Community Engagement: Prosperity through Empowerment and the NatCap Model

by Dale Prest on April 4, 2014

NIMBY’ism (Not In My Backyard ‘ism) is being criticised across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Be it shale gas, increased forestry or more mining, opposition to extractive industries is being characterised as political, ideological or worse.

The Ivany Report in NS recently pointed to a need for a change in this attitude if that province is going to lift itself out of the collective pickle they find themselves in. The same has been suggested for NB.

Why Shouldn't Communities Care About Whats Happening in their Backyards?

It has been suggested that such opposition will never be appeased and therefore ignoring or strong-arming the communities is justified to secure a promise of increased jobs and economic activity.

I would suggest that painting all opposition with such a brush is less than unhelpful; it further corrodes our lines of communication and dialogue.

Achieving a change in attitude towards resource development that allows communities to more easily accept larger-scale industrial projects will first require a change in approach towards community engagement on the part of both industry and government. Vague references to industry best practices and comprehensive consultations simply are not good enough.

Indeed the Public now distrusts Government, seeing them as in the same camp as industry. The recent Crown Forest Policy in NB and Western Crown Planning Process in NS are two examples, many would suggest, of government bargaining in bad faith on behalf of industrial interests.

Certainly a new approach to development is needed.

Attendees at the NatCap AGM and training session at Stanford University on March 26, 2014NatCap Offers Fresh Approach

This week past I was fortunate enough to attend the annual training session of the Natural Capital Project (NatCap), an initiative coming out of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. NatCap aims to put numbers to the things that nature provides us with: jobs; royalties; recreational opportunities; clean air and water; carbon storage; etc.. By bringing all of these often conflicting values and services together NatCap aims to create a common ground from which policy makers, local communities and industry can come together to make decision about how we can all best benefit from the rich natural resources that surround us.

Central to the NatCap approach is legitimate stakeholder input into the development of projects. This includes bringing communities, industry and government together to not only make decisions about how best to develop our natural resources but also gather information about which specific areas are valuable for what and develop ecological baselines from which change can be monitored. Transparency of data and methods are necessary to ensure all stakeholders understand and buy-into the entire process.

The NatCap group has worked with local communities, governments and NGOs in Hawaii, Belize and Chilé to inform the development of local strategies to manage and develop their local resources. From coastal erosion to the siting of wind-farms, the NatCap approach has helped communities overcome significant hurdles to arrive at compromises in the management and development of natural resources that maximise the benefit to all.

Perhaps most importantly, this represents a comprehensive approach to natural resource development that has given historically marginalised communities a feeling of empowerment and ownership over the resources of their natural environment. This empowerment and ownership makes local communities partners in specific developments, allowing those proposing projects the opportunity to customise their practices to address specific grievances. By identifying and valuing specific natural values and services provided by local environments to local communities, it allows communities and project proponents the opportunity to begin a dialogue about how to not only avoid disturbing these values and services, but also to come up with acceptable ways to offset or attenuate the disruption of these values and services.

Communities Worth Living In

As a young Maritimer, I understand that the development of our natural resources is a necessity to ensure the survival of our communities. However, I also understand that if these resources are not responsibly developed, we won’t have communities that are worth living in.

Both a new approach and a new attitude is indeed required if we are to increase the economic prospects of rural areas; NatCap offers a new approach to resource development; the change in attitude will come when governments and industry are willing to once and for all make communities full and equal partners in the development of our natural resources.

The end result will be better returns for all partners, and a future for the Maritimes.

Stay tuned as we look for opportunities to work the NatCap system into our work here at CFI.

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