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The emergence of social licence necessitates reforms in environmental regulation

Ingrid E. van Putten, Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO, Castray Esplanade, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia; Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Christopher Cvitanovic, Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO, Castray Esplanade, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia; Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Elizabeth Fulton, Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO, Castray Esplanade, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia; Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Justine Lacey, Land and Water, CSIRO, Brisbane, Australia
Rachel Kelly, Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia; Institute for Marine & Antarctic Studies, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-10397-230324

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Abstract

The term “social licence to operate” (SLO), popularized in corporate usage over the last 20 years, is frequently used to refer to the level of social approval that exists in relation to the development of natural resources for private or public purposes. However, the theoretical and practical utility of the concept remains contested and it is often used opportunistically to advance individual agendas. Moreover, it remains difficult to assess how an adequate level of SLO can be transparently assessed, or how dialogue can be appropriately achieved. In this paper we argue that the increasing use of the SLO concept is an indication that trust in, and the legitimacy of, formal regulatory processes for natural resource management has eroded and needs to be reimagined. In response, we outline five principles that provide pathways to increase the legitimacy of, and trust in, regulatory approval processes: (i) clear regulatory objectives; (ii) transparent regulatory approval processes; (iii) clear pathways for appeals and reviews of regulatory decisions (iv) early and inclusive collaborative consultation process; and (v) independence of decision-making authorities. By rethinking the basic principles of regulatory and licencing processes in natural resource management, our five principles aim to reduce the need for SLO. This could minimize erratic decision making and inequitable approval processes that are driven by a perceived need for SLO, often only for the corporate sector, which risks the voices of other stakeholders being unevenly represented. We draw upon natural resource management experiences from Tasmania, Australia as illustrative examples to stimulate a discussion on the usefulness of SLO and the need for improved approaches to natural resource management.

Key words

environmental management; governance; legitimacy; resource conflict; trust

Copyright © 2018 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.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087