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Identifying and categorizing cobenefits in state-supported Australian indigenous environmental management programs: international research implications

Marcus Barber, CSIRO
Sue Jackson, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University; School of Geography, University of Melbourne


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Significant natural resource management investment is flowing to bioculturally diverse areas occupied by indigenous and other socioeconomically and politically marginalized groups. Such investment focuses on environmental benefit but may also generate ancillary economic, social, and other cobenefits. Increased investor interest in such cobenefits is driving the emerging research literature on cobenefit identification, categorization, and assessment. For local people undertaking community-based natural resource management, this emerging cobenefit discourse creates opportunities for more holistic program assessments that better reflect local perspectives, but it also contains risks of increased reporting burdens and institutional capture. Here, we synthesize and critically review the cobenefit literature arising from Australian indigenous cultural and natural resource management programs, a context in which there is a strong investor interest in cobenefits, particularly from government. We identify a wide suite of cobenefits in the existing literature and highlight previously unrecognized conceptual gaps and elisions in cobenefit categorization, including inconsistencies in category definition, the underanalysis of key categories, and a lack of systematic attention to beneficiaries as well as benefits. We propose a clarified and expanded conceptual framework to identify consistently the full suite of benefits, thereby enabling further assessment, valuation, and development of incentive mechanisms, standards, and guidelines. Our analysis has implications for community-based natural resource management assessment in a wide range of international contexts.

Key words

community-based natural resource management, conservation governance, market-based conservation, payments for ecosystem services, sustainable development

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087