What is COP15?
COP15 is the UN Biodiversity Conference, which will be hosted in Montreal, Canada between 7 and 19 December 2022. It is the biennial hosting of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD).This year is particularly important as it will convene governments from around the world to agree to a new set of goals for nature over the next decade and will be the first global framework on biodiversity adopted since the Aichi Biodiversity Targets in 2010.
Including social issues in biodiversity
In many ways, discussions around biodiversity and nature are moving at a faster pace than ever before, and we are avoiding some of the blind spots and roadblocks previously faced with climate. The integration of social issues in environmental discussions is one main example, and looking at the provisional agenda for COP15, it is clear the intention to enhance the integration of provisions related to Indigenous practices is there. Some of the identified issues have led to working groups initiated by COP covering social aspects linked to biodiversity – centring especially on needing to address a 'just' approach to nature (similar in some ways to Climate's 'Just Transition').
Conservation itself can be the cause of human rights violations
One of the major proposals to be negotiated at COP15 is the 30 x 30 proposal – a plan to commit states to declaring 30% of the Earth’s land and sea mass as protected areas for conservation purposes, by 2030. Conservation is a key part of preserving our Earth's biodiversity, but it has often been carried out with the aim of vacating protected areas of all human presence. This has, in many cases, led to human rights violations around the world through large-scale and forced displacement of Indigenous Peoples, destruction of their ancestral heritage, arbitrary arrests of protestors from the community, denial of the right to livelihoods, health and education, and failure to obtain free, prior and informed consent. The conversation around biodiversity and human rights should not only focus, as it has primarily been the case, on sectors such as the extractive industries. We must also keep in mind the role of many conservation programmes in the violent  erasure of Indigenous voices and livelihoods.
Why is it important to protect Indigenous Peoples?
Indigenous Peoples comprise less than 5% of the world's population but are estimated to steward 80% of the world’s biodiversity , making them more vulnerable to land grabs in the name of conservation. There is increasing recognition and research showing that Indigenous Peoples play an outsized role in the preservation and sustainable use of the world's biodiversity and nature, maintaining the intactness of ecosystems and providing the most effective and sustainable forms of conservation. Indeed, biodiversity indicators show declines of 30% less and 30% more slowly in Indigenous lands than in lands not managed by Indigenous Peoples .
This is where there is also space for a dialogue around opportunities. Indigenous communities have been using their own ancestral practices and technologies for centuries in a way that has been proven to work. Collaboration with, and learning from, Indigenous communities (by employing them to implement, teach and scale up these technologies for example) provides further innovative opportunities to preserve nature – all without it being at the detriment of people. Nevertheless, while a strong mutually beneficial relationship is crucial, the value of Indigenous Peoples should also lie beyond what they can do for our planet, but as any other human, include rights to live on their land and to have the ability to give free, prior and informed consent on any decision affecting them.
What we would like to see
It is important that international frameworks providing guidance for countries and companies around nature explicitly integrate social aspects (including the rights of Indigenous Peoples) in their design. Going back to COP15, it would be encouraging to see propositions for explicit and strong protections for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, particularly in the context of conservation. Looking at the 2030 targets outlined in the CBD's June 2022 report of the working-group on the GBF, several do mention the safeguarding/respecting of Indigenous Peoples, territories and local communities, however they are all in square brackets (which means they are not yet agreed upon). We would like to see these included in the operative paragraphs of the final GBF, particularly with regards to Target 3.
Biodiversity is one of Royal London Asset Management's engagement themes led by our Responsible Investment team and as such we will continue to prioritise research on this theme. For more information, please see our stewardship report.
This is a financial promotion and is not investment advice. The views expressed are those of the author at the date of publication unless otherwise indicated, which are subject to change, and is not investment advice.