Indigenous People’s Rights Can’t Suffer in the Name of Biodiversity

How can we protect our Earth’s land and sea and stop the ongoing loss of biodiversity worldwide - without harming indigenous people? A 2022 summit in China will determine whether local communities play a role in protected areas’ management. A report by the NGO China Dialogue, one of our partners within the topic of climate change.

Mike Shanahan | October 2021
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Jason Houston USAID Biodiversity and Forestry, flickr.com

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)’s COP15 meeting in Kunming, China, in April to May 2022 will strive to stem the ongoing loss of biodiversity worldwide. Its aim is to protect at least 30 percent of the Earth’s land and sea by 2030. In short: “30x30”. As it stands, just 17 percent of land and 8 percent of the sea currently enjoy such legally mandated protection.

But controversy surrounds the summit and its goals: such protected areas can harm indigenous peoples through forced displacement and human rights abuses perpetrated by guard personnel. NGOs and other engaged observers, such as philanthropist Jeff Bezos who address the rights of indigenous peoples, claim that 30x30 could play out as a land grab that could evict 300 million people from their homes. Indigenous people and local communities, who live close to nature themselves, know best how to conserve biodiversity, they say, and should be assigned prominent roles in land- and sea-area governance.

The rights of indigenous peoples have to be front, not just politically correct lip service.

One safeguard for local peoples under discussion is “other effective area-based conservation measures,” or OECMs. These cover regions that conserve biodiversity such as sacred groves, certain kinds of farms, community forests, and other economically productive landscapes and seascapes. OECMs include land and sea that indigenous and local communities manage according to local needs and values. Yet, thus far, only tiny portions of land and sea worldwide are registered as OECMs.

This is why, in the run-up to the COP 15, NGOs and other groups are asking states to consider better protection of local people’s rights and a greater role for them in conservation. They want to have the concept of “free, prior and informed consent” included in official guidelines, which would give communities the right to affect decisions in their own homelands.

The rights of indigenous peoples have to be front and center, not just politically correct lip service, they say. The outcome of the Kunming meeting is essential to making this happen.