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Podcast: Indigenous rights and the future of biodiversity conservation

  • On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast we discuss the importance of Indigenous rights to the future of biodiversity conservation and efforts to build a more sustainable future for life on Earth.
  • We speak with Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples and the current executive director of the Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education. Tauli-Corpuz tells us about the Global Indigenous Agenda released at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, why it calls for Indigenous rights to be central to conservation efforts, and what she hopes to see achieved at the UN Biodiversity Conference taking place in Kunming, China next year.
  • We also speak with Zack Romo, a program director for the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (commonly known by its Spanish acronym, COICA). Romo fills us in on the details of the motion to protect 80% of the Amazon by 2025 that was approved by IUCN members at the World Conservation Congress, the rights-based approach that Amazon protection plan calls for, and what the next steps are to making the plan a reality.

Today we’re taking a closer look at the important role of Indigenous peoples in biodiversity conservation with two key players.

Listen here:

We’re at something of an inflection point in the history of conservation and Indigenous engagement. So-called “fortress conservation,” which makes nature off-limits to human use altogether, even for Indigenous and local communities who may have lived in the area for generations, has come to be seen by many as not just counterproductive but a perpetuation of often violent colonialism by Western nations. There’s growing recognition today of just how vital traditional ecological knowledge and practices are to the cause of conservation, and a movement for securing Indigenous rights to safeguard the future of our planet is well underway. There’s plenty of science to bolster this movement, such as a World Bank study that found that, even though indigenous lands account for less than 22 percent of the world’s land area, their traditional territories are home to about 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Yet violence against land defenders, and Indigenous land defenders in particular, continues to escalate. The NGO Global Witness reports that 227 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2020, and one-third of them were Indigenous even though Indigenous peoples make up just 5% of the global population.

Meanwhile, we have a chance to enshrine Indigenous rights in conservation pacts being negotiated at the highest levels right now, but it’s not clear we’ll take the opportunity. As you’re aware if you listened to the last episode of the Mongabay Newscast (and if you didn’t, see below), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature just held its World Conservation Congress in Marseilles, France earlier this month, where Indigenous groups were afforded full voting status for the first time and an Indigenous-led motion to support the protection of 80% of the Amazon rainforest by 2025 was approved. The World Conservation Congress was an important precursor to the upcoming UN Biodiversity Conference, known as COP15, where delegates will negotiate a plan for addressing the biodiversity crisis we’re currently facing. The UN released a draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework in July, the centerpiece of which is a global 30×30 target, or protection of 30% of the planet by 2030 through area-based conservation measures like national parks and other protected areas. Critics say this is the wrong approach to safeguarding the future of our planet and that, at worst, a global 30×30 target could reproduce some of the worst impacts of fortress conservation, namely, violent conflicts and the dispossession of millions of indigenous peoples of their ancestral lands.

Here to help us unpack all of this is Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a member of the Kankana-ey-Igorot people of the Philippines. She is a former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the current executive director of the Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education, based in Manila. She tells us about her experiences at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, the Global Indigenous Agenda released at the Congress that would put a land rights-based approach and funding for self-determined ecosystem management at the heart of biodiversity conservation, and what she hopes to see happen at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP15.

We’re also joined by Zack Romo, program director for the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin, a group more commonly referred to by its Spanish acronym, COICA. Romo is here to tell us about the successful motion to protect 80% of the Amazon pushed by COICA and many other groups at the World Conservation Congress, what comes next now that the motion was approved by members of the IUCN, and what COICA will be advocating for at the upcoming UN Biodiversity Conference.

Here’s further reading and listening:

”‘The tipping point is here, it is now,’ top Amazon scientists warn” (20 December 2019)

”As COP15 approaches, ’30 by 30’ becomes a conservation battleground” (26 August 2021)

”‘Join us for the Amazon,’ Indigenous leaders tell IUCN in push for protection” (8 September 2021)

”‘Global Indigenous Agenda’ for land rights, conservation launched at IUCN congress” (8 September 2021)

”Lockdowns didn’t stop 2020 being deadliest year yet for earth defenders” (13 September 2021)

• Our most recent podcast episode looks at the key outcomes of the IUCN World Conservation Congress: ”Podcast: Are tuna doing as well as latest extinction risk assessments suggest? It’s complicated” (15 September 2021)

”Podcast: Can Biden’s 30×30 plan put U.S. on a positive conservation track?” (3 June 2021)

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, former UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, speaks as part of a panel in Geneva in 2015. Photo courtesy of UN Geneva/Flickr.
José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, leader of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA), at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2021.

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Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001

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