Conserving what, how, and for whom? Unpacking SDG 15 “Life on land” and its links to convivial conservation

By Judith Krauss, University of Sheffield (UK)

What does the 15th Sustainable Development Goal, dubbed “Life on Land”, mean for CONVIVA, our research project investigating how conservation can be made more convivial, socially just, transformative?

This blog post hopes to offer some initial, non-exhaustive thoughts building on a paper I am currently developing. It argues that SDG 15 misses opportunities: it mostly reflects hegemonic ideas of conservation building on exclusion-based or market-based notions, while communities’ role unfortunately is underestimated.


What are the Sustainable Development Goals and why do they matter?

In 2015, the United Nations agreed a set of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) encompassing 169 targets. These successors to the 8 Millennium Development Goals marked a step forward in some sense as they expanded the responsibility for attaining the goals from solely lower-income countries to encompass also the Global North, a vital prerequisite especially for all goals related to environmental matters and consumption.


Arguably, the SDGs are the most universally agreed global governance framework: they aim to provide the world with a set of goals which cover the social (e.g. SDG 1, no poverty), environmental (e.g. SDG 15, Life on land) and economic (e.g. SDG 8, decent work and economic growth) aspects of “sustainable development”. (While this is not the focus of this blog, it is worth mentioning that sustainable development remains a problematic term, which e.g. Adams’s Green Development, Redclift’s ‘An oxymoron comes of age’ or Lélé’s classic ‘Sustainable development: a critical review’ have covered in more detail).


Since their publication, much has been written about the SDGs, focusing e.g. on their implicit biases (Spann, 2017; Weber, 2017), their interdependencies (Nilsson et al., 2016) and trade-offs (Pradhan et al., 2017). However, there has been comparatively little work unpacking individual SDGs in terms of what they mean for the academic fields to which they are related. Convivial conservation has a strong link particularly to the fifteenth SDG, “Life on land”.


What is SDG 15?

IMG_20190314_122452~2SDG 15 aims to ‘protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss’ (UN, 2015). The targets and indicators which it involves demonstrate the depth and breadth of the challenges affiliated with this SDG. It encompasses:

– nine outcome targets, ranging from terrestrial ecosystems (15.1) via sustainable forest management (15.2) and arable land (15.3) to access and benefit-sharing (15.6) or illicit poaching and wildlife trafficking (15.7). Few SDGs have as many outcome targets as SDG 15, which illustrates the complexity of preserving life on land.

– three ‘means of implementation’ targets, which focus on increasing both national and international funding for biodiversity conservation (15.a) and for sustainable forest management (15.b) as well as boosting capacity to combat wildlife trafficking (15.c)

– 14 indicators. A number of the indicators are rooted in prior UN decisions, e.g. building on indicators used for the Convention on Biological Diversity or for access-and-benefit-sharing as well as sustainable forest management. They encompass measuring e.g. the mountain surface area under protected areas (15.4.1), or the number of countries that have adopted legislation limiting invasive species (15.8.1).



What does SDG 15 mean for CONVIVA?

SDG 15 prominently reflects both exclusion-based ideas of conservation such as neoprotectionists’ advocacy of e.g. excluding humans from half the earth, and new conservation’s subscription to market-based ideals.

In terms of market-based approaches, they feature most explicitly in target 15.9, which aims to incorporate biodiversity values into national and local planning. Equally, monetising natural resources is a prerequisite for the access and benefit-sharing codified in 15.6. Moreover, both targets 15.a and 15.b advocate raising funding from all sources for biodiversity conservation and forest management, respectively.

Exclusion-based ideas are just as, if not more prominent. Not only is the idea of incorporating biodiversity values into national planning predicated on being able to separate humans and nature, which is problematic. Protected areas are key to the indicators linked to terrestrial ecosystems (15.1), forest management (15.2) and mountain biodiversity (15.4). Incidentally, protected areas also bring in market-based elements especially in the global South through entrance fees to parks or tracking licenses. Moreover, species extinction is often addressed through increasing protection for threatened species by exclusion (15.5).

SDG 15 thus builds on hegemonic ideas of conservation around exclusion and markets in different ways. By contrast, communities are mentioned explicitly only once in all of SDG 15, in the indicator aiming to boost capacity-building for communities to combat illegal wildlife trafficking. From a CONVIVA perspective, both constitute missed opportunities given the importance of SDG 15 as a policy framework, but equally are not surprising given the direction of travel for mainstream conservation.

IMG_20180325_084924One way to begin making SDG 15 more convivial would have been an acknowledgement that protected areas distribute fortune and misfortune. Unfortunately, the indicators utilising protected areas have no acknowledgement of communities’ presence, never mind role. This not only threatens to interfere with attaining e.g. SDG 1, no poverty, but also continues a deeply problematic tradition harking back to colonial times of assigning areas for protection without due consideration for the needs of those living on or around them. More work is needed to think through communities’ role in SDG 15, and our project hopes to develop ideas for how to boost communities’ ability to have a say in socially just, transformative, convivial conservation.

CONVIVA postdoc, UC Santa Barbara, 2 years

The California Grizzly Research Network and NORFACE/Belmont Forum/NSF-funded CON-VIVA working group invite applications for a two-year postdoctoral fellowship in conservation social science.

Since 2016, the Grizzly Network ( has been promoting—through interdisciplinary research and education—a more informed scholarly and public conversation about the past and potential future of brown (grizzly) bears in California. The CON-VIVA project (, which includes case studies in four countries, launched in 2018 to better understand conflicts with large carnivores, and develop new approaches for conserving and coexisting with them during a time of rapid institutional, political, economic, and ecological change.

The fellow hired for this position will conduct a field study to assess the knowledge, attitudes, values, and beliefs of people living in two California communities toward proposals to reintroduce and recover large carnivores, particularly brown bears, in nearby parks and wilderness areas.

This position will require the fellow to design and implement a social science field study, including identifying key stakeholders, interviewing local leaders and residents, organizing focus groups, and engaging in participant observation. The fellow will consult with a steering committee of UCSB faculty, participate in the Grizzly Network, and maintain close correspondence with CON-VIVA members in other regions. This includes attending international team meetings, and writing co-authored journal articles.

The fellow will be based in the Environmental Studies Program at UC Santa Barbara. While in the field, the fellow will use the facilities of the UC Natural Reserve System.

Applicants should have a doctorate in the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, geography, history, political science, etc.), a publishing track record, an ability to work in interdisciplinary and international teams, and excellent communication skills.

Applicants should send a letter of interest, CV, writing sample, and the contact information for two references to Professor Peter Alagona at

Selection will focus on applicants’ qualifications, track record, potential, and fit. Applicants must have completed their PhDs, or show strong evidence that they will do so by June 2019.

The University of California is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability status, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

CON-VIVA Postdoc (36 months), based at the ESALQ (Piracicaba) from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Position 3: postdoc (36 months), based at the ESALQ (Piracicaba) from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil; position to study human-wildlife conflict in the Atlantic Forest biome involving Jaguars

Description in Portuguese:

We are looking for

The Wildlife Ecology, Management and Conservation Lab (LEMaC) at Forest Science, ESALQ/USP seeks a candidate for a postdoc position on the recently awarded project ‘Towards Convivial Conservation: Governing Human-Wildlife Interactions in the Anthropocene’ (CON-VIVA, 2018-2021). Candidates with a background in relevant social sciences (anthropology, geography, sociology, political science, human dimension etc.) will be considered, especially candidates with expertise in the broad areas of environment and development, political ecology, natural resources management and conservation. Your responsibilities include performing research on the (challenges to the) prospects and possibilities of convivial conservation (internationally by studying global conservation events and actors and comparatively across the four cases within the project), assisting in the coordination and management of the CON-VIVA project, occasional teaching at undergraduate and graduate levels, and participating in management activities. For more information on the CON-VIVA project, see:

We ask

As postdoc on the CON-VIVA project you have:

  • A PhD in anthropology, sociology, geography, political science, political ecology, biology or a related field;
  • Proven ability to publish in high-quality academic journals and with top academic publishers;
  • Ability to work in interdisciplinary and international research teams;
  • Excellent communication and writing skills as well as project coordination and management skills. Portuguese fluency is desired;
  • Good didactic qualities and enthusiasm for teaching and working with students;
  • Familiarity with the case-study context of the Mata Atlântica is an advantage
  • Familiarity with social science methods.

We offer

We offer the chance to participate in an exciting international network of top researchers in the field and the ability to participate in conferences and project meetings. Scholarship (R$ 7.373,10) will be paid by FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation; for 36 months. Selected candidate should live at the same city of the Institution (Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brasil) and accept FAPESP Post-Doctoral fellowship ( conditions.

To apply

To apply for this position, please submit an application letter to, indicating your suitability for the position and some first ideas about the direction you would want to take in the postdoc position, and how this would contribute to the goals and themes of the CON-VIVA project. Besides the letter, please include your Curriculum Vitae and one writing sample (a published paper or a chapter of your dissertation). The selection will follow the FAPESP norms (

Contact info

Additional information about the vacancy can be obtained from: Prof. Dra. Katia Ferraz ( or +55 19 3447 6693 or 3447 6671)

Deadline for application: 5 January 2019, 23:59/ Please note that interviews will be held during the last or third week of January 2019.

University of São Paulo, Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ/USP)

Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture (ESALQ) is located at the Luiz de Queiroz Campus in the city of Piracicaba and is currently considered a Center of Excellence for Undergraduate and Graduate programs in Agricultural, Environmental, Biological and Applied Social Sciences, acknowledged for its outstanding scientific and technical performance. Its academic community is comprised of 800 faculty and staff members along with nearly 3,400 undergraduate and graduate students. Its total area (3,825.4 hectares) corresponds to 50% of the total area of University of São Paulo.

ESALQ offers 7 undergraduate programs and 15 graduate programs (one international), in addition to one inter-institutional and two inter-unit programs, in its 12 departments and more than 130 laboratories. It houses a reference library in Agricultural Sciences in Latin America, 4 experimental stations, as well as an enterprise incubator.

ESALQ has graduated 15,000 students. It is the first Brazilian higher education institution to graduate more than 11,000 Agricultural Engineering. ESALQ is a part of the international scene due to agreements with foreign institutions, exchanging students and faculty members, and offering double degree programs in Agriculture and in Food Science with French institutions.

Wildlife Ecology, Management and Conservation Lab, Forest Science Departament at ESALQ/USP

The Wildlife Ecology, Management and Conservation Lab (LEMaC) is coordinated by Dr. Katia Ferraz, at Forest Science Department, ESALQ. LEMaC team is formed by more than 20 members (graduate and undergraduate students, postdocs and trainees) working on interdisciplinary projects related to applied ecology (mammals and birds), human dimensions and conservation planning. The Postdoc will be part of LEMaC having the opportunity to integrate and collaborate with other students and projects.

For further information about working at ESALQ/USP, take a look at

Research Symposium 1 November (Wageningen University): ‘Towards Convivial Conservation’

Towards Convivial Conservation? Governing Human-Wildlife Relations in the ‘Anthropocene’ (CONVIVA)

Research Symposium co-sponsered by Centre for Space Place and Society (CSPS) and Political ecology @ WUR

1 November 2018

Orion Building C2030

Wageningen University, the Netherlands

Convivial conservation is a new conservation approach that aims to move beyond currently dominant paradigms that promote nature-culture dualisms and market-based funding mechanisms. Both of these are increasingly recognized as obstacles to sustainable conservation, yet viable alternatives for transcending them have yet to be organized into a new paradigm and approach. The convivial conservation proposal has been conceptualized to fill this precise gap in envisioning integrated landscapes and new forms of wealth redistribution. Yet for its further practical operationalization, broader discussions amongst different conservation actors are needed. This seminar aims to give a strong impetus to these discussions by focusing on different responses to human-wildlife conflict cases around the world that may contain elements of a broader convivial conservation approach.

Seminar schedule:

8:45 – 9:00                       Coffee/tea

9:00 – 9:15                       Opening/welcome

Bram Büscher and Rob Fletcher, Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University

9:15 – 10:30                     Session I: Relating Humans and Wildlife

Nature-based tourism and indigenous communities in the Brazilian Pantanal: between representations of biodiversity and biocultural diversity

Koen Arts, Forest and Nature Conservation, Wageningen University

Institutional Arrangements for Conservation, Development and Tourism in Eastern and Southern Africa

René van der Duim, Cultural Geography, Wageningen University

The importance of emotions in human-wildlife relationships

Maarten Jacobs, Cultural Geography, Wageningen University

Carnivores, colonisation and conflict: how to subjugate a nation and its wildlife

Niki Rust, Research Associate, Newcastle University

10:30 – 10:45                  Coffee/tea

10:45 – 12:00                  Session II: Human-wildlife co-existence in practice I

Designing wild-user friendly conservation technologies for animals

Clemens Driessen, Cultural Geography, Wageningen University

Behavioural Ecology and Wildlife Conservation

Marc Naguib, Behavioral Ecology, Wageningen University

Living with the wolf: A Luhmannian perspective to human-wildlife conflict in Redes Natural Park, Spain

Isabeau Ottolini and Arjaan Pellis (Cultural Geography) and Jasper de Vries (Strategic Communication), Wageningen University

Human-bear cohabitation in Rodopi mountains, Bulgaria

Svetoslava Toncheva, Comparative Folklore Studies, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

12:00 – 13:00                   Lunch (in Orion cafeteria)

13:00 – 14:15                   Session III: Human-wildlife co-existence in practice II

Managing human-wildlife conflicts: examples from WWF programmes

Femke Hilderink-Koopmans, World Wildlife Fund Netherlands

Re-examining wildlife management: Living with bears and boars

Susan Boonman-Berson, Independent Researcher,

Balancing with the Wolfs? Institutional change in dealing with large carnivores in Törbel (Switzerland)

Ariane Zangger, Department of Anthropology, University of Bern, Switzerland

What do animals tell us about poaching?

Frank van Langevelde, Resource Ecology, Wageningen University

14:15 – 15:30                  Session IV: Species, entanglements and politics

Landscape as a trap: tracing duck decoys as multi-species living machines

Eugenie van Heijgen, Cultural Geography, Wageningen University

Global conservation, local negotiation: a case of Barnacle geese

Yulia Kisora, Cultural Geography, Wageningen University

The Apex-Handbag: From egg-gathering natives via croc-farmers to the distributers of quality leather in a global market

Samuel Weissman, Department of Anthropology, University of Bern

The dynamic and two dimensional nature of human-wildlife relations: Learnings from a biosocial study on human-tiger interactions from Panna Tiger Reserve, India

Shekhar Kolipaka, Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University

15:30 – 15:45                    Coffee/tea break

15:45 – 17:00                  Session V: CON-VIVA Project Case Studies

Jaguar Conservation, Brazil

Katia Ferraz, Forest Science Department, University of São Paulo

Grizzly Bear Reintroduction, US (California)

Peter Alagona, Departments of History and Geography, University of California – Santa Barbara

Lion Conservation, Tanzania

Amy Dickman, Wildlife Conservation Research, Oxford University

Grey Wolf Conservation, Finland

Anja Nygren, Development Studies, University of Helsinki

17:00 – 17:15                   Closing