COP15: Article 8(j) and Quality vs Quantity in 30x30

Osgoode’s Environmental Justice & Sustainability Clinic student Emma Workman attended the Conference of the Parties (COP15) for the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal last month. In Emma’s recent blog, she examines Indigenous Peoples’ role in achieving area-based conservation goals around 30x30:

At the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), much discussion has occurred around 30x30, the plan to conserve 30% of the Earth’s land and oceans by 2030 through area-based conservation measures. Some feel that this measure is insufficient in the face of the biodiversity crisis. Others argue that a quantitative standard like 30x30 doesn’t capture the qualitative conservation needs that are paramount in area-based conservation. Lucía Ruiz Bustos from WWF México stressed that 30x30 should not result for the area-based conservation of less biodiverse land in favour of reaching a quantitative target. That is, 30x30 should be concerned deeply with the qualitative element of land protection, focusing on protecting the right kind of land: land that is significant, well-connected, and biodiverse.

At the Indigenous Village, hosted by the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, many speakers had these concerns in mind when discussing 30x30 and other specific COP15 goals, as well as conservation more broadly. The message from Indigenous leadership was that Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) were specifically well-placed to assess what kind of land should be protected, by virtue of their closeness and familiarity with the land and its biodiversity as land users.

In a panel on Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs), panelists discussed Indigenous leadership taking matters into their own hands and designating certain areas protected under Indigenous law. In doing so, the focus is on which areas are important, culturally and ecologically, with an inherent attention and understanding made possible through a deep knowledge of the land and its users.

Vern Cheechoo, a member of the Mushkegowuk Council, discussed the creation of a National Marine Conservation Area spanning 91,000 square miles of ocean water that he stated was a “very important area,” in terms of its biodiversity. This area is home to a Beluga Whale population that never leaves the region. Cheechoo stated that when he heard about various protection mandates such as 30x30, he immediately thought that this region in particular would be important to permanently protect.

Importantly, Cheechoo and other First Nations members did not need to undergo lengthy studies to determine what kind of land was the most important to protect. IPLCs have an innate knowledge of the land because they are its users in a fundamental sense. The question is how leaders can use this knowledge in their conservation efforts. As Trish Nash, from Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, stated, First Nations conservation can accomplish many Federal conservation goals. However, this can only occur if IPLCs and their knowledge are given primacy in area-based conservation discussions.

30x30 and Connectivity:

One aspect of the land that is well-felt and understood by IPLCs using the land is the connectivity of various areas. Lucia Ruiz Bustos stressed that only 7.8% of protected land is well-connected. Connectivity as defined by the Convention on Migratory Species is the “unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural process that sustain life on Earth.” Many area-based protection techniques do not appropriately account for the connected nature of land—protecting one piece of land and allowing for extraction or contamination of the areas directly beside it ignores the circuitous nature of our environment.

Melody Lepine of Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) discussed the First Nation’s Government & Industry Relations’ (GIR) work in protecting an area near Wood Buffalo National Park. The park itself is protected land, but in Mikisew’s work with UNESCO, the First Nation advocated for buffer areas around the park, in order to keep the park itself truly protected. IPLCs often feel the connected nature of the environment first. When contamination occurs upstream, they feel its effects in their water sources. When biodiversity suffers, those that live off the land are most acutely aware of it. Appropriately considering the wealth of knowledge that IPLCs provide can assist in area-based conservation goals that accomplish what they set out to accomplish—real protection of the most significant areas of our planet.

Article 8(j) and Indigenous Knowledge:

Article 8(j) of the CBD states that each contracting party shall “as far as possible and as appropriate,” “respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities” that are relevant for conserving and the sustainable use of biological diversity. Importantly, Article 8(j) references that Indigenous knowledge can be innovative. Too often, traditional knowledge is viewed as oppositional to scientific knowledge. Members of the Sami Parliament Sweden stressed that traditional knowledge is adaptive and evolves with society and can work in concert with scientific knowledge. Traditional knowledge should be thought of as a deeply important resource, rather than a checkbox to tick—effective area-based land conservation depends on it.

Author: Emma Workman

This blog was originally published on Global Policy Journal: