No biodiversity action without human rights
By Stefania Carrer, Litigation & Advocacy Officer at Minority Rights Group International
After a long negotiation process leading to the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) during COP 15 at the end of last year, all eyes are now on the implementation of the international community’s renewed commitments to stop and revert biodiversity loss. The theme for this year’s celebration is: ‘From Agreement to Action: Build Back Biodiversity’.
Only a human-rights based approach to the implementation of biodiversity targets will ensure that the enactment of biodiversity policies, governance and management is not detrimental to the rights of indigenous peoples and marginalised communities worldwide. The conservation milestone established under the much-touted Target 3 to turn 30 per cent of the planet into protected areas by 2030 ( ‘30×30’) will endanger indigenous peoples and marginalized populations. Protected areas have led to widespread evictions, hunger, ill health and human rights violations, including killings, rapes and torture across Africa and Asia.
Yet 30×30 is not the only element raising concerns. Targets 8 and 11 of the Framework formally endorse the concept of ‘Nature-based solutions’ (NbS), a problematic term drawn from the climate action sphere and now listed in the GBF as a tool aiding in the achievements of its goals.
Nature-based Solutions are officially defined by the 5th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) as ‘actions to protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use and manage natural or modified terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems which address social, economic and environmental challenges effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human well-being, ecosystem services, resilience and biodiversity benefits’.
This multilaterally agreed definition does not help to clarify the concrete meaning of NbS. However, it does make clear that a wide range of approaches falls under its umbrella, such as reforestation and the restoration of wetlands and costal ecosystems such as mangroves and coral systems, among many others. Some nature-based solutions, such as conserving existing wetlands or changing management practices of farmed land, are designed to prevent greenhouse gas emissions; others, such as regrowing clear-cut forests are associated with the removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and its storage in plants, soils and sediments.
Governments and corporations are keen to support and undertake projects labelled as NbS in the context of so-called ‘net zero’ strategies, as they offer the opportunity to increase carbon storage that is used to compensate for emissions produced elsewhere (carbon offsetting). According to this overly simplified formula, a ton of CO2 equivalent sequestered in a restoration project in the Amazon equals to a ton of CO2 sequestered in a reforestation project in the Congo Basin.
Whether or not carbon offsetting is in effect sustainable, ethical or beneficial for the environment is currently contested. When it comes to the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems and biological diversity, measuring the impact of NbS is even more complicated.
As stated by the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, ‘different interpretations of several important attributes of the concept of biodiversity can lead to confusion in understanding both scientific findings and their policy implications. […] The consequences of changes in biodiversity for people can stem both from a change in the diversity per se and a change in a particular component of biodiversity. Each of these aspects of biodiversity deserves its own attention from decisionmakers, and each often requires its own (albeit connected) management goals and policies’.
As ecosystems services are extremely dynamic and intimately linked with human well-being, there is no single unit of measure to consider. Nor is it possible to apply simplified equations. Therefore, the impact of any kind of conservative or restorative measures on an ecosystem and on the enjoyment of connected human rights can never be assumed on the basis of Nature based Solutions vaguely defined, and the concomitant assumptions about the alleged ‘solutions’ to polluters’ problems.
Conversely, only programmes and projects that are designed and implemented with the full and effective participation of the concerned populations and indigenous peoples living on those territories can effectively protect ecosystems, rights and livelihoods: their localised knowledge and traditional practices offer solutions that work.
It is crucial to keep in mind that the Post-2020 GBF has crystalized respect for human-rights as the pivotal principle for its interpretation, implementation and evaluation. Section C specifically recalls the rights of indigenous peoples, including the right to free, prior and informed consent and others guaranteed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples . It also emphasizes that nothing in the Framework can be interpreted or implemented ‘as diminishing or extinguishing the rights that indigenous peoples currently have or may acquire in the future’.
States that are party to the Convention on Biological Diversity have been called to revise and update their national biodiversity strategies and action plans. They are due to submit them by COP16, which will be held in Turkey next year. MRG will closely monitor what kind of solutions will constitute the bulk of states’ action and how the contributions of indigenous peoples as custodians of biodiversity and partners in the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity will be incorporated in such plans.
Today, on the International Day for Biological Diversity, we once again affirm that any biodiversity action must place human and indigenous rights at its core. A human rights-based approach is the single best chance we have for a just and sustainable change of the conservation paradigm.
Photo: Batwa home in the forests of Kahuzi-Biega. Credit: Robert Flummerfelt.
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