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COP15: Supporting Indigenous Peoples and local communities is the biggest opportunity for a successful post-2020 biodiversity framework

Supporting Indigenous Peoples and local communities to secure their rights and to strengthen their self-determined governance systems, sustain their cultures, territories and ways of life on their own terms is one of the biggest opportunities for transformative change in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

Manobo people in Mindanao, Philippines. Photo: Glaiza Tabanao

First published on 10/10/2021, and last updated on 10/15/2021

By Ameyali Ramos (ICCA Consortium International Policy Coordinator) and Carolina Rodríguez (ICCA Consortium International Policy Assistant) 

On the occasion of the first part of the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) which starts today in a virtual format, the ICCA Consortium urges Parties to align the ambition of the Global Biodiversity Framework with the self-determined needs and priorities of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and their territories of life.  

The ICCA Consortium has been following the negotiation process since it began. While there have been some improvements on the First Draft of the Global Biodiversity Framework, there is still a need for significant improvement, especially around issues of human rights, equity, governance, environmental and human rights defenders, and financing.

The Kunming Declaration might offer a glimmer of hope for Indigenous Peoples and local communities in that it acknowledges their contributions to conservation and also commits to recognizing their rights and ensuring their full and effective participation in area-based conservation.  However, while these are important acknowledgments, they merely reflect what has already been agreed in many past COP decisions, and a lot more needs to happen in order for the post-2020 framework to be truly transformative.  

READ MORE: “Indigenous peoples are the world’s biggest conservationists, but they rarely get credit for it” (Vox)

The ICCA Consortium urges Parties, conservation organizations, and funders to stand up and join Indigenous Peoples and local communities and their allies in advocating strongly for the following: 

1. Center human rights 

First, the post-2020 framework must have an overarching focus on human rights-based approaches. Mounting evidence confirms that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are the most successful stewards of biodiversity and nature, especially where their rights are recognized and supported. Furthermore, most governments around the world have already recognized the human right to a healthy environment in constitutions and other domestic laws and policies and momentum is growing for universal recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. Centering and integrating human rights throughout the post-2020 framework would be the most equitable, morally correct, and cost-effective way to achieve its objectives. The ICCA Consortium contributed to an analysis brief with guidance on “Applying a human rights-based approach” in the Global Biodiversity Framework.  

2. Area-based conservation Targets 1, 2, and 3 must recognize and respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, including Indigenous Peoples’ rights to provide or withhold free, prior, and informed consent for any activities that might affect them

Overwhelming evidence shows that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are the de facto custodians of a significant proportion of the planet and the world’s remaining biodiversity. It is increasingly clear that it will be impossible to reach any conservation targets without the rights, leadership, and full partnership of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. During the virtual sessions of the third meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (OEWG-3), several Parties suggested including rights-related language in the overarching mission and vision and not directly in these targets. Rights-related language should be included in the overarching vision, but the language of area-based targets, especially Target 3, must also recognize rights, including free, prior, and informed consent.  

Furthermore, it is crucially important to understand that Indigenous Peoples and local communities may not wish to have their territories recognized and/or designated as either protected areas or other effective area-based conservation measures and they have the right to refuse such recognition – even if their territories are effectively conserved. Any mapping, identification, recognition, or designation of Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ territories of life, whether as protected areas, conserved areas, or otherwise, must be subject to self-identification, self-determination, self-governance, and free, prior, and informed consent of the relevant custodians.

3. It’s about quality, not just quantity

Any area-based conservation targets must have a strong focus on qualitative and not just quantitative measures and percentages. A significant proportion of existing protected areas are not, or have no information about the extent to which they are, equitably governed or effectively managed. The dominant focus on Target 3 has been on the proposed 30% spatial coverage, with scant mention of issues of governance in particular. Based on experience with the current Aichi Target 11, there are legitimate concerns that governments might rush to expand their networks of protected and conserved areas simply to meet this spatial target, without doing the necessary groundwork to (at minimum) avoid violating rights in the name of conservation and without providing the necessary frameworks and support systems to enable effective and equitable conservation. 

4. Equitable governance is critical to achieving any conservation objective

While there is some improvement in the First Draft on this topic – namely the inclusion of “equity” in Target 3 – the draft must move beyond management to ensure governance and equity. The Draft must also recognize the contribution of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the conservation of lands, waters, and territories through their self-determined governance systems, respect for their rights to their territories, lands, waters, and resources, and their right to provide or withhold free, prior and informed consent. The issue of “governance equity” has been raised by all the four major Caucuses and many of the Parties in the post-2020 negotiations.

5. Halt the drivers of biodiversity loss and end perverse incentives

We must increase ambition in targets intended to halt drivers of biodiversity loss by explicitly identifying the industries that are most harmful to biodiversity and committing to divesting from these industries as soon as possible, including by eliminating 100 percent of perverse incentives by 2025. As long as funds (public and private) are spent on incentives that are harmful to biodiversity, we will continue to lose biodiversity and the effects of any positive incentives or actions – including area-based conservation – will likely be significantly undermined or even negated. Positive incentives should support systemic alternatives to the status quo (i.e., not market-based mechanisms and other measures that are inherently linked to the neoliberal economy and to continued economic growth).

6. Ensure human rights-based financing and direct access mechanisms for Indigenous Peoples and local communities

Despite the outsized stewardship contributions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, they continue to face huge funding disparities that stifle their impact and their ability to do the invaluable work they do.  Only a small fraction of total funding available for nature conservation is likely to reach Indigenous Peoples and local communities and their organizations, as most of the funding flows through large intermediaries and programs managed by international NGOs, UN agencies, and consulting companies. Often the very limited funds that do reach Indigenous Peoples and local communities come with unmanageable application and reporting requirements and very specific predetermined outcomes that undermine their autonomy and self-determination. This must change. We must increase political and financial support for Indigenous-led philanthropy and appropriate funding mechanisms that go directly to Indigenous Peoples and local communities and their organizations. We must further require human rights safeguards and accountability mechanisms in funding for initiatives implemented by governmental and non-governmental entities such as large conservation NGOs. 

The upcoming virtual meetings are an opportunity to continue to discuss and advocate for these key priorities to make the post-2020 global biodiversity framework truly transformative.