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Biodiversity COP15, Montreal: Warning of ‘grave’ risk to indigenous peoples’ rights

© Andressa Andressa

Proposal to protect 30% of all land and sea must put Indigenous peoples’ rights at its heart

Eighty per cent of world’s biodiversity is found on Indigenous-managed lands

‘The loss and degradation of biodiversity threatens human and non-human life and is a major source of human rights violations’ - Agnès Callamard

Ahead of the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Montreal, Canada (7-19 December), Amnesty International has stressed the urgent need to address the rights of Indigenous peoples as an essential step towards climate justice.

Amnesty is urging governments to ensure that any decision on the protection of biodiversity puts Indigenous peoples’ right to their lands at its heart, requiring governments to consult with them to obtain their free, prior and informed consent, as currently enshrined in international human rights law.

 Any agreement must also guarantee that subsistence land-users have access to land, are protected from forced evictions, enjoy an adequate standard of living, and are consulted on all decisions that impact their rights. Provisions in the proposal which call into question states’ commitments to legally recognised human rights - by making them subject to national legislation - must be removed.

Any biodiversity commitment - including the so-called “30x30” proposal for governments to commit 30% of the Earth’s land mass and sea as protected areas for conservation and biodiversity purposes by 2030 - needs to make Indigenous peoples’ rights central. Currently, Indigenous peoples are unable to take part effectively in the drafting of the 30x30 plans. Their representatives at the convention negotiations only have the right to speak and make suggestions. Despite several drafting sessions, governments still have not committed to guaranteeing the human rights safeguards that Indigenous peoples are demanding.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, who will be in Montreal during COP15, said:

“The loss and degradation of biodiversity threatens human and non-human life and is a major source of human rights violations, including the right to life.

The so-called 30x30 proposal could provide the needed action to slow down and stop biodiversity loss, but in its current form it presents a grave risk to the rights of Indigenous peoples.

“Current practice in protected areas often follows a model known as ‘fortress conservation’ which requires the complete removal of human presence from the area, usually by force, so that territory can be thrown open to tourists, conservation researchers and, in some cases, big game hunters.

“There is an overwhelming weight of research showing that Indigenous peoples are the best conservators of biodiversity, which is reflected in the fact that 80% of the world’s biodiversity is to be found on Indigenous-managed lands.

Without respect and protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples at the heart of the agreement, coupled with thorough and transparent assessment of the social impacts, the 30x30 target is not only bad for human rights, it is bad for conservation too.”

Global agreement on protecting biodiversity

The UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) is the latest meeting to discuss the implementation of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, adopted in 1992 and ratified by 196 countries, a treaty which sets out how to safeguard animal and plant species and ensure resources are used sustainably.

 The aim of COP15 is to adopt a globally agreed framework - the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework - for halting and reversing biodiversity loss and “living in harmony with nature”, setting specific goals for 2030 and targets to 2050.

Despite previously agreed targets for 2020, biodiversity is declining worldwide and is projected to worsen without immediate action. The biodiversity convention was adopted following the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, together with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. COP15 is the biodiversity equivalent of the COP27 climate negotiations, which concluded last month in Egypt.


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