OPINION: Protecting human rights key to safeguarding nature

by Ramiro Batzin
Tuesday, 26 October 2021 09:02 GMT

Ramiro Batzin is

Last week, leaders from around the world came together at a global summit to negotiate a comprehensive plan to safeguard nature around the world. 

Whether the resulting global strategy, expected to be finalized in 2022, is sufficiently ambitious and successful will be influenced by one item: the degree to which countries put advancing human rights, in general, and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, in particular, at the heart of their plans and real actions.

Science has recently shown what many of us have always known, that indigenous peoples and local communities have historically been and still are the best stewards of nature. Biodiversity is declining less on indigenous lands and traditional territories than elsewhere in the world, and an outsized proportion of the world’s remaining biodiversity is found in these areas. 

In Guatemala, where I am from, there are more than 1,307 communal lands that cover approximately 12% of the country’s surface. These lands are administered by Mayan governance and cultural system that oversee the management, use, and conservation of biodiversity. 

Guatemala is currently considering a law for the creation of a management category for Collective Indigenous or Community Managed Areas because they recognize the contribution that indigenous peoples make to the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity found outside the Guatemala system of protected areas. 

We are also seeing this in other countries and, indeed, global experts have made it clear that advancing rights is the best opportunity for the future of a healthy and sustainable planet.  Although much more needs to be done, there are some encouraging signs that governments, philanthropists, and others are getting the message. 

Earlier this fall, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) hosted its World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France. For the first time ever at an IUCN Congress, Indigenous Peoples organizations were voting members, rightfully sitting at the table next to governments to negotiate policies and priorities. An Indigenous councilor position was established and our Indigenous-led motions were  overwhelmingly adopted, including one that set a goal of protecting 80% of the Amazon rainforest by 2025

Thanks to the advocacy of indigenous peoples organizations and their allies, the IUCN Congress also passed motion 101, which supported the target of protecting and conserving at least 30% of the planet’s land and water by 2030 and added key safeguards clarifying that it must be implemented with the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples and with appropriate recognition of their rights to their lands, territories and resources. 

In September, nine philanthropic organizations pledged an unprecedented $5 billion to protect and conserve 30% of the planet by 2030. While the details about where the funding will go have not been fully developed, the funders called for Indigenous stewardship to serve as an essential pathway in achieving the 30x30 target. 

Delivering on this commitment would be an important development. For too long, conservation funding has largely ignored the opportunity to achieve biodiversity outcomes by investing in the rights, governance and stewardship of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Ensuring appropriate mechanisms for disbursement and use of these funds is critical. To be as effective as possible, a significant portion of this funding must go directly to Indigenous Peoples and local communities, guided by Indigenous Peoples values and self-determined priorities.

This brings us back to the Convention on Biological Diversity negotiations that have resumed this week and will formally conclude in May 2022. These negotiations represent a historic opportunity to build on recent progress and put indigenous peoples and local communities at the center of global conservation strategies. While the latest draft plan has taken steps in the right direction, more improvements are needed to ensure it hits the mark. 

Specifically, it is imperative that the global biodiversity plan contains a rights-based approach and achieves a balance between Mother Nature and human beings. It must also explicitly recognize the right over traditional knowledge, recognize the right to free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples within the 30x30 framework, and support self-determination and the full range of indigenous peoples systems for the customary sustainable use, management, and conservation of natural and cultural resources as essential for conserving the planet's biodiversity.

As has been the case for millennia, indigenous peoples are already doing the work that is needed to care for the planet for generations to come, but we cannot do it alone. The question is whether governments will join and support us and work together to protect Mother Earth. 

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