All posts by Johannes Rohr

How to bend the curve of biodiversity loss

As the UN convenes the Biodiversity Summit in New York, Joji Cariño, Andy Whitmore, Milka Chepkorir and Claire Bracegirdle argue the case for centering the knowledge of indigenous people and local communities in the fight against biodiversity loss.

September has brought several urgent reminders that we are failing to protect nature: WWF’s latest Living Planet Report tracked a 68-per-cent decline in global wildlife populations – even faster than the 2018 edition. The UN has also announced that none of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets will be met.

Meanwhile, wildfires linked to global warming are sweeping California, and a second wave of Covid-19 (a zoonotic pandemic – ie one that has crossed from animals to humans – which are made more likely by increased deforestation) gathers pace in Europe.

Action is urgently needed. And this week, the UN Summit on Biodiversity will bring world leaders together to address the alarming loss of nature. Negotiations to replace the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are ongoing, and this months’ news is a stark reminder of the importance of ensuring that the next set of international commitments to protect biodiversity are successful.

In our rush to protect nature, however, we need to centre the perspectives, experiences and knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities – not continue to marginalize them. Some of their vital contributions to the protection of biological and cultural diversity were drawn together in Local Biodiversity Outlooks, also published earlier this month.

If world leaders are serious about protecting nature, we outline three lessons that must be heeded:

“In 2019, the OECD estimated that subsidies to industries that are harmful to biodiversity total $500 billion a year, about 10 times the amount of global funding for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use”

1 Take away the incentive

It sounds simple, and yet it’s not being done: we must stop doing the things that are causing biodiversity loss. At the moment our economic system is actively geared to incentivize the destruction of nature. In 2019, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimated that subsidies to industries that are harmful to biodiversity total $500 billion a year, about 10 times the amount of global funding set aside for biodiversity conservation and sustainability. Brazil, for example, subsidizes deforestation-linked industries by an estimated $14 billion each year – and then spends $158 million a year to prevent deforestation.

n 2010, as part of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, governments across the world agreed to eliminate, phase out or reform incentives (including subsidies) that are harmful to biodiversity. However, progress has been slow. Over the last decade, few governments have even identified the relevant incentives, let alone worked to reform them. Meanwhile, and supported by these skewed incentives, unsustainable production systems have intensified.

World leaders must grapple with the fact that it is impossible to stem biodiversity loss without addressing incentives, or our extractivist economic system more broadly.

“Progress has been slow – few governments have even identified the relevant incentives, let alone worked to reform them”

2 Successful conservation needs people

While the human rights impacts of exclusionary conservation practices are now better known, environmentalism’s racist history casts a long shadow. The environmental movement that emerged in Europe and North America in the wake of the industrial revolution attributed new value to the ‘wild’, casting these areas devoid of human interference as a representation of nature in its most abundant and pure form. The considerable role that human societies have played in supporting and stewarding these environments has been overlooked.

Over the years, the idea that people are bad for nature and that the best way to protect an environment is to remove the people has led to numerous evictions, violence, the loss of property and other human rights abuses.

This is ongoing: between 1990 and 2014, approximately 250,000 people in 15 countries were evicted from protected areas. Exclusionary approaches to conservation also risk the loss of important knowledge held by indigenous peoples and local communities – something that is increasingly recognized as key to preventing further loss of biodiversity.

We need to transform conservation towards collaborative, rights-based approaches.

By ik, rfa6517, Bob Duindam - van mijn fototoestel, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48776486
By ik, rfa6517, Bob Duindam – van mijn fototoestel, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48776486

3 Get behind what works

Sadly, conservation efforts led by indigenous people remain largely marginalized. The roles and contributions of local communities in protecting biodiversity are still excluded from most national biodiversity strategy and action plans. At the same time, however, their efforts are known to be one of the few bright spots: while under increasing pressure, nature managed in this way is generally found to be declining less rapidly than in other lands.

One easy way to support indigenous peoples and local communities is through the recognition of their land rights. Despite owning or managing up to 50 per cent of the world’s lands, communities only have legal ownership of 10 per cent. Secure land tenure will facilitate many communities’ ongoing protection and restoration efforts.

Another important consideration is funnelling resources to local action. Part of the shift that is needed in conservation practice is towards community-managed, locally-led initiatives. At present, while there’s insufficient data to properly assess the overall amount of funding available for the efforts of indigenous peoples and local communities, it’s highly likely that the amount they receive is in no way commensurate with what they contribute to global efforts to meet the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

“The idea that people are bad for nature and that the best way to protect an environment is to remove the people has led to numerous evictions, violence, the loss of property and other human rights abuses”

On Monday 28 September, the leaders of 70 countries (and counting) signed a 10-point pledge committing to stem biodiversity loss. Wednesday’s summit will see this momentum continue. But, as the UN’s Achim Steiner has noted, if is to have any hope of success, indigenous peoples and local communities ‘must be an integral part’ of global efforts to protect biodiversity.

View the full Local Biodiversity Outlooks report.

Joji Cariño has been an active campaigner and advocate over the past 35 years on indigenous peoples’ human rights, at community, national and international levels.

Andy Whitmore is a researcher and activist specializing in extractive industries and indigenous peoples.

Claire Bracegirdle works for Forest Peoples Programme and is a PhD candidate on community-led conservation.

Milka Chepkorir comes from a Sengwer community and has for many years advocated for the recognition of their land rights.

Indigenous Peoples reclaim decision-making power and protect territories, lives and rights using Autonomous FPIC Protocols

by Helen Tugendhat, Cathal Doyle, Andrew Whitmore

What we want is that they leave us our own model of development and our autonomy to protect and realize this”

Luz Gladis Vila Pihue, Founder and former President of the Founding Congress of the National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Women of Peru (ONAMIAP)

The publication “Free Prior Informed Consent Protocols as Instruments of Autonomy: Laying Foundations for Rights Based Engagement” is being released in Spanish in April 2020. It complements the English version launched at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in November 2019. It explores the potential for these Autonomous FPIC Protocols to contribute to indigenous peoples’ struggle for self-determination, self-governance and territorial control.

The rights, well-being and survival of Indigenous peoples throughout the world are at grave risk as a result of extractive, energy, agri-business and tourism industries. To protect them against these threats, international law recognises the self-determination right of indigenous peoples to decide what happens in their own territories. This right is implemented through the requirement for governments to obtain indigenous peoples’ free prior and informed consent (FPIC). Governments and companies are increasingly paying lip-service to FPIC. However, in practice, they continue to consult with indigenous peoples in ways that manipulate indigenous ways of making decisions and ignore the outcome of their decisions-making processes.

In response, indigenous and tribal peoples are increasing documenting their governance rules around consultation and FPIC and demanding that all external actors comply with them. Different indigenous peoples refer to these documents in a range of ways. Many indigenous and tribal peoples call them “Autonomous FPIC Protocols”, while others refer to them as their regulatory or normative frameworks or manifestos.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for governments and other external actors to respect these autonomous FPIC protocols. Diseases introduced through colonisation and subsequently by encroachment of outsiders have decimated indigenous peoples. To this day, disease and contamination caused by imposed development activities have profound impacts on indigenous peoples’ lives, health and well-being. Faced with the latest grave threat of Covid-19, indigenous and traditional peoples are once again asserting their right to regulate access to their territories, closing them where needed to prevent the influx of individuals, government agencies and companies, and sharing informational materials highlighting the risks posed by loggers, miners and tourists when they enter indigenous territories now. To date these actions have helped slow the spread of the pandemic within these communities, despite cases being confirmed on their peripheries some weeks ago.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is also providing cover for many companies and government agencies to continue, or to expand, unwanted exploitation in indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples’ territories, as illustrated by continued killings of indigenous and Afro-descendant human rights and land defenders. In some countries, such as in Colombia, Covid-19 has even resulted in government attempts to impose “on-line consultations” which are completely at odds with indigenous peoples’ self-governance rules and their full and effective participation in decision-making.

Published by the European Network for Indigenous Peoples, INFOE, Forest Peoples Programme and the University of Middlesex School of Law with support from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation, the publication reviews initial experiences with Autonomous FPIC Protocols in South America. It finds that they have made tangible contributions to tackling critical shortcomings in national laws and State and corporate practice, around consultation, FPIC and respect for indigenous peoples’ self-governance and territorial rights. Case studies contained in the book – from the Wampis (Peru), the Juruna (Brazil) and the Embera Chami (Colombia) – show that these protocols can act as tools for resistance and defence of human rights. These community rules, internal laws and collective affirmation of the right to self-government and community-based justice, challenge inadequate or absent consultation processes and establishing standards and procedures with which external actors, project proponents and state consultation and FPIC processes must comply.

In addition to the three case studies, the book also provides a review of global experiences with FPIC protocol development. It finds that their development is increasingly common among indigenous and tribal peoples throughout the world. It shows that because indigenous peoples are diverse, there is no one-size-fits-all consultation and FPIC process. Instead, diverse processes must be defined by each people in accordance with their own realities and practices. It concludes that the autonomous development of such protocols“can open spaces for reflection and dialogue among and between indigenous peoples. These spaces can be highly empowering and contribute to the creation and maintenance of unity and self-governance among indigenous peoples. They facilitate the development of tools and strategies that allow indigenous peoples to challenge structural discrimination and pursue the implementation of international standards in their lived experiences.”

The aim of this Spanish language publication is to contribute to the realisation of the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination and autonomy in Latin America. We believe the publication’s reflections on the many challenges involved in the development and use of FPIC protocols offers food for thought at this critical juncture facing indigenous peoples, where effective territorial control is more urgent than ever for their futures. Our hope is that Latin American indigenous and tribal peoples will find the materials and experiences shared in this resource useful in their efforts to assert self-governance and territorial control, and to realize the rights and well-being of their peoples throughout the region.

Publication: FPIC Protocols as Instruments of Autonomy

New publication: FPIC Protocols as Instruments of Autonomy for Indigenous Peoples

ENIP has just released a study reviewing Initial experiences with autonomous free prior and informed consent (FPIC) protocols which demonstrate their potential contribution to tackling critical shortcomings in existing law, as well as State and corporate practice, around consultation and consent. Case studies contained in this book – from the Wampis (Peru), the Juruna (Brazil) and the Embera Chami (Colombia) – show that FPIC protocols can act as tools for resistance, challenging inadequate or absent consultation processes and establishing standards and procedures with which future consultation processes must comply. 

Through review of global experiences with protocol development, and reflecting on the lessons from the three case studies, this book concludes that the autonomous development of such protocols can open spaces for reflection and dialogue among and between indigenous peoples. These spaces can be powerful, contributing processes towards creation and maintenance of unity and self-governance among indigenous peoples, as well as resulting in tools and strategies that allow indigenous peoples to address the structural discrimination that they face, and realising international standards in their lived experience.

The book also highlights the many challenges facing both the development and continued use of such protocols, pointing to the legal, political and social conditions that can facilitate the emergence of such tools and the need for support, recognition and respect from others.

Indigenous leaders from threatened tropical forests to launch tour in Europe; will challenge region’s deadly trade in ubiquitous palm oil

Between 27 April and 4 May 2016, indigenous representatives and community leaders from tropical forest countries in Asia, Africa and South America will tour Brussels, The Netherlands, Germany and the UK to raise concerns with high-level policy and decision-makers about palm oil supply chains and the impact they are having on their lands, forests and communities.  Continue reading Indigenous leaders from threatened tropical forests to launch tour in Europe; will challenge region’s deadly trade in ubiquitous palm oil

New EU report by Julian Burger on Indigenous peoples, extractive industries and human rights

Julian Burger EU report on extractives - FrontpageThe European Union has published a new report by indigenous rights expert Julian Burger of the University of Essex, entitled “Indigenous Peoples, Extractive Industries and Human Right”.

The report provides an overview of relevant policy fields and recommends that the European Parliament re-affirm its commitment to protecting and promoting the rights of indigenous peoples as contained in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It calls for a specific recognition of free, prior and informed consent as an obligation for extractive industries engaging in activities that may impact indigenous peoples. It notes that serious and unacceptable human rights violations continue to be associated with the extractive industries in their dealings with indigenous peoples and considers that such abuses are likely to continue given the more invasive methods of extraction required to respond to global demand for commodities.

The paper welcomes the advances made by parts of the extractive industry sector to address the human rights, social and environmental issues arising from their contacts with indigenous peoples. It also considers that a goal at the European level should be a legally binding regime including sanctions where appropriate. This would ensure a level playing field among all extractive industry companies and prevent companies with serious commitments to indigenous peoples’ rights being put at a disadvantage with companies that do not have those commitments.

The paper also notes that the European Union (EU) in its trade and investment policies with outside partner countries may inadvertently set standards or impose restrictions that result in undermining the human rights of indigenous peoples. In this respect, further research on these contradictions would be helpful so that they can be brought to the attention of policy-makers with a view to making the necessary changes. The paper notes that the EU includes indigenous peoples as a cross-cutting part of its development, human rights and democracy programmes, and recommends that this area be strengthened and that further specific attention be given to challenges arising from the presence of extractive industries on indigenous peoples’ lands.

26 Session of the HRC: Statement on the work of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

26th Session of the Human Rights Council
June 2014

All over the world Indigenous peoples are suffering negative impacts on their enjoyment of their human rights due to the activities of transnational corporations and other businesses operating in or near their lands and territories. Such impacts were recognized as ‘disproportionate’ by the former representative of the Secretary-General, Professor John Ruggie. Due to this situation, indigenous peoples’ organizations and support groups greeted the consensus adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (herein, ‘the Guiding Principles’) as a first step towards ensuring accountability and appropriate remedy where their human rights are violated by business activities, while underlining the importance of moving towards binding instruments to that end. Continue reading 26 Session of the HRC: Statement on the work of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

ENIP statement at UN Permanent Forum

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Thirteenth Session
New York, 12-23 May 2014

For the full recording of the session go to UN Webcast ENIP statement starts at timestamp 1:13:24

Agenda Item 6: Future work of the Permanent Forum, including emerging issues

Statement delivered by Oda Almas on behalf of European Network on Indigenous Peoples (ENIP)

I make this statement on behalf of the European Network on Indigenous Peoples (ENIP), a consortium of European-based support and solidarity organisations working for the realization of indigenous peoples’ rights. ENIP was established in May 2013, to jointly promote the rights of indigenous peoples as they are affected by Europe. Our members currently include International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), Almaciga, Indigenous Peoples Links (PIPLinks) and INFOE. We see out goal as ensuring that all European actors fulfil, respect and protect the rights of indigenous peoples globally.

Continue reading ENIP statement at UN Permanent Forum