Towards a Better Understanding of Community Involvement for Achieving Environmentally Sustainable Development

Document Type : Original Articles


Department of Law, Environmental Sciences Research Institute, Shahid Beheshti University


The notion of applying a participatory approach to various areas of both environmental protection and development has gained ground in international policy- and law-making since the adoption of the Rio Declaration in 1992. The Declaration presents the participatory approach as an important procedural aspect of environmental management and decision-making within sustainable development and requires governments to employ it as far as possible. The Declaration also recognises the important and sometimes central role played by local and indigenous communities and their knowledge and practices their intangible cultural heritage - in ensuring that the use of natural resources is environmentally sustainable. Taken together, these two principles can be understood to require governments to ensure a high degree of local community involvement at all stages of environmental protection (from policy-making to management), an approach endorsed in various environmental treaties adopted in or since 1992. The Convention on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage adopted by UNESCO in 2003 is the most recent treaty in this area to take this approach and it is interesting both for the way it places the community at the centre of actions for its implementation and also since it establishes an intergovernmental Committee whose main task involves the development of operational directives for this treaty. Since employing a participatory approach that requires the direct involvement of local communities in areas traditionally reserved to government is a complex and difficult question, it is hoped that the future practice of the intergovernmental Committee of the 2003 Convention may provide guidance on this not only for that treaty but also for other environmental treaties. Given the uncertainty surrounding both the identification of these communities referred to in environmental treaties and, more problematically, the exact content of their participation in environmental protection, I wish here to examine these further in an attempt to give them more clarity.