Natural resource governance at multiple scales in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Natural resource governance at multiple scales in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Human efforts to address poverty, enhance welfare, and conserve natural resources and the environment often fail because of faulty governance and implementation. Improvements in governance are consistently viewed as means to address the failures of sustainable development and natural resource management. Indeed, calls by international development organizations, donors, and researchers for decentralization, stronger development institutions, better alignment of private and social incentives, and the protection of ecologies are, at their roots, also calls for improving governance. Effective governance enables and, where appropriate, sets limits on permissible actors and actions, decisions, and decision makers. It helps determine whether and to what extent actions related to development and conservation programmes match the design of such programmes, and their appropriateness in relation to local cultural and ecological contexts.

Answers to what constitutes effective governance become particularly complex in rapidly changing contexts such as those of South Asia and, in particular, the Hindu Kush Himalaya – the focus of this study. In such contexts, governance arrangements have to be instituted with particular care and with an eye to long-term processes so as to reduce the likelihood of perverse outcomes. The empirical focus of this study is on the governance processes that characterize the use of key natural resources such as river waters, transboundary protected areas, irrigation, forest resources, and rangelands. An examination of resource governance highlights governance actors and mechanisms from across the social and political spectrums, their interests, and decision processes. It also brings to the forefront the importance of coordination across scales levels, and the interests and actions of multiple stakeholders that invariably shape governance outcomes.

Six key points emerge from the complex backdrop of resource governance in the region:

The first – obvious but worth highlighting – is related to the diversity of benefits from different kinds of natural resources and the limited coordination that is present for governing them. These benefits may be public or private; local, regional, or global; and immediate or long-term. If the goal is to improve outcomes in multiple dimensions – social, cultural, ecological, and economic – which is critical for the sustainability of natural resources, it is necessary to incorporate the voices of local people into the strategies of governance together with the interests and actions of other stakeholders. Available on-the-ground evidence shows a clear need for involving those who live within or in close proximity to natural resources in decisions about what happens to them and their resources.

The second important point to note is that no single actor, agency, or class of actors has the knowledge, capacity, and interest necessary for improved natural resource governance outcomes. Collaborative relationships across three different types of actors in the private/market, civil society/NGO, and public/government/development sectors are typically relevant to natural resource governance. Governance arrangements that seemingly hinge on the actions and decisions of actors in a single domain, in reality, rely on combined contributions from actors and decision makers in multiple domains and agencies.

A third key finding of the review is that, although collaborations are necessary for effective natural resource governance, they are also complex. Collaborations across different actors and interest groups need commitment, coordination, and the clear delineation of roles, responsibilities, and prospects. The trade-off between more extensive collaborations for resource governance (and thereby the mobilization of greater resources) and higher costs of coordination is evident in a variety of settings and for different resources. Ongoing exchanges and consultations among partners to ensure knowledge sharing in light of changing circumstances are necessary if collaborations are to be successful and effective.

The fourth finding from the review of the empirical evidence is that actors and decision makers involved in natural resource governance use three primary mechanisms/instruments to achieve their ends: information, incentives, and institutions. The specific mechanisms that are in fact deployed may be as varied as trainings, reports, audits, funds transfers, committees, user groups, rules, procedural changes, reporting requirements, and so forth. But the mechanisms used in practice are the expressions of information, incentives, and institutions, or a combination of these.

The fifth finding is that effective collaborations among different governance stakeholders are more likely when the actors and forms of governance are matched to the comparative advantages they possess in terms of the use of the three different instruments of governance that the review identifies. Civil society actors have a greater comparative advantage in using information to mobilize public opinion and resources, government agencies can effectively regulate choices through institutional and policy changes as well as the use of incentives, and market exchange-based governance strategies such as payments for ecosystem services that hinge on performance-based direct incentives.

The sixth and somewhat preliminary finding is that different forms of governance and different actors have greater or lesser affinities to accomplish particular socially valued goals effectively. Broadly speaking, the involvement of local actors and communities for resource allocation choices is particularly important when local livelihoods are at stake; the contributions of government agencies and actors are critical to enhancing the sustainable and equitable provision and protection of public goods such as biodiversity, ecosystem health, and national security, and private market actors can enable greater efficiency in the use and allocation of benefits from resources.

Addressing governance challenges in the region effectively requires more information than we currently possess about the characteristics, availability, networks, interactions, and dynamics of different natural resource systems. Data gaps about natural resources, their governance, and the relationship between governance strategies and outcomes are widespread. At the same time, the need for more and better information about the governance of natural resources has seldom been more pressing. Regional analysis and regional intergovernmental organizations are uniquely positioned to address both the existing governance challenges and the need to close existing gaps in the knowledge about governance.

The report was co-funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Nepal.

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