|dc.description.abstract||Significant progress towards sustainability has been made in recent decades. However, persistent and deepening unsustainable trajectories underline that mere continuation of current strategies will not suffice in reversing unsustainable trends. Governance for sustainability emerged as a field of inquiry aiming at prescribing decision-making structures and processes to support progress towards sustainability. Governance for sustainability in a complex and dynamic world poses a perplexing challenge. Goals are ambiguous; uncertainty is inherent; power is distributed and knowledge is incomplete (Leach, Scoones, & Stirling, 2010; Newig, Voß, & Monstadt, 2008). In this emerging context, the objective of governance is not to steer society towards perspicuous preferences but to iteratively and collectively negotiate and redefine actions and goals (Leach, Scoones, & Stirling, 2010; Meadowcroft, 2008) in order to influence and better cope with social-ecological system change. Core principles of sustainability serve as an ethical compass for deliberations and decision-making and need to be specified according to the different contexts, needs and options available. Sustainability assessment overlaps with, and plays a role in governance for sustainability.
In the field of sustainability, different approaches such as transition management, resilience and transformation in social-ecological systems, and future studies are directing attention towards understanding change (and resistance to change) and how it can be influenced intentionally in a complex and dynamic world. This dissertation integrates lessons on how to generate intentional change into Gibson’s (2017, 2005) sustainability assessment framework and specifies sustainability requirements for their application to forest communities. Forest communities in Canada and in many parts of the world are faced with the challenge of responding to a recent forestry crisis that has revealed their vulnerability to narrow economic dependence on global paper and lumber markets while also taking part in the broader quest to reverse deepening unsustainable societal trajectories that are common to many rural and remote communities. Two recent local governance initiatives in the Antoine-Labelle region in Quebec – a Vision exercise and The Bourdon project, a forest community part of the Canadian Forest Communities Program – serve as ground for exploration and application. The Antoine-Labelle region was greatly impacted by the Canadian forestry crisis that struck most dramatically early in this century. Employment within the forest sector was reduced by more than 50 percent between 2004 and 2007 and the industrial structure was significantly modified. A qualitative approach assessing results according to three categories (i.e., significant and minor contributions to sustainability, and unmet criteria) was used to gain insights into the areas of strengths and weaknesses of the initiatives and identifying routes for improvement in sustainability contributions.
The assessment led to three major findings. First, the assessment uncovered a need for increased capacities for environmental stewardship and for local governance actors and citizens to be involved in forest governance. This finding responds to a long-standing problem, identified in the historical account of the evolution of forest management policies in Canada, which illustrates that forest communities, including First Nation communities, were repeatedly excluded from forest management decision-making.
The second major finding concerns path dependence and the marginalization of forest communities by provincial policies. While both initiatives were disruptive in opening-up forest governance and local governance to other stakeholders and First Nation communities, progress remains tentative. Findings indicate that while the forestry crisis brought reasons to examine broader options for forest community futures, it also increased the pressure to narrow considerations and prioritize economic imperatives.
The third finding relates to the importance of lack of political will as a significant impasse to governance for sustainability. Gaining political support in a time of crisis and when funds are available is a relatively simple task. Moving beyond ad hoc initiatives and following through with organizational and institutional change is where the real challenge lies. Lasting contributions towards sustainability remain tentative and highly dependent upon the willingness of local actors to continue building on acquired capacities, knowledge and experience.
This dissertation contributes to sustainability assessment literature and recent attempts to integrate resilience and transition management lessons into sustainability assessment criteria. Further insights into future studies were drawn by putting forward key requirements for scenario building and vision exercises and by highlighting the differences in how different approaches frame the use of future studies. Another contribution pertains to the originality of the specified assessment framework for forest communities and its complementarity to other assessment frameworks. In addition, the case study of the Antoine-Labelle region and the assessment of two local governance initiatives that were put forward represent a substantive contribution to understanding possible pathways forward as well as the region’s strengths and weaknesses based on a sustainability perspective.||en