- An open letter signed by environmentalists, scientists and human rights advocates worldwide called for the clear inclusion of human rights in the emerging global biodiversity goal to conserve 30% of land and ocean by 2030 (30×30).
- Signatories fear the expansion of exclusive marine protected areas will lead to denied fishing access to small-scale fishers who rely on fisheries for their livelihood and partake in sustainable use of marine resources.
- The letter was addressed to government representatives meeting in Geneva this month who will be finalizing the new biodiversity framework, which will be presented at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) conference in China later this year.
- Mongabay spoke with Vivienne Solís Rivera, representative of Costa Rica-based human rights and conservation organization, CoopeSoliDar, about the open letter and the rights of small-scale fishers while she was attending CBD negotiations in Geneva.
Human rights, such as those of small-scale fishers, must be included in the global conservation goal to protect 30% of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030, say environmentalists, otherwise this proposed conservation target will fail and the livelihood of Indigenous people and local communities (IPLCs) around the world will be jeopardized.
This is the urgent message in a new open letter directed at policymakers gathered in Geneva this month to finalize the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which will be presented at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB) conference, COP15, in China later this year.
The open letter – created by the IPLC marine conservation organization Blue Ventures and signed by fishers, farmers, conservationists, environmentalists, human rights advocates and scientists around the world – refers explicitly to Target 3 of the framework, also known as 30×30. This target has been lauded internationally as an ambitious goal to protect 30% of the world’s lands and oceans by 2030, as the world faces a biodiversity crisis and mass species extinction.
But authors of the open letter point out that simply creating more reserve areas without IPLC inclusion is a flawed strategy. Too often, protected areas lead to displacements of IPLCs in the name of nature conservation.
In the case of small-scale fishers, which number over a hundred million and form the largest group of ocean users on the planet, this leads to denied access to fishing areas in the name of coastal development, conservation initiatives or fisheries management. Small-scale fishers depend on ocean access for their livelihood but also compete with industrial fleets that can threaten the health of the oceans through overfishing, habitat destruction and water pollution, say scientists.
However, there are instances of large-scale plunder or the unsustainable use of marine resources by small-scale fishers causing fisheries collapse, as seen in Palau’s past sea cucumber trade. This predominately occurs within poor communities seeking to increase their income and competitiveness in the global seafood trade.
According to the letter, displacement or denied access stops IPLCs from carrying out their own traditional methods of land or ocean management, which can be more effective at preserving nature than government-led conservation plans, according to studies. At least 42% of lands that are in healthy ecological condition globally are being managed by IPLCs, the letter states.
“For many Indigenous peoples and local communities, conservation remains an exclusionary practice – one that pits people against nature,” says the letter.
John Knox, a law professor at Wake Forest University and former U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, is not a signatory of the letter but has long been advocating for the need to include human rights in conservation plans.
Past initiatives that haven’t done so, including the previous 2010 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, have been considered massive failures, he says.
“It’s one thing to draw a line on the map and say, OK, now this is a protected area. It’s something quite different to actually protect it,” Knox told Mongabay.
“How can you do that? Again, the best way from both the conservation and the human rights perspective is to work together with the people who are already living in that area.”
To elaborate on 30×30 and what it means for fishing communities, Mongabay spoke with Vivienne Solís Rivera, representative of the Costa Rica-based human rights and conservation organization CoopeSoliDar. We spoke with Solís Rivera while she was in Geneva, attending the current CBD talks.
INTERVIEW WITH VIVIENNE SOLÍS RIVERA
Mongabay: The CBD conference, known as COP15, has moved around quite often these last two years due to the pandemic. Now, talks in Geneva to finalize the Global Biodiversity Framework are finally concluding before they are presented at the conference in Kunming, China, later this year. What are your goals during the Geneva negotiations precisely?
Vivienne Solís Rivera: There are several agenda items, some related to the Global Biodiversity Framework discussions and some related to the normal agenda of parties within the framework of the whole convention. So, the agenda is pretty packed and it is very hard for civil society to keep up with all the different subjects that are taking over.
Concerning the Global Biodiversity Framework, we have been pushing a human-rights-based approach for most targets. This is very hard because it not only needs to be reflected in the text for these [individual 21] targets and in the framework of the global document, but it also needs to be clearly stated in the monitoring framework.
How will we measure this human-rights-based approach once it’s accepted in the targets or throughout the GBF? We have been pushing for the consideration of all these issues, especially that of women’s rights. For example, there’s a proposal for an additional target, Target 22 [a stand-alone target for gender equality in the post-2020 GBF], which we are very happy about because many bodies have approved it.
However, the step forward for them to actually accept IPLC rights and the implementation or exercise of these in the text has still been a little bit hard to obtain. So, we don’t really quite know how this will turn out, especially concerning Target 3 and Target 21 of the global framework [Target 21 is related to the “equitable and effective” participation of IPLCs in biodiversity decision-making].
We want to make sure that rights holders – Indigenous people, local communities and afro-descendant groups – have a priority because they are also custodians of marine resources and we want to make sure they remain in these territories.
Mongabay: About 70 organizations signed this open letter addressed to the signatories of the CBD regarding human rights in the 30×30 target. What do you believe they are trying to achieve with the letter?
Vivienne Solís Rivera: The key discussion [concerning the 30×30 target] is that if you consider all the efforts that IPLCs are already doing in terms of marine conservation, or general biodiversity conservation of the planet, we would already achieve more than the 30% conservation goal. For example, on Wednesday, Amazonian Indigenous communities said that close to 80% of their territory is already reserved and conserved.
The issue here is, are governments ready to recognize that conservation not only comes from a governmental governance status, but it can come from an Indigenous or community effort? The CBD hasn’t entirely accepted these diverse governance models. This is not new. In the Program of Work on Protected Areas, the CBD has [somewhat] recognized the diversity of governance models, for example, those where the state and the communities can work together. Or, they recognized the model led by Indigenous people, such as the territories of life, similar to ICCAs. But what we want to ratify is that the rights of tenure, access and participation are exercised and implemented by communities in order to do real conservation. And this is what we do not see happening.
For example, in Costa Rica, small-scale fishers have developed marine responsible fishing areas, which are shared governance areas between communities and the government. But they are not accepted as conservation. They’re accepted as something from the ministry or the institute of fishing. The problem is, Indigenous, local and afro-descendent small-scale fishing communities and mollusk gatherers are already taking care of more than 30% of conserved territories.
Also, 8 in every 10 small scale fishers and mollusk gatherers in Costa Rica, are informal fishers. This means that the government has not provided access rights for this traditional way of life. In this case, how are we going to ensure they comply with marine conservation efforts if these people do not have their access rights?
Mongabay: If the 30×30 target goes forward the way it is drafted now, how could this impact Indigenous and coastal communities’ fishing rights?
Vivienne Solís Rivera: I’ll share our own example. Costa Rica very recently increased its marine territory to Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama’s frontiers and hailed it as a large protected area. So, large liners that do have [fishing] rights and more equipment than small-scale fishers will move to the coast as they can no longer fish in the high seas. This will cause a significant conflict with small-scale fishers as most fish near the coast and do not have fishing rights. So, they’re going to be displaced by these other fleets, causing serious problems. If the 30×30 target does not recognize the rights of these communities, we will see similar conflicts [between large fleets and small-scale fishers] in a few years.
The situation is even more difficult in the Indigenous communities that will find themselves in conservation areas because there will be an [management] overlap [between government and the communities]. Who’s going to make decisions in those territories? So, even if they are declared as OECM’s [Other effective area-based conservation measures], how will we guarantee that the rights of autonomy and sovereignty will be maintained for Indigenous people and local communities?
This issue is very interesting because it doesn’t go into a matter of not wanting conservation to happen but wanting to know how exactly marine conservation is going to happen.
We are especially concerned for countries where free, prior, and informed consent has not been secured. For example, in the case of Costa Rica, it wasn’t done. This increase in the size of the protected area wasn’t adequately discussed with fishing communities.
We are also fighting to maintain the idea of sustainable fishing and sustainable use of marine resources. Social justice has to be at the core of conservation; the people who are already providing traditional knowledge and efforts towards the conservation of marine resources should be clearly valued. We honestly think IPLCs have been the custodians of most of the sea’s resources, and governments should [accept] this.
The open letter addressed these key issues, such as tenure rights. If you don’t have tenure rights, it’s impossible that you will be able to develop strategies for sustainable use because you’re not able to do anything on that land. We have the small-scale fishing communities in Costa Rica living on land owned by the government where they cannot even raise a chicken or plant lettuce. So, they are in a tight spot regarding human rights, and this is the sort of language we would like to see in Target 3.
We are also clear that rights are not negotiable, that we all have them. We have to make sure that when we are talking about the conservation of marine resources, we also implement and make sure that communities exercise those rights. [Last] Monday was very interesting because we discussed what a human-rights-based approach means. I presented a picture of women mollusk gatherers in the south pacific of Costa Rica. I said, well, you might simply be seeing two women working as mollusk gatherers on the coast of Costa Rica but when you see it with a human rights lens, you start thinking about healthcare, decent work and safety. You might start asking yourself, do they have access to these rights? No. Do they have tenure rights? No. This is the livelihood done daily by thousands of women and a human-rights-based approach has not covered them. So, we have to start thinking that this is a prerequisite, a safeguard, before establishing these protected areas.
Mongabay: Is the marine protected area you referred to the ‘Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor’, which was lauded internationally last November?
Vivienne Solís Rivera: Yes, that’s the one I’m talking about. That one will severely impact small-scale fishers in Costa Rica on the Pacific coast, which we need to follow up on. And that was done at a time when the 30×30 hadn’t even been approved yet. The problem is not that they increased [the protected area] – it’s great that they increased it – but that they did so without setting safeguards for vulnerable small-scale fishers and preventing conflict with fleets.
Now, in a country like Costa Rica, you can get a sport fishing license in a snap, you can even go and get it online. But an Indigenous or local community fisher that has lived in those territories [their entire life] is not able to have a license for small-scale fishing. A small-scale fisher participates in a diverse and less environmentally damaging activity, but a sport fisher can get a license as fast as you can blink. So, we are in this strange un-fair situation we keep moving into, further excluding access to marine resources for small-scale fishers.
Mongabay: The open letter states that Indigenous and local communities should be able to decide whether or not they want their land included in the 30×30 conservation goal. Does this imply that they are better at conservation than government or international conservation policies?
Vivienne Solís Rivera: I think that Indigenous communities and local communities at the moment have been very successful in their conservation efforts. For example, in Costa Rica, a mollusk gathering women cooperative offered to show how traditional knowledge can restore mollusk in the highest wetlands in Costa Rica. However, the government refused and stated scientists are needed to start doing the work. So, in society and government, sometimes we need to be humble about our knowledge and use the knowledge that includes the people and communities who have managed those resources for generations.
Conservation cannot only be done by governments and, in a country like Costa Rica, it’s bad business to get in a fight with small-scale fishers who could support conservation efforts and are making decisions every day on what to fish, where to fish and how to fish.
On Tuesday, Chile gave three great examples on how it has maintained its communities’ interest in marine conservation. In the Philippines, there are many locally managed marine areas. Marine responsible fishing areas in Costa Rica are [one of] the only examples of shared governance of marine territories.
However, some people in conservation discussions are saying these areas are too small, but there is no ‘small area’. These are people trying to maintain food security. So, it doesn’t matter if it’s a big or small area, the issue here is: are we really going to implement what’s necessary to maintain those resources in the longer term? Are we going to support sustainable use? And from what we see, for some reason, countries are pretty happy to increase the size [of conservation areas], but not to ask the right questions.
Mongabay: What mobilizations or protests are underway in Latin America to secure small-scale fisher rights in the Global Biodiversity Framework?
Vivienne Solís Rivera: We, the groups from civil society that have been promoting the human-rights-based approach in conservation, have seen a strong deterioration in the participation of these groups in the decision-making process during the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions. It has been very hard. For example, although we have maintained communication with some of the small-scale fisher organizations in Costa Rica and Central America, we have had to build their organizational capacity because it’s very hard for these communities to attend a virtual meeting or virtual space for decision-making.
This is because they don’t have computers and tend to have phones. It has been very hard to teach them how to connect to all this virtual space without having an in-person meeting or training. So, we have a broken link here. We have a genuine broken link. For example, there are no small-scale fishers here [in Geneva]. We have an Indigenous caucus, a group of Indigenous people following the issues and have been active in defending their rights.
We need to bring to China similar discussions we have at the Ocean Conference in Lisbon, where there will be small-scale fishers who can speak about their real lives without intermediation. The people we work with in the network of marine responsible fishing areas and marine territories should speak for themselves.
Mongabay: Will you leave Geneva feeling optimistic?
Vivienne Solís Rivera: I feel optimistic that the work done at the local and national levels can change the world. This includes our actions as individuals when we choose to be less consumerist and have gratitude for what the Earth provides us. In this sense, I am optimistic. These negotiations showed that we are more or less clear that everybody has to participate. Now, we have to make sure that we are ready to provide and exercise the rights in a just and equitable way for all.
UPDATE: The ICCA Consortium decided to not sign the open letter in the end.
Banner image: Vezo fisherman who had just speared an octopus. Behind him, the water is discolored by the the ink the octopus had released to try to protect itself. Photo © Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures.
Related listening from Mongabay’s podcast: A conversation with Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Zack Romo about Indigenous rights and the future of biodiversity conservation. Listen here: