World Conservation Congresses in September
Among the major environmental events postponed from last year and being held in the coming months, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will be holding its World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France, on 3-11 September, to drive action on nature-based recovery, climate change and biodiversity post-2020. This is where IUCN’s 1400+ government, civil society and indigenous peoples’ Member organizations vote on major issues, set priorities, and drive conservation and sustainable development action, to guide humanity’s relationship with our planet for decades ahead. IUCN’s unique and inclusive membership gives the Congress a powerful mandate as it is not solely government or non-government, but both together.
The Congress over 8 days includes a Forum on 4-7 September with over 600 sessions addressing the economic, social, scientific and technical aspects of issues ranging from wildlife to oceans, protected areas to sustainable business, and climate change to human rights; a Members’ Assembly, 8-10 September, which is IUCN’s highest decision-making body; as well as an exhibition 4-9 September; with both on-site and virtual participation. The Congress will cover seven themes: landscapes, freshwater, oceans, climate change, rights and governance, economic and financial systems, and knowledge, innovation and technology. More information and registration is available at https://iucncongress2020.org.
However, nature conservation, as with most other areas of human endeavour, needs to come to terms with an often troubled past. The colonial and racist heritage of Western civilization meant that many early parks and protected areas were on land seized from indigenous peoples, who were excluded from their traditional lands and sacred sites. It is only recently that the indigenous spiritual heritage of oneness with nature, and their long-evolved deep understanding and sustainable use of the lands and nature for which they were responsible, are acknowledged as more effective at conservation of nature than Western practices, with, by some estimates, up to eighty percent of remaining terrestrial biodiversity on land under indigenous ownership and responsibility. Even today, governments can use the excuse of biodiversity conservation to take control of land and dispossess indigenous and local people with ulterior motives.
One reflection of this risk is the organization of an alternative meeting, “Our land, our nature”, the first major international congress to decolonize conservation, in Marseille on 2-3 September, to offer a counter-narrative to the IUCN Congress. It will explain why some indigenous and local people oppose both “30x30” – the push by government, industry and big conservation NGOs to turn 30 per cent of the globe into “Protected Areas” – and the “Nature-Based Solutions” which put a price on the value of nature. They believe that these plans will lead to even more human rights violations, and to the biggest land grab in history, at the expense of tribal, indigenous and other local peoples. They propose an alternative vision of conservation that already works – where indigenous peoples are in control of their own lands. This alternative approach values human diversity and protects and enhances biodiversity. It is anti-racist, anti-colonialist, and rooted in real social and climate justice. For this alternative congress, more information and registration is at www.ourlandournature.org.
From a Bahai perspective, we are always looking to ascertain truth and justice, and in addition try to find ways to unity and collaboration. It is important that the voices of indigenous people are heard and that they are part of the decision-making of how 30x30 is implemented in their area. Indigenous people have much knowledge and experience in how to live sustainably; therefore their participation in decision-making is vitally important. Moreover, it is their human right to be able to continue to live in the areas they call their home and to maintain their culture.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has long been open to the perspectives of indigenous peoples. It will be holding its 15th Conference of the Parties in China in October, to address the biodiversity crisis and adopt a Global Biodiversity Framework in the same way that the climate change conference COP26 in November will be critical to act quickly on climate change.
In this perspective, 30x30 is an excellent initiative to protect the biodiversity of the Earth. The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People aims for a “global agreement to protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and at least 30% of the planet's ocean by 2030 at the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15.” In the announcement of the launching of their campaign which is supported by 50 governments, the HAC wrote:
“Indigenous peoples and local communities are protectors of the most biodiverse sites in the world. To effectively and equitably meet this increased target, Indigenous People and Local Communities (IPLCs) should be engaged as partners in the design and management of these conserved areas, ensuring free, prior and informed consent and alignment with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The HAC for Nature and People has created a task force to address indigenous people and local communities' concerns and promote indigenous wisdom in the CBD negotiations. This task force has initiated a dialogue with the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity.”
It is understandable that many indigenous people lack trust based on their past experiences. Yet it is clear that the Earth's biodiversity is existentially threatened and that we must come together in united action if we want to protect it. Humanity cannot afford to lose time quarrelling, but must come together to find just solutions for the common threats we are facing. This requires building trust between indigenous peoples and environmental organizations. We hope that both congresses will promote meaningful dialogues and not hardening divisions.
Last updated 10 August 2021