Championing Indigenous Peoples’ stewardship of biodiversity

Indigenous Peoples have long been successful stewards of the world’s biodiversity, and their knowledge, innovations and practices ensure the sustainable use of biological resources, carbon sequestration, food security and crop diversity.

While Indigenous Peoples account for just over six per cent of the global population, Indigenous Peoples and local communities are custodians of more than a third of the world’s most important areas for biodiversity, and researchers have found that 42 per cent of land that is managed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities is in good ecological condition.

A progress review of previous global targets for nature found limited evidence of countries incorporating traditional and local knowledge into policy development. However, the world’s new pact for nature – the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and related package of decisions, adopted in December 2022 – offers a powerful opportunity for inclusion and change by explicitly recognising Indigenous Peoples’ rights and contributions to biodiversity.

This International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we share some of the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre’s (UNEP-WCMC) work championing Indigenous Peoples’ representation and engagement in conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity.

Including Indigenous knowledge in national ecosystem assessments

National ecosystem assessments (NEAs) are nationally-driven comprehensive assessments of a country’s biodiversity and ecosystem services status, and how nature links with and contributes to a nation’s peoples and economy.  

UNEP-WCMC’s National Ecosystem Assessment Initiative – working in partnership with UNESCO and UNDP as part of BESNet – helps countries through the stages of NEA development, and champions the inclusion Indigenous knowledge. For example, Colombia’s NEA report includes a specific chapter on Indigenous and local knowledge, authored by representatives of Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Monitoring Indigenous Peoples’ participation in decision-making

Robust indicators will be key to measuring progress towards the goals and targets of the GBF. Through our work on specific projects and with country partners, UNEP-WCMC works to support the development of metrics linked to Indigenous Peoples and local communities – not least GBF Target 22, which calls on countries to “ensure the full, equitable, inclusive, effective and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making" for nature.

As part of the Transformative Pathways project, led by the Forest Peoples Programme, we will be working with country partners – including Kenya, Peru, the Philippines and Thailand – as well as other interested Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to develop indicators that evidence the vital role that Indigenous Peoples and local communities play in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and towards implementation of the GBF.

The longstanding Biodiversity Indicators Partnership, which is coordinated by UNEP-WCMC, will also be continuing its work to convene and support providers and users of biodiversity indicators, and will incorporate emerging best practice on metrics on Indigenous Peoples’ activity and inclusion.

Ensuring local voices are heard in early Target 3 implementation conversations

Where their consent is given, many territories and areas occupied and managed by Indigenous Peoples could be counted towards Target 3 of the GBF – which calls for the conservation of at least 30 per cent of the Earth’s land and water by 2030. Reflecting the human rights-based approach recognised by the GBF and respecting international laws and standards, the rights of Indigenous Peoples must be upheld areas that are newly designated, as part of efforts to meet the target.  

In June, UNEP-WCMC hosted a three-day workshop – convened by the CBD Secretariat and the World Commission on Protected Areas of the International Union for Conservation of Nature  – bringing together countries, communities and organisations working on Target 3 to discuss the formation of a partnership to coordinate efforts. Indigenous peoples were represented through the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity and the Indigenous Information Network, among other groups.  

Seventy delegates met in Cambridge in June 2023 (Image: Helen Klimmek)

The role of Indigenous Peoples in implementing Target 3 – and the need to uphold their rights – featured heavily in discussions. An agreement was reached that a partnership should be formed to coordinate efforts on Targets 1 – 3, the ‘area-based conservation’ Targets of the GBF. This emerging partnership, created to combine and coordinate efforts, will only be successful with the full participation of Indigenous Peoples. As the partnership moves forward, key areas of work are likely to include help to ensure that CBD Parties support Indigenous Peoples, appropriately recognise their contributions and knowledge and incorporate Indigenous Peoples’ efforts into GBF progress monitoring and that actions by the Parties’ to implement the GBF recognise and uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Data to align decision-making with internationally recognised rights

Data on Indigenous Peoples’ contributions to conservation can, with their consent, increase their global visibility and inform local and national decisions that potentially affect them. However, there are still many gaps in this data.

UNEP-WCMC manages the ICCA Registry and Protected Planet Initiative, both of which can be used by Indigenous Peoples to share and strengthen data on the geographical areas they help to conserve – their “territories of life”. By providing data to these platforms, Indigenous Peoples are building datasets that demonstrate their vast collective contributions to biodiversity stewardship. In addition, last year we launched the Mapeo for ICCAs app, which helps Indigenous Peoples to map and submit data on their territories.

Advocating for safeguards in REDD+ projects

As well as providing data expertise, UNEP-WCMC provides governments and the private sector with advice on safeguarding the rights of Indigenous People – an issue which is fundamental to the success of major deforestation and forest management initiatives, such as the UN-REDD Programme’s REDD+ framework.

UNEP-WCMC collaborates with and provides expert advice to the UN-REDD Programme to ensure the REDD+ rollout considers local-level environmental benefits and risks – including a strong emphasis on respect for the knowledge and rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, as well as on the full and effective participation of stakeholders.

Last year’s COP27 climate summit saw UNEP-WCMC, UNEP and UN-REDD release a report highlighting the progress on and issues relating to deforestation pledges and forest financing. It provided a heavy emphasis on the importance of Indigenous Peoples and local communities as the most effective stewards of the world’s forests, and highlighted successful actions, such as REDD+ guaranteed financing for forest conservation in Ecuador – work which is underpinned by ongoing technical support from our team.

Including Indigenous Peoples in sustainable trade discussions

UNEP-WCMC’s Trade, Development and the Environment Hub (TRADE Hub) is currently working on a “roadmap to just and sustainable global trade”, set to launch this autumn. This visionary roadmap calls for more inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in trade and environmental policy discussions, and researchers have consulted Indigenous Peoples during the process of forming recommendations.

For example, while working with partners in Cameroon, the TRADE Hub team worked with Bantu and Baka Indigenous Peoples in Cameroon on what sustainable trade means in practice for commodities such as cocoa and palm oil. During these consultations, the land tenure and land security working group was moderated by Sa Majestee Mvondo Bruno, Traditional Chief of Bityili. The outcomes of this workshop will feed into roadmap recommendations.  In addition to surveys, interviews and focus groups, the team carried out capacity-building activities to inform communities about the research results and help build them into local agricultural practices.

A strategy game to explore resilience in the palm oil supply chain at a regional consultation for stakeholders held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in May 2023. The participants included Bantu and Baka Indigenous Peoples. (Image: Fabiana Spinelli)

TRADE Hub researchers also recently published a study exploring  how large-scale land acquisitions impact Indigenous Peoples and local communities. They found these land deals, which involve areas of 200 hectares or more, often result in Indigenous Peoples facing displacement without adequate fair compensation.

Through such research and initiatives, UNEP-WCMC is committed to continuing to champion the vital work led by Indigenous Peoples on conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity.

Find out more about the theme of this year’s awareness day – Indigenous youth as agents of change for self-determination – in this multimedia UNESCO article, also featuring contributions from UNEP-WCMC.

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