Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): unprecedented acknowledgement that biodiversity, human rights, and development processes are intertwined

Side Event
Side event
Caroline de Jong

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): unprecedented acknowledgement that biodiversity, human rights, and development processes are intertwined

Three weeks after the Global Dialogue on Human Rights and Biodiversity Conservation held at Mt Elgon, Kenya, meetings of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) also placed more focus than ever on these linkages and explored what the role of the CBD could be.

On Friday 15 December, SwedBio, FPP and Natural Justice organised a side event to share information and reflections on the dialogue. In her opening presentation, Joji Carino, Senior Policy Advisor at FPP, touched on the reports of the UN special rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and on Human Rights and the Environment.

Claudia Ituarte Lima (International Environmental Law Advisor, SwedBio, and Research Project Leader, Stockholm Resilience Centre) stressed that it is a high time to mainstream biodiversity and human rights in the post-2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. She invited the 60+ participants to think through and imagine how SDG 16 (on peace, justice and strong institutions) can help us as an example in the CBD and said that it makes sense to have a specific target in the post-2020 biodiversity framework, but also to make ‘justice and rights’ cross cutting.

Tanya Mc Gregor’s (Gender Programme Officer, Secretariat of the CBD) presentation also addressed the Human Rights linkages in several CBD articles, Protocols, Codes of Conduct and Guidelines, the Gender Action Plan, various Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and the rationale of the current Strategic Plan. She further mentioned the direct engagement of the CBD Secretariat in dialogues organised with the OHCHR on human rights to biodiversity and the right to healthy environment, and the CBD’s contribution to the Special Rapporteurs’ recent report. She mentioned the CBD wants to take an integrated approach in the post-2020 process that is closely aligned with Agenda 2030 and SDGs.

For the first time, the CBD documents and discussions also placed a strong focus on mainstreaming biodiversity in key industries such as mining, energy, infrastructure.

Telling of a new wind in the CBD process was also the opening statement of the CBD’s new Executive Secretary, Dr. Cristiana Paşca Palmer (in office since January), who in her opening speech of the 10th meeting of the CBD Working Group on Article 8(j) and related provisions, explicitly called attention to the alarming trend of killings of environmental defenders, and implied the CBD has a role to play as well.

She said: “Indigenous peoples are the protectors of Life on Earth. But, they pay a heavy price for this. Statistics released in July 2017 by Global Witness revealed that environmental defenders are being killed at a rate of almost four a week. In addition, many, if not most, of the environmental defenders are indigenous peoples, in particular women. For all those killed, thousands more face threats, attacks, harassment, stigmatization, surveillance and arbitrary arrest. There is, therefore, an immediate need for UN Environment and its family, including the CBD, to position itself against this growing wave of abuse against environmental defenders and the prevailing impunity with which these acts are committed. The Secretariat is committed to working with UN Environment and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on a policy “Promoting Greater Protection for Environmental Defenders”, as our contribution to addressing this growing crisis.”

This is a huge break away from the earlier days of the Convention, when human rights issues were a ‘no go topic’ and only strict biodiversity issues were considered to be within its mandate. Several statements of civil society organisations picked up the message with approval and expressed interest to get involved in ongoing discussions between CBD and UNEP.

The week of CBD meetings showed that international processes – IUCN, CBD, SGDs, Human Rights processes -  are becoming more and more linked up. In her wrap-up of the side event, Joji Carino concluded: ‘our messages are starting to come together, they are not chopped up any more’.

In light of negotiations on mainstreaming biodiversity in key sectors such as mining, energy, infrastructure, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, Parties to the CBD will need to take a human rights approach and protect environmental defenders across the work of the Convention.

Also see: ECO Volume 55, Issue 4 Friday, 15 Dec. 2017

See opening speech of Dr. Pasca Palmer here: