Theories of change for living in harmony with nature

How can we coordinate efforts internationally to achieve global sustainability goals? (Photo credit: Benjamin L. Jones on Unsplash)
Published in Sustainability
Theories of change for living in harmony with nature

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If you look closely at the image above, you'll see someone fishing behind a dense seagrass meadow. How can we ensure that seagrass habitats will continue to thrive and support sustainable fisheries into the future? 

Earlier this year, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KM-GBF) was adopted to support just and sustainable use of the Earth's ecosystems. The overall goal is to secure exactly what we see in the image of coastal seagrass fisheries by the year 2050 - a future where humans live in harmony with nature.

However, it is not clear how we can coordinate actions, locally and globally, to achieve this. The 'theory of change' is unclear.

A robust theory of change must consider the socioeconomic and political factors that allow actions to be successfully implemented - known as 'enabling conditions'. For example, national policy is unlikely to lead to successful outcomes if governance is ineffective. 

Our paper provides a framework for operationalising global theories of change, such as the KM-GBF, in three steps - outlined in the figure below. 

In these steps, enabling conditions directly underpin conservation implementation pathways through the concept of 'enabling profiles'. Enabling profiles classify nations according to indicators representing their socioeconomic and political capacity for sustainably managing and conserving ecosystems.

To demonstrate the approach, we developed enabling profiles for coastal 'blue carbon' ecosystems - seagrass, mangroves, and saltmarsh - to inform nested theories of change for their conservation. The figure below highlights some key examples, but case-studies can also be explored interactively with this web application

Although our blue carbon case study only considers national-scale enabling conditions, sub-national enabling profiles could also be established to inform multi-scale and localised theories of change that underpin National Biodiversity and Strategy Action Plans (NBSAPs) - the primary mechanism by which action towards the KM-GBF will be coordinated. 

Coordinating actions across nations will be key to achieving targets of the KM-GBF and the Sustainable Development Goals. Our framework can be applied to other ecosystems to help to coordinate actions, and ensure they are effective given socioeconomic and political context. 

Let's synergise efforts to achieve our common goals, such as sustainable fisheries supported by healthy seagrass habitat by the year 2050 and beyond.

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