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COP15: only a human rights-based approach will guarantee the newly agreed biodiversity targets, says Minority Rights Group International

20 December 2022

COP15 closed yesterday with an agreement on a Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, comprising four goals and 23 targets to halt and reverse global biodiversity loss by 2030. While the wording of the Framework around indigenous peoples’ rights seems promising, the true impact of this conservation plan will only be revealed by its implementation worldwide.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is concerned by the likely devastating impacts of the adopted target to turn 30 per cent of the planet into protected areas by 2030. Though a human rights-based approach to conservation was adopted as a guiding principle and the rights of indigenous peoples received explicit recognition, these should have been central rather than supplementary concerns.

Each Party should ground its conservation strategy in the human and indigenous peoples’ rights-based approaches detailed in the Framework, and not merely consider them as optional guidelines. Failing to do so will mean that the ambitions set for the next decade will face the same ruinous destiny of the Aichi Targets. This will translate into a complete disaster for many indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities around the world, as well as destroying crucial ecosystems.

‘States should not forget that, while their delegates are celebrating the adoption of vaguely defined nature-based solutions to address ecological collapse, many communities are facing evictions, hunger, ill-health and human rights violations in the name of conservation. A human rights-based approach is the single best chance we have towards a just and sustainable change of the conservation paradigm’, says Stefania Carrer, MRG’s delegate at COP15.

The ‘30×30’ target to designate 30 per cent of the world as protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures by 2030 was adopted within Target 3 of the Framework. Protected areas are the cornerstone of mainstream, often western-driven conservation efforts and have led to widespread evictions, hunger, ill health and human rights violations, including killings, rapes and torture across Africa and Asia.

The adoption of 30×30 comes in spite of insufficient evidence that existing protected areas have been successful and warrant expansion, and runs contrary to ongoing campaigning by human rights defenders and organizations including MRG. A proposal to include indigenous territories as a third pathway for biodiversity conservation failed to reach consensus: the Framework only vaguely calls for the ‘recognition’ of such territories. A missed opportunity, considering that with 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity in the hands of indigenous peoples, preserving their rights and land tenure is key to conserving our ecosystems

‘Although it was clear that most negotiators had a top-down conservation model in mind when discussing 30×30, the inclusion of a reference that recognizes indigenous peoples’ territories and rights in Target 3 can be considered a good compromise’, says Carrer. ‘The ambiguity of the wording will allow for a push towards the full protection and fulfilment of indigenous peoples’ rights during the implementation of the Global Biodiversity Framework. However, it is disappointing that human and indigenous peoples’ rights were a list of considerations and did not find space at the core of the text’.

Confronted with limited space for direct intervention in negotiations, indigenous representatives nevertheless brought home visible results. MRG welcomes the willingness expressed by certain delegations and other non-state actors to meaningfully engage with marginalized communities to meet the ambitions set out at COP15 in accordance with international human rights standards.

Key highlights among the guiding principles for the implementation of the adopted Global Biodiversity Framework include:

  • Strikingly explicit acknowledgement of the ‘contributions of indigenous peoples and local communities as custodians of biodiversity and partners in the conservation, restoration and sustainable use’ including reference to traditional knowledge, to the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent and to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with a strong safeguarding clause for the rights of indigenous peoples.
  • A human rights-based approach as a guiding principle, including the acknowledgement of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
  • In the core text of the Framework, MRG is also pleased to find:
    • Calls for respect for indigenous peoples’ rights, including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, customary sustainable use and traditional knowledge throughout many Targets;
    • An explicit reference to the need to protect environmental human rights defenders;
    • A gender-responsive approach in the implementation of the Framework; and
    • Fair and equitable benefit-sharing of genetic data, essential for health and conservation research, with indigenous peoples.

Photo: The forests of Kahuzi-Biega, the ancestral home of the Batwa of Kahuzi-Biega, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Credit: Robert Flummerfelt.

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