Even as IUCN Congress Closes, Conservation Debate Hots Up

Protest against the 30X30 conservation plan at IUCN World Conservation Congress, Marseille, France. Credit: Survival International
  • by Manipadma Jena (marseille, france)
  • Inter Press Service

This so-called ‘30X30’ debate is expected to escalate at the UN biodiversity conference in China next April. Indigenous People groups say the conservation has to recognise their rights to land, territories, coastal seas, and natural resources. Some activists argue that ‘fortress conservation’ was nothing but colonialism in another guise.

The world’s failure to achieve any of the global goals to protect, conserve and restore nature by 2020 has been sobering. In Kunming, China, 190 governments will gather in April 2022 after a virtual format in October this year, to finalise the UN Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The draft Framework released this July aims to establish a ‘world living in harmony with nature’ by 2050 by protecting at least 30 percent of the planet and placing at least 20 percent under restoration by 2030.

The Marseille Manifesto, the outcome statement from the World Conservation Congress in Marseille from September 4 -10, 2021, gives higher visibility to indigenous people by “committing to an ambitious, interconnected and effective, site-based conservation network that represents all areas of importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services is crucial. Such a network must recognise the roles and custodianship of indigenous people and local communities.”

“The Congress implores governments to set ambitious protected areas and other area-based conservation measure targets by calling at least 30% of the planet to be protected by 2030. The targets must be based on the latest science and include rights – including Free Prior Informed Consent – as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. IUCN must boost the agency of indigenous people and local communities,” the manifesto further urges.

IUCN’s membership currently stands at 1 500 and includes 91 States, 212 governmental agencies, 1 213 NGOs, 23 Indigenous Peoples’ organisations and 52 affiliate members.

The indigenous people (IP) demand foremost of all “the secure recognition and respect for collective indigenous rights and governance of lands, territories, waters, coastal seas and natural resources.”

Strong demand for this came from IUCN’s indigenous people’s organisation members spanning six continents who banded together, developed the ‘global indigenous agenda’ and presented at their own summit – the first-ever event of its kind at any IUCN World Conservation Congress.

They aimed to unite the voices of indigenous peoples from around the world to raise awareness that ‘enhanced measures’ are required to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and their roles as stewards of nature.

Other activists take a more hard-line stand.

“The 30x30 plan is nothing but a massive land grab,” Sophie Grig, senior research and advocacy officer Survival International told IPS over the phone from the non-profit’s London headquarters.

“It’s no more than a sound bite, green lies. History has shown that promises are made but gradually, living for forest dwellers is made impossible till they are finally evicted from their generational homes of centuries. They are evicted for what? For animals and tourists. We see no real signs that this is going to change.”

Survival International and other activist entities organised the “Our Land Our Nature” congress a day before the IUCN congress began. They called for conservation to be ‘decolonised’.

“Fortress conservation violates human rights and fails to protect nature. The devastating impacts of fortress conservation on Indigenous Peoples, local communities, peasants, rural women, and rural youth has generated limited gains for nature,” said David R Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, in an August policy brief just before the IUCN Congress.

Ending the current biodiversity crisis will require a “transformative approach” to what conservation entails, who qualifies as a conservationist, and how conservation efforts are designed and implemented,” Boyd further said.

Studies have shown that indigenous peoples, who comprise just 5% of the world’s population, contribute significantly to its environmental diversity as more than 80 % of the world’s remaining biodiversity is found within their lands.

The debate on the issue was going global. In an online forum coinciding but separate from the IUCN indigenous people’s summit, indigenous women, many from Southeast Asia, emphasised that it is “not enough for outsiders to merely observe indigenous practices and then attempt to reapply them in other contexts.”

Native voices need to be at the “centre of the conversation, not consigned to the margins.”

Traditional ecological knowledge is not just a theoretical concept. It is a “native science”, an applied knowledge amassed by indigenous people over thousands of years and most effective to address climate change and biodiversity challenges because it is based on the acceptance that “all living organisms are interdependent,” they said.

The indigenous people’s Agenda at Marseille also calls upon the global community – from states to the private sector, NGO conservation community, conservation finance and academia – to engage in specific joint efforts with them, such as “co-designing initiatives and collaborating on investment opportunities.”

“Our global goals to protect the earth and conserve biodiversity cannot succeed without the leadership, support and partnership of Indigenous Peoples,” said Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General at the start of the Congress.

“So will the investment in this doubling of conservation areas, or at least some of the monies, go directly to indigenous people?” asked protestors at the ‘decolonise conservation’ Congress.

“Not likely,” Survival’s Grig said, “Fortress conservation is the racist and colonial model of conservation promoted by governments, corporations and big conservation NGOs.”

“The 30X30 plan sounds like a simple and painless process, but it is not so for indigenous communities. It’s simply a plan that enables you in the global north to continue burning fossil fuel and consuming unsustainably,” Grig added.

The indigenous people were clear in their demands. Their Agenda and Action Plan demands: “As Indigenous Peoples around the world, we call for an equitable environment for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples to thrive as leaders, innovators and key contributors to nature conservation.”

It remains to be seen to what extent words and promises of international policy and funding bodies translate into action on this contentious and critical issue in 2022.

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© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service