TMG Think Tank for Sustainability
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Linking biodiversity conservation to human rights: A much-needed conversation at CBD 15

We need to find new ways to agree on, and implement, robust goals for biodiversity protection

by Alexander Müller and Jes Weigelt | 2022-12-13

Linking biodiversity conservation to human rights: A much-needed conversation at CBD 15

As we put together this newsletter, delegations were preparing for the high-level segment of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in Montreal, Canada. The emblematic goal of protecting 30% of the globe’s land and ocean by 2030 is proposed by a coalition of countries to finally counter the loss of biodiversity. Yet previous targets have failed to make a lasting impact, as biodiversity continues to decline at alarming levels. A global assessment of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets shows that “none of the 20 targets have been fully achieved.”

We need to find new ways to agree on, and implement, robust goals for biodiversity protection.

At TMG, our work explores one of the critical aspects of achieving biodiversity protection: the human rights underpinnings of the Global Biodiversity Framework. A 2021 policy brief published by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment emphasizes that “fortress conservation violates human rights and fails to protect nature”. Our partner Rainforest Foundation UK has began to document human rights abuses by ecoguards in the Congo Basin. Ahead of the CBD negotiations, Amnesty International and partners issued a statement emphasizing the crucial role of protecting indigenous people’s rights to land for biodiversity conservation. At the COP, the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity has called for the inclusion of human rights in the goals and targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework.

Now, you might rightly claim that progress in realizing human rights globally is as patchy as progress in protecting biodiversity. No doubt, the human rights system needs strengthening. That is why we have partnered with the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the Malawi Human Rights Commission to develop the Human Rights and Land Navigator. The purpose of the navigator is to map the principles of the globally agreed Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land (Tenure Guidelines) to binding human rights agreements. This link makes it easier for National Human Rights Institutions and other human rights actors to address land rights in their work – be it on biodiversity protection or ecosystem restoration. In continuation of this work, TMG will co-host a regional meeting in Nairobi with African National Human Rights Institutes. In view of the human rights and land rights violations and to live up to the principle of “leaving no one behind”, we believe that a strengthened human rights system is key to ensure rights-based approaches, in biodiversity and beyond.

Parties to the CBD do need not start from scratch to recognize legitimate tenure rights for the protection of biodiversity. The aforementioned Tenure Guidelines were unanimously adopted by all members of the UN Committee on World Food Security in 2012. Further, Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), CBD’s sister convention, have adopted UNCCD Decision 26/COP.14 that links the principles of the Tenure Guidelines to activities to implement the UNCCD at the national level. Moreover, UNFCCC COP 26 adopted the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, with a commitment to working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, "while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.“ TMG is working with partners in Benin, Kenya, Madagascar, and Malawi to implement UNCCD’s land tenure decision (our first assessment addresses Benin and Kenya). Building on our contributions to the UNCCD COP 15 in Abidjan this year, we have decided to partner with the UNCCD Secretariat and our colleagues from IDDRI, to share these experiences at COP 15.

We believe that responsible land governance is pivotal in managing the numerous – and often conflicting – land demands emerging from the protection of biodiversity, climate change mitigation, urbanization, and food production. The human rights system was designed to protect those who cannot protect themselves, it was designed to ensure that what is increasingly referred to as “just transitions.” In January at the Global Forum on Food and Agriculture, we will continue to analyse how the human rights system can guide transitions by unpacking early experiences with designing national food system transformation pathways.

How to close this last newsletter in a year that has brought so much hardship? We decided to borrow from Amanda Gorman’s powerful poem “An Ode We Owe”

That Our people have only one planet to call home And our planet has only one people to call its own. We can either divide and be conquered by the few, Or we can decide to conquer the future, And say that today a new dawn we wrote, Say that as long as we have humanity, We will forever have hope.

In this spirit, we wish you a very relaxing and re-energizing holiday season and look forward to continuing our collective efforts to build a better future for humanity and planet in 2023!

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