mother earth.

16The Sharing Power Conference concluded that the time has come for a “new conservation ethic”, one that is accountable, celebrates cultural diversity, cares for species and ecosystems and supports civil society movements, indigenous peoples and local communities to bring a more socially and environmentally just world into being. The new conservation ethic responds to the visions and ideas of local communities and relies on local knowledge and decisions. The Conference Proceedings will be published in September 2012, as Volume 19 in CEESP's Policy Matters series, and launched at the Fifth IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea. It will serve as a guide for all policy and decision-makers and advocates to make this new ethic a reality.

Ongoing and Current initiatives

Inclusive processes to enhance food and agricultural research and policy

17Members of CEESP are working on the design and facilitation of deliberative and inclusive processes to support the governance of food and agricultural research. This is focused around work in different regions, including the Andean Altiplano, South Asia, West Africa and West Asia and through a range of activities including: intercultural dialogues between food providers (indigenous peoples, pastoralists, farmers) and scientists; farmer led assessments/evaluations on public research on natural resource management; citizens’ juries on the priorities and governance of agricultural research; south-south farmer exchanges for mutual learning on policy and practice for agricultural research and food sovereignty; and policy dialogues between food providers and decision makers at national and regional levels. Multi country research, publications, and policy recommendations are being developed on food, agriculture, land use and conservation.

  • 5  "Documento para el debate: Una version para todos" (Solis Rivera et al., 2012)

18In relation to small-scale fishing, CEESP is working to enable fisher communities, particularly in Meso-America, to influence policy and practice that affects both the sustainability of the natural resource and their livelihoods. CEESP members are engaged in the revision and adoption of the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO's) guidelines for sustainable small-scale fisheries. The Guidelines will be important to defend small scale fishers' rights to resources and coastal lands, and a "Documento"5 has been published to explain them to the fishers in Latin America in a simple manner.

Rethinking Economics

19CEESP's Theme on Environment, Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment (TEMTI) focuses on the direct and indirect impacts that macroeconomic policies have on sustainability. The goal is to compile knowledge and experience on the impact of macroeconomic policies and bring this to a wider audience in order to influence policy and practice. CEESP recently published Volume 18 of its Journal Policy Matters, “Macroeconomic Policies, Livelihoods & Sustainability”. This provides case studies in Meso and South America (Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico) and India and is an example of this ongoing work.

The Whakatane Mechanism

20The Whakatane Mechanism aims to ensure that conservation practices respect the rights of indigenous peoples and the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in conservation policy and practice. Emerging from the CEESP Sharing Power Conference in Whakatane, New Zealand, in January 2011, the Mechanism is being developed by IUCN, CEESP, the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), and Indigenous Peoples Organisations (IPOs). It is a process to assess, address and redress situations, primarily in protected areas, where indigenous peoples consider themselves to be negatively affected by a protected area designation or management practices. It facilitates a dialogue between management authorities and indigenous peoples in order to reach joint implementing solutions, and it celebrates and promotes successful partnerships in conservation. The Mechanism builds on the intentions and progress made through other agreements, such as United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Durban Accord and Action Plan developed by the Vth World Parks Congress, the CBD PoWPA, and an array of initiatives focused on enhancing governance, equity and respect for human rights led by IPOs, and conservation organisations. In 2011 and 2012 the Whakatane Mechanism carried out two successful pilot Assessments hosted by the Ogiek people of Chepkitale, Mt Elgon in Kenya and by the Karen people of Ob Luang in Thailand.

Corporate Social and Environmental Accountability

21CEESP has a mandate to enhance the capacity of civil society, governments and the private sector to ensure corporate social and environmental accountability and reduce its impact on climate and biocultural diversity. A primary aspect of members’ work focuses on supporting communities and indigenous peoples to engage mining companies to reform mining operations. For example, CEESP members have conducted and continue to conduct site visits in the Philippines, Salvador, Spain, Australia, US and Canada to assess the impacts of oil spills, the forced removal of indigenous communities from their traditional lands and impact of extractive industries.

22In addition, CEESP will continue to work with IUCN's Business and Biodiversity Programme in the implementation of the recently revised "Business Engagement Strategy", including participation in the development of specific initiatives to engage the business sectors that have a significant impact on natural resources and livelihoods. These include large 'footprint' industries such as mining, oil and gas, biodiversity-dependent industries including fishing, agriculture and forestry, financial services and “green” enterprises such as organic farming, renewable energy and nature-based tourism.

Protected Areas Governance and Social Assessment

23CEESP in cooperation with the IUCN Global Protected Areas Programme, the WCPA and the Deutschen Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GiZ) are developing a resource kit focussed on governance of Protected Areas. The material has emerged from an assessment of the CBD PoWPA needs, and CEESP’s collective experience with governance training. The project is being completed in cooperation with the CBD Secretariat. The governance principles are also being used in cooperation with the IUCN World Heritage Programme to promote dialogue between indigenous peoples and national governments about improvements to consultation, participation, rights and governance of natural and mixed World Heritage Sites. This work is complemented by a team working on Social Assessment of Protected Areas that have produced publications, workshops and are developing a new set of guidelines. Specific attention is being given to Marine Protected Areas and the promotion of Locally Managed Marine Areas as culturally and economically appropriate foundations for national Marine Protected Area targets. A new CEESP sub-Specialist Group is looking at connectivity conservation and social policy in mountain landscapes.

Inter-Commission Initiatives

24CEESP will continue its long-term collaboration with the WCPA through the inter-Commission Theme on Indigenous Peoples & Local Communities, Equity and Protected Areas (TILCEPA).

25In addition, CEESP has recently established a joint Specialist Group on Sustainable Use and Livelihoods (SULi) with the Species Survival Commission (SSC). The work of the Group will include highlighting the importance of wild species for providing community benefits; analysing and communicating best-practice in aspects of sustainable use; promoting innovation in adaptive responses to the challenges of sustainable use; and developing practical tools and approaches to support sustainability and resilience in resource use.

26Another recently established effort is the joint Specialist Group on Indigenous Peoples, Customary and Environmental Laws and Human Rights (SPICEH) with the Commission on Environmental Law (CEL). The goal of this Group is to create a participatory process which supports and advises IUCN and its membership on indigenous peoples, customary and environmental law and human rights law issues related to conservation.

Challenges for the future

27CEESP’s work in the next four years will contribute to the IUCN global programme through a focus on the following continuing programme priorities, incorporating the diverse perspectives and experiences of the CEESP membership, and by increased collaboration with IUCN Members, other Commissions and the Secretariat:

  1. Developing and promoting a conservation ethic that supports diverse knowledge systems and values, delivers rights-based and equitable conservation with improved governance of natural resources and tangible livelihoods benefits, and links biological diversity with the cultural dimensions of nature conservation with a focus on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. CEESP is promoting membership and partnerships between the conservation sector and broader social movements, including indigenous peoples, faith-based organizations and networks, smallscale fishing communities and advocacy groups, small-scale farmers and mobile pastoralists.

  2. Increasing use of rights-based approaches to natural resource management and governance that promote social and cultural equity, indigenous peoples' self-determination, community governance, sustainable livelihoods and human security.

  3. Promoting nature-based solutions to global challenges — such as climate change, conversion of forests and farmland to monocrops, including biofuels projects, food insecurity, poverty, inequitable economic and social development — that are underpinned by economic policies that reinforce sustainability, social equity and environmental integrity.

  4. Enhancing capacity of civil society, governments and the private sector to ensure corporate social and environmental accountability and reduce the negative impact of industries on climate, biocultural diversity and food security.

Facts and Figures

28With 1,465 volunteers, the Commission has a diverse membership in terms of disciplines, cultures, languages, geographical regions, age and gender, which brings multiple integrative perspectives and experiences to bear in debating, analysing and promoting the issues of concern to its vision and mission. Membership includes some of the world’s foremost conservation and sustainable development practitioners, natural and social scientists, and traditional community leaders. Membership is voluntary and by invitation or through application with the support of two existing Commission members.

CEESP membership by region

CEESP membership by region

29CEESP carries out its work through six Themes, two Task Forces and three inter-Commission Themes/Specialist Groups. Most members of CEESP participate in more than one Theme/Specialist Group. The six Themes cover Culture and Conservation (TCC), Environment, Conflict & Security (TCES), Environment, Macroeconomics, Trade & Investment (TEMTI) Governance, Equity & Rights (TGER), Sustainable Livelihoods (TSL), and Social and Environmental Accountability of the Private Sector (TSEAPRISE). The two Task Forces focus on Biofuels and on REDD+ and Indigenous and Local Communities.

30As noted above, CEESP also collaborates with the WCPA through an TILCEPA; with the SSC through SULi; and with the CEL through SPICEH.

31A CEESP youth network began in 2010 to support intergenerational approaches to the vision and mission of CEESP and IUCN.

32More details on the structure and membership of CEESP can be found at​ceesp

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1  A. H. Hoffmann, REPORT OF THE COMMISSION ON ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING FOR THE PERIOD 1970-1972, in Proceedings of the Eleventh General Assembly, IUCN PUBLICATIONS NEW SERIES Supplementary Paper No 40E, 1972.

2  Including “Commission on Sustainable Development” and “Commission on Environmental Strategy and Planning”


4 "Em Governança Partilhada!: um guia prático para as áreas marinhas protegidas da África Ocidental" (Borrini-Feyerabend et al., 2009)

5  "Documento para el debate: Una version para todos" (Solis Rivera et al., 2012)

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Title CEESP membership by region
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Electronic reference

“Presentation: IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP)”S.A.P.I.EN.S [Online], 5.2 | 2012, Online since 12 August 2012, connection on 03 December 2023. URL:

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