Can local and Indigenous realities guide the way to better biodiversity policy?

Stories from corners of the world form recommendations in major new report

A portrait of a member of the Indigenous community in Copán Ruinas, Honduras. Evan Schneider, UN Photo
17 September 2020
Sandra Cordon
17 September 2020
Sandra Cordon

Join the Global Landscapes Forum’s digital conference on biodiversity 28–29 October.

Globally, Indigenous peoples have rights to, or manage, more than a quarter of the world’s terrestrial landscapes, amounting to some 38 million square kilometers of land, often in the most remote areas. Add in local communities, and they collectively manage more than half of the world’s land, according to a 2017 report.

And yet, Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) continue to be “neglected and marginalized” in national strategies and policies to protect biodiversity. This disparity between land management and the recognition thereof is a “major missed opportunity” for conserving and protecting nature and human cultures, said the second Local Biodiversity Outlook (LBO 2), a major new report released 16 September.

At its core, the report calls for mankind as a whole to rid itself of the notion that humans and nature exist separately and align more with traditional systems and ways of life that uphold harmony with the natural world.

Through an amalgamation of stories of on-the-ground realities, scientific research and locally reported evidence, the report puts forth recommendations for achieving this through inter-cultural exchange, amplifying IPLC voices in decision-making processes, combatting human rights violations, securing land rights and boosting the economic prosperity of these communities. It is intended to feed into decision-making processes at the UN Summit on Biodiversity later in September and a larger UN convention on biodiversity next year.

The report is rich with glimpses into IPLCs around the world. In Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, Indigenous peoples hold ethno-ecological competitions and workshops to pass down the economic, cultural and spiritual benefits of the region’s 12 salmon species to children. In northern Quebec, Inuit communities helped co-develop an environmentally and socially sustainable plan for a 20-year extension of a local nickel mine. In Malaysia’s Telaga River region where 1,000 hectares of pristine mangroves were cleared for an aqualculture project, villages banded together with NGOs to halt further expansion, elevating their case all the way to the national government, which now backs the villages’ efforts to protect what’s left of the natural ecosystems.

Led by the Forest Peoples Programme, the LBO 2 comes as a complement to the UN’s fifth and most recent Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO 5) released just a day earlier – a sweeping report on the state of life on Earth and the status of the 20 stated goals to protect it, known as the Aichi targets. Targets for traditional knowledge and customary sustainable use have not been met, said the GBO 5.

This year marks the deadline of the Aichi targets and other UN strategies to combat biodiversity loss and climate change, ushering in the “post-2020” era, for which new global frameworks will be designed.

Putting the cultures and rights of IPLCs at the heart of new biodiversity strategies “would deliver sustainable livelihoods and well-being, and positive outcomes for biodiversity and climate,” said the LBO 2.

“Overcoming dualism, separation and imbalances in relationships between humans and nature is central to addressing the biodiversity and health crises, including the rise of zoonotic diseases and pandemics,” said the report. That echoed the CBD’s concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic can be linked to the loss of biodiversity.

The LBO report proposed six changes toward more balanced relationships within societies and with nature:

  • Developing culture at large to include more diverse ways of knowing and being
  • Improving security of customary land tenure
  • Transitioning governance to have more space for inclusion in decision-making and self-determined development
  • Financially incentivizing and rewarding effective culture-based solutions
  • Shifting economies toward sustainable use and diverse local economies
  • Expanding Indigenous and local food systems

“(These) contribute to humanity’s joint endeavor to save our common home,” said the report.


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