International plan to save biodiversity promises to respect Indigenous rights and knowledge 

Indigenous participants of COP15 optimistic following conference 

Indigenous Peoples have a big role to play in saving the planet within the new post-2020 biodiversity framework signed in Montreal Monday.

After years of discussions and delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, countries around the world have agreed on goals and targets to protect 30 per cent of the Earth’s lands and waters by 2030 in the Kunming-Montreal Agreement, outlining four goals and 23 targets.

Panelists from different Indigenous nations who are part of the National Boreal Caribou Knowledge Consortium were optimistic about the framework.

“I really feel hopeful for the first time in a really long time, and I’m really excited to see where this collaboration can go,” said Matthew Munson of the Dené Tha’ First Nation in northwest Alberta.

“I’m really really encouraged by the addition of Indigenous people being mentioned throughout the document,” added Walter Andreeff with the Métis Nation of Alberta.

Read the full text of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework here

The framework promises to protect Indigenous land rights and title, and incorporate Indigenous knowledge alongside western science.

“We want to be equal with science, but we don’t want to be absorbed by science,” said Robin McLeod of the Prince Albert Grand Council. “Science cannot be [the] end-all; there’s other knowledge that exist that’s older than science, and that’s our knowledge. That’s what we bring into this collaboration theme.”

Indigenous Peoples are mentioned 18 times in the agreement.

Canada is working on creating more Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs), something that Munson said could help protect caribou and Bistho Lake, an important body of water on his territory in northern Alberta.

“If Crown governments are serious about honouring the promises that were made when we signed the treaty back in [the] year 1900 than this is the last chance, this is the last place to do that,” said Munson.

“If we don’t get protections for Bistho Lake, we fear that our treaty promises may not be able to be kept.”

New framework 

The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity or IIFB issued a news release commending the new framework for its “strong language on respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.”

“Indigenous Peoples and local communities are happy that finally we are here with most of the recommendations that we had submitted and negotiated already reflected,” said Lucy Mulenkei, co-chair of the IIFB from Kenya.

“We leave Montreal happy and ready for the implementation journey. We are glad we never gave up – even when times were tough.”

Kenneth Deer, a Kanie’keha’ka Elder from Kanawà:ke and member of the IIFB, said that Indigenous nations should have the same status as countries during UN negotiations.

“What we want is a body that represents Indigenous Peoples at the decision-making level,” said Deer. “Right now, we’re mostly at the lower end of policy-making.”

In the future

David Ainsworth of the UN Secretariat said that is a possibility in the future.

“Over the next two years, parties and an ad-hoc technical expert group will evaluate the existing role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and traditional knowledge, and evaluate whether that can indeed be expanded and move forward and the proposal will come to COP16,” said Ainsworth.

Marlene Hale of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation said the road to the agreement was a bumpy one, with some First Nations people getting their drums and regalia confiscated by security.

But ultimately she was happy to have met with Indigenous women from across the world during the Women’s Caucus, and hopes the framework lives up to its promises.

“We want you to all go home on a happy note,” said Hale. “We don’t want you to go away from here with heavy hearts.

“We want you to go hear that we’ve met each other and we are with each other, we are sisters worldwide.”

 Targets that mention Indigenous or Indigenous Peoples

Target 1 promises to “ensure that all areas are under participatory integrated biodiversity inclusive spatial planning and/or effective management processes addressing land and sea use change, to bring the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance, including ecosystems of high ecological integrity, close to zero by 2030, while respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.”

Target 3 aims to “ensure and enable that by 2030 at least 30 per cent of terrestrial, inland water, and of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, are effectively conserved and managed through ecologically representative, well-connected and equitably governed systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, recognizing Indigenous and traditional territories, where applicable, and integrated into wider landscapes, seascapes and the ocean, while ensuring that any sustainable use, where appropriate in such areas, is fully consistent with conservation outcomes, recognizing and respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities, including over their traditional territories.”

Target 5 promises to “ensure that the use, harvesting and trade of wild species is sustainable, safe and legal, preventing overexploitation, minimizing impacts on non-target species and ecosystems, and reducing the risk of pathogen spill-over, applying the ecosystem approach, while respecting and protecting customary sustainable use by Indigenous peoples and local communities.”

Target 9 says countries will “ensure that the management and use of wild species are sustainable, thereby providing social, economic and environmental benefits for people, especially those in vulnerable situations and those most dependent on biodiversity, including through sustainable biodiversity-based activities, products and services that enhance biodiversity, and protecting and encouraging customary sustainable use by Indigenous peoples and local communities.”

Target 19 (f) says funding will be increased for “enhancing the role of collective actions, including by Indigenous peoples and local communities, Mother Earth centric actions and non-market-based approaches including community based natural resource management and civil society cooperation and solidarity aimed at the conservation of biodiversity.”

Target 21 says signatories will “ensure that the best available data, information and knowledge, are accessible to decision makers, practitioners and the public to guide effective and equitable governance, integrated and participatory management of biodiversity, and to strengthen communication, awareness-raising, education, monitoring, research and knowledge management and, also in this context, traditional knowledge, innovations, practices and technologies of Indigenous peoples and local communities should only be accessed with their free, prior and informed consent, in accordance with national legislation.

Target 22 promises to “ensure the full, equitable, inclusive, effective and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making, and access to justice and information related to biodiversity by Indigenous peoples and local communities, respecting their cultures and their rights over lands, territories, resources, and traditional knowledge, as well as by women and girls, children and youth, and persons with disabilities and ensure the full protection of environmental human rights defenders.”

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