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Explained: Common Pool Resources And How They Can Help Mitigate Climate Change

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WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

This post is part of theYKA Climate Action Fellowship, a 10-week integrated bootcamp to work on stories that highlight the impact of climate change on India’s most marginalized. Click here to find out more and apply.

The world celebrated Environment Day on June 5 and the theme for this year was ‘Ecosystem Restoration’. The UN decade on ecosystem restoration, which was launched on World Environment Day 2021, aims to “prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems” and there is an emphasis on reviving damaged ecosystems. We know that ecosystems have been degraded over the years due to human interventions and activities.

Hence, reviving these systems would not only entail ecological restoration, but also protection and governance by humans- people interacting with these ecosystems. But who are these people? Who owns these ecosystems? Who will protect them? The answers are not straightforward. 

Representational image.

Here, we have a look at ecosystems and resources which are collectively owned and managed, known as ‘commons’ and how they can help in combating climate change.

What Are Commons?

Conventionally, we are used to thinking about ownership of any asset or property in binary- private/individual and public/government. However, traditionally in India as well as in other countries, there have been multiple ways of owning and managing property and resources.

One of them is collective ownership, where resources are shared, accessed, managed and controlled collectively by a community. In such cases, by virtue of being members of the community, they have the rights and duties towards the resource. These resources are known as common-pool resources or commons. Commons are not just physical goods, but manifestations of the social relationships around the management of these goods or resources. 

Forests, pasture lands, water bodies, grasslands, etc. are some examples of shared natural resources which have traditionally been governed through common property regimes. These regimes are mostly guided by principles of cooperation, sharing and collective action. A set of rules and norms for the management of commons are decided by the commoners (people who use the resources) themselves. There are examples of communities worldwide that have managed and conserved natural resources as common property through self-governance.

Commons have played an important role in the livelihood security of communities. Representational image.

Why Are Commons Important?

We know how ecosystems like forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, coastal areas, lakes etc. play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance by providing “services” like carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, climate protection and so on. When managed properly, these resource systems have also proved to be useful for people. 

Commons have played an important role in the livelihood (not just income-earning) security of communities. Several goods can be derived from commons, such as fodder, fruits, tubers, medicinal herbs, water, honey, timber, grasses, flowers, and so on. Many of these materials are used for food and shelter by the communities dependent on them. Some of the materials could be sold in the market in exchange for cash income as well. 

Apart from these benefits, commons also act as social security nets to fall back on during risks. The collectives of people which are an integral part of the commons share the benefits as well as the risks from the resources. As a result of the relationships and reciprocities, checks and balances, the system is sustainable and resilient. 

What Is The Status Of Commons In India?

The commons have eroded over the years owing to various reasons. Due to a lack of legal recognition of the common property regimes, the resources either came under government control or were privatised. This in turn led to the alienation of communities from their resources since they lost control over their resources. The social relationships underlying the governance and sustainability of these resources also started changing slowly and gradually.

The communities that were directly dependent on the common pool resources for their sustenance had to look for more individual sources of livelihoods. With the advent of the industrial revolution and modernisation, the huge demand for labour and natural resources led to an over-exploitation of both. Without proper management of the resources, they were degraded, impacting their sustainability. 

The erosion of commons not only altered the ecological health of the resources but also changed the social fabric of the communities. Communities like livestock keepers, forest-dependent tribals, nomadic pastoralists etc. were marginalised. The socio-ecological systems which thrived on inter-dependencies and mutual relationships were broken down into isolated components. 

This individualisation meant that communities were more susceptible to risks, the dependence on government and market for livelihoods increased and the traditional norms and institutions of collective action started fading. The social relationships which held communities and resources together became more transactional. Sustenance and security were lost, thus increasing the vulnerability, especially of the marginalised. 

climate change women
Revival of common-pool resources is seen as an important strategy to mitigate climate change. Representational image.

How Are Commons Relevant In The Climate Change Context?

The crisis of commons has a direct bearing on the crisis of climate change. We know that deforestation, depletion of natural resources, degradation of ecosystems, overexploitation of groundwater, etc. are some of the causes of climate change. Thus, the revival of common-pool resources is seen as an important strategy to mitigate climate change. 

Restoration of ecosystems has obvious benefits like increase in vegetation cover, increased biodiversity, carbon sequestration, soil and moisture conservation and so on. Along with this, the rejuvenation of landscapes leads to the creation of livelihoods and enhanced food security. Properly managed natural resource systems, in turn, enhance agricultural and livestock production systems, help in diversifying livelihoods thus shielding communities from risks stemming from climate change. 

Revival of commons entails not just ecological restoration, but sustainable management of the restored ecosystems is equally important. Governance of resources through community-based institutions and common property regimes must be pushed for, instead of privatisation and state control.

Commoning or community management of resources through collective action, inclusive decision-making and collaboration across stakeholders have been initiated at various places to revive those resources. Such initiatives increase the resilience of communities and help them mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

The knowledge systems associated with commons are also an integral part of the resource systems. The communities traditionally managing the resources have intimate knowledge about them and this traditional knowledge helps in the governance and conservation of commons. Restoration strategies must involve an amalgamation of both traditional and contemporary knowledge systems for effective climate change mitigation. 

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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