Conserving the future in a Post-2020 world
PhD Student Megan Tarrant looks at what the upcoming Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework means for human rights in conservation.
In April, the UN Biodiversity Conference will conclude in Kunming, China, having been postponed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A central element of the meeting will be the negotiation and adoption of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, a set of goals and targets which will shape our relationship with biodiversity over the next decade and beyond.
The Framework builds on the previous Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and aims to “bring about a transformation in society’s relationship with biodiversity” that will eventually lead to us living “in harmony” with nature. Most of the included targets look towards 2030, with four longer-term goals that stretch to 2050. These are intended to shape how nature is conserved and used sustainably; how these practices are financed and how any benefits derived from biodiversity are shared.
One of the central concepts to be discussed and adopted at the conference is the “30x30” strategy, which aims to conserve 30 percent of the world’s land for biodiversity by 2030. In light of past failures of protected areas to provide equitable solutions to conservation, some local and indigenous communities have raised concerns that such a target could lead to further land and territory grabs, exploitation, and exclusion. In order to meet the framework’s central aim of “living in harmony with nature” by 2050, the achievement of this target thus requires a drastic departure from business-as-usual conservation.
The goal of protecting 30% of the world’s land requires a transformational shift in our understanding of what it means to conserve. The following questions are, from an environmental social science perspective, fundamental to this understanding.
Firstly, what does it mean to “protect” an area of land? What or “who” is it being protected from? How will these protections be designed and implemented? On what foundations of knowledge is our concept of protection being constructed? Historically, at least, conservation of protected areas has been rooted in colonial notions of science, explicitly designed to keep nature and people separate. It is no secret that this has led to the expulsion of people from their territories, their ways of life and the natural resources upon which they have relied. To ensure transformational change, we need to consult a much wider range of worldviews to come to a collaborative understanding of how to protect the planet. This requires working in partnership with Indigenous peoples and local communities and defining the terms of such collaborations through a deep understanding of different worldviews and knowledge systems. While this may sound simple on paper, it will require a commitment to actively listen to a range of different people whom we may not be used to working with in conservation, and a willingness to engage with research in entirely new ways.
Secondly, how will this approach affect people living in areas now considered “protected”? One estimate suggests that, if such a target was implemented, at least 170 million people may be living within newly “protected” conservation areas. Questions remain over how their livelihoods, daily activities, rights to access and use natural resources will be affected. How will the areas be governed? Will people be instructed to cease specific activities, or entitled to a share of benefits for their role in “protecting” specific areas? Will funds be made available for Indigenous Peoples and Local Community (IPLC) organisations to take ownership of their own conservation projects? Again, disentangling these issues requires a collaborative approach to environmental governance that ensures local people can engage with not only the outcomes of the process but the development of the process itself.
Finally, it is vital to understand how peoples’ rights will be upheld and respected. To do this, we not only need to think about rights as set out in the UN Declaration of Human Rights (and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People where this is applicable), but also the local level rights that people rely upon as social currency within a community. As an example, if I have a customary right to harvest a particular kind of berry from bushes on my neighbour’s land, what happens if this now falls within a protected area? Do I still have the right to harvest? Does my neighbour still have the right to grant me that harvest? How do I apply for permission to undertake that harvest? There are no easy answers to any of these questions, but they must all be considered within the design and implementation of any process to protect areas of land on a large scale.
While these questions remain, there are some encouraging signs. There is an increasing awareness of the role of human rights in biodiversity conservation, and a particular focus on developing options to integrate a human-rights based approach into the framework. In March 2021, The UN Human Rights Council adopted a Resolution (46/7) which drew attention to the links between biodiversity and human rights. In it, the resolution recognised that “degradation and loss of biodiversity often result from and reinforce existing patterns of discrimination”. This recognition lays the groundwork for ensuring that future conservation interventions do not result in further inequality and marginalization.
Finally, at COP26 in Glasgow, funds of $1.7bn were pledged to strengthen Indigenous land tenure and forest management. While there are, again, many questions to be answered about how to transform these pledges into a practical reality. This is a good first step. If it comes to fruition, and the funds are directed to IPLC organisations as implementing partners, it could transform the way in which conservation initiatives are managed.
With the right questions asked, and the right approaches considered, the Global Biodiversity Framework has the potential to set in motion a transformational change in our approach to conservation. While we will have to wait until May to find out exactly what will be in the final text, one thing is guaranteed: the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will influence conservation practice for decades to come.
First Draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, Open Ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, https://www.cbd.int/conferences/post2020
 Schleicher J, Zaehringer JG, Fastré C, Vira B, Visconti P, Sandbrook C. 2019. Protecting half of the planet could directly affect over one billion people. Nature Sustainability 2: 1094–1096
 2020, Human Rights in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework: Options for integrating a human-rights based approach to achieve the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity https://www.forestpeoples.org/en/briefing-paper/2021/human-rights-post-2020-global-biodiversity-framework-options-integrating-human