Environmental Justice and Ecosystem Services: A Disaggregated Analysis of Community Access to Forest Benefits in Nepal
The concept of ecosystem services is influencing how environmental stakeholders pursue dual conservation and community development goals. While rapidly growing in popularity, the ecosystem services approach has been criticized for adopting a homogenous approach to communities and failing to consider social diversity and associated power structures influencing access to benefits. In this paper, we adopt an environmental justice lens to analyse access to ecosystem services in a case study of community forestry in Nepal. Using mixed methods, our disaggregated analysis shows that access to ecosystem services is differentiated by social characteristics such as caste, income and gender with uneven distributive outcomes and participation. High-income groups were able to disproportionately access the benefits despite the social equity provisions built into policy and institutional structures. Our study shows that some of the protections oriented at assisting disadvantaged groups were experienced as onerous and should be amended if they are to have beneficial outcomes. In highlighting entrenched inequities, we argue that the ecosystem services approach needs to make environmental justice more central to avoid further marginalising the marginalized, and have far and just outcomes. The current emphasis on aggregated analysis may contribute little to practically implementing programs that will contribute to sustainable socio-ecological wellbeing.