New IUCN WCPA Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines on transboundary conservation now available online. Read the news here and download the Guidelines here.
By Jamie McCallum
Any provisional site requires compatible habitat on both sides of the border, which is assigned for biodiversity protection. This land needs to be either contiguous or have the potential to be connected. It needs to be clear that unifying an ecosystem in a new entity is ecologically and geographically feasible and desirable. If it is, then political support for such a scheme is required at the national level. For this support to be forthcoming, governments need to be convinced that it is in their interest to establish a transboundary conservation area (TBCA) for their political, ecological, cultural or economic gain. Robust, relevant feasibility studies are required to help generate this support. Each state will also need to be convinced that their national sovereignty will not be threatened and that relations with their neighbour are compatible (politically, religiously, culturally, legally).
Political will may not mean very much unless there are resources available to establish, manage and develop the TBCA. This funding may be more difficult to accumulate if the potential benefits are not clear. Balanced investment may also pose problems where two countries are at different stages of development. It may be hard for them to agree on investment amounts as well as the exploitation of resources and the division of revenue from such shared natural resources.
Even with national support and funding, transboundary conservation initiatives require full support from those they impact most. In a theoretical sense those on the ground need to believe that ecosystem management can help to achieve biodiversity goals better than a divided system. Protected area managers also need to share a practical belief that the scheme can help them to achieve goals and offset threats and that working together will make this more likely.
This needs to be matched by support from communities inhabiting the area in and around the merged entity. This may mean convincing these people that their interests will be met by the broader economic, political and ecological benefits of transboundary conservation. Convincing such groups requires leadership and communication from all levels of the scheme but can also be aided by the work of NGOs who may provide an independent case for the benefits. A unity of purpose might be forged by the formation of a border committee comprising representatives from each of these groups, which might also help to mitigate cross-border differences in authority, experience, resource, professional standards and commitment.
Cooperation and communication therefore remain central to the success of establishing any TBCA. As a result telecommunications exchanges, digital contact and face to face meetings are essential to ensure that the objectives of both sides match and that their resources are best deployed for the common good. This may be impeded at a very basic cultural level, where language or religion prevent easy and clear contact between parties. In cases where terrain, culture, political systems, restricted resources or inadequate telecommunications prevent easy contact, steps need to be taken to ensure that these impediments can be overcome.
Even the successful establishment of such a scheme may be short-lived if it does not achieve expected goals in a certain timeframe. For this reason it is important to set targets and goals for the transboundary initiative to assess its effectiveness. This might mean producing scientific measures of success and/or a set of contingencies in the event of political tension. Good research and planning can aid the establishment of TBCAs, but can also strongly increase the chances for producing positive project outcomes in the long-term.