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Rights for Ecosystem Services (RES): a framework to protect the environment and sustainable local communities in the EU.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RES (Rights for Ecosystem Services (RES): a framework to protect the environment and sustainable local communities in the EU.)

Reporting period: 2020-01-13 to 2022-01-12

Local communities often contribute to environmental protection through sustainable practices that advance several Sustainable Development Goals at once. Increasingly, international instruments have recognized that their traditional knowledge and practices can contribute to environmental protection. However, they still suffer from eviction from their traditional lands, pressures arising from large-scale natural resource development, measures aimed at the conservation of the environment and the like.
The project concentrated on local communities at the international level and in EU countries. It sought to clarify the rights and obligations of local communities necessary to maintain their practices relevant for environmental protection by proposing a wider understanding of the Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) framework – which aims at fostering environmental protection through payments for the benefits people obtain from ecosystems – and of the concept of biocultural rights – as the basket of rights of indigenous peoples and local communities necessary to maintain their role as stewards of the environment. To do so, the project developed an innovative theoretical and legal framework – labelled Rights for Ecosystems Services (RES) – to guide policy and legal developments towards reducing the risk of local communities abandoning their sustainable practices due to the lack of effective protection.
The project tested RES as a framework to overcome the classic anthropocentric/eco-centric dichotomy characterizing literature in conservation science and human rights theory, as well as to foster the protection of local communities’ contribution to biodiversity protection.
The work was carried out at the host institution – the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG), University of Strathclyde – in collaboration with other institutions, among which the Institute of Island Studies of Prince Edward Island, Canada, the international organization Island Innovation, and the Egadi Marine Protected Area, Italy.

The fellow worked on the development of the theoretical framework and background of RES: she assessed the current level of protection of sustainable local communities, explored the specific features of RES as double-foundation group rights, including the criteria to be rights-holders, the peculiarities of remedies of double-foundation rights, their content, and the issues surrounding the fair balance between rights and duties of local communities. These RES features were tested through analytical legal theory, political theory, critical theory, and international human rights law and policies.

This theoretical side was accompanied by fieldwork research in the Egadi islands, Italy, to provide an empirically grounded, context-specific testing of the proposed RES framework.

Among the main results and dissemination activities:

- Presentation at 5 international conferences
- 7 published articles/chapters (1 with co-authors) on international peer-reviewed journals and edited books (publishers: Routledge and Edward Elgar)
- 1 edited monographic section in peer-reviewed journal
- 2 book proposals in the process of being submitted
- 4 policy briefs (3 with co-authors)
- 8 seminars/workshop invitations at different institutions (among which Université Grenoble Alpes, France; Consiglio Nazionale per la Ricerca and the Istituto di Studi Giuridici Internazionali, Italy; Università degli Studi di Brescia, Italy; Università degli Studi di Palermo, Italy; A-Sud Onlus, Human Rights Youths Organization)
- chairing of 2 international events (organized by the One Ocean Hub and the United Nations Nippon Foundation Fellowship Programme; and by the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance and the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada)
- 2 international events organized (with the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance, the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada, and Island Innovation)
- 1 summer school organized
- 1 video on fieldwork results developed.
The project aimed at exploring the extent to which RES can expand the current legal understanding of human rights as universal rights aimed at fostering only human interests.
Focus was given to the difficulty of balancing between the interest in the conservation of the environment and the human-centred interests of groups such as local communities. In particular, the fellow looked at rights that may be described as having two foundations (two interests that justify their recognition) and analysed what could be a different type of rights’ limit, i.e. an internal one stemming from the conflicts between their two foundations. The nature of these unexpected internal limits remained quite opaque and in need for clarifications, and the fellow worked on explaining the main characteristics of these limits in order to explain the functioning of RES as double-foundation rights.

Inspiration on RES also was found in the study of one of the market-based instruments to promote environmental conservation: Payments for Ecosystem Services. While valuing their desire to reach win-win scenarios protecting both nature and local communities, PES were analyzed and judged as mostly inappropriate to adequately respond to both human and environmental needs. RES were proposed as a response to such calls, merging ecosystems services, rights and local communities sustainable practices.
The fellow also explored the radical counter proposal based on the recognition of the rights of nature advanced under the name of Earth Jurisprudence. The fellow raised critiques against Earth Jurisprudence, but sought to treasure its important and useful suggestions such as the promotion by of the rights of nature as a possible trait d’union between human rights and the conservation of the environment.

While most academic literature concentrates on indigenous peoples, the fellow concentrated on the rediscovering the concept of local communities as an emerging actor in international environmental and human rights law, entrusted with new rights (and duties) vis à vis the protection of the environment.

Fieldwork results:

The Egadi islands are located in Sicily, southern Italy. The most remunerative artisanal fishing gear of Favignana – the largest of the Egadi islands – used to be the tonnare: bluefin tuna fixed traps that represented the economic and cultural core of those islands for centuries.
Since after the second world war, the diffusion of new fishing gears left fixed traps increasingly behind as costly and inefficient. However, in comparison to the new fishing methods, the tonnare are an example of cultural and sustainable heritage.
The literature review, legal research, and interviews conducted in the field, were all aimed at analysing the Egadi case as a potential application of RES. The focus was on whether it could be possible to claim for special fishing rights – Rights for Ecosystem Services – for the Egadi communities to engage in the reactivation of the Tonnara to promote a local sustainable and traditional practice. Such RES would promote the conservation of sustainable local practices, otherwise doomed to be abandoned, preserving at once a cultural piece of the local identity and a positive relationship with the environment and marine resources. They would, in other words, promote a local community’s interests and the general interest for the conservation of the environment.
Stabilimento Florio, Favignana, Egadi islands, Sicily, Italy
Stabilimento Florio, Favignana, Egadi islands, Sicily, Italy
RES logo
Camparia, Favignana, Egadi islands, Sicily, Italy