UN Biodiversity: What Outcomes for the Human Right to Land?

Publish Date: 
Thursday, April 28, 2022

“In the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework that is being negotiated, it is important to respect human rights. The survival of the human race depends on it, but also the survival of other species, flora and fauna, and the very existence of our planet.” – Martha Sedeida Devia Grisales (Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida)

Between 13-29 March 2022, intersessional meetings were held in Geneva ahead of COP15, an upcoming major United Nations biodiversity summit. Ahead of these preparatory talks amongst States, ESCR-Net members sent a collective letter calling on all Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to adopt a human-rights based approach overall, and in particular to recognize, respect, protect and promote the overarching right to self-determination, including free, prior and informed consent, the right to land and tenure rights in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF), which is currently being negotiated and likely to be adopted at COP15. It further called on governments to adopt a ‘land tenure indicator’ as well as emphasized the importance of strengthening protections for human rights defenders.

The letter was written in solidarity with the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) and sent to all national focal points of the Convention on Biological Diversity, relevant Permanent Missions in Geneva, and the CBD secretariat. Another letter was also shared widely with ESCR-Net members and allies to adapt and send to key decision-makers and negotiators. During the Geneva meetings, members continued advocacy with States including via video messages.

Video Messages from: 

  • Martha Sedeida Devia Grisales (Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida, Colombia)
  • Francisco Rocael Mateo Morales (Consejo de Pueblos Wuxhtaj, Guatemala) 
  • Andrea Spakova (Manushya Foundation, Thailand)

Embedded rich media on Twitter

Embedded rich media on Twitter

What is at stake?

The planet’s biodiversity is in unprecedented decline with around 1 million animal and plant species now threatened with extinction. Meanwhile, scientists have issued in successive reports a red alert on the climate crisis. These two crises are therefore closely interconnected and there is no possibility of transformative solutions if these environmental emergencies are addressed in siloes. The multilateral spaces where solutions to address these crises are discussed may differ, but a cross-cutting reality is that these crises, their structural drivers, and even certain solutions, for example, fortress conservation, seriously impact human rights, particularly the right to land and tenure rights. The social and cultural value of land for humanity is immeasurable and rights relating to land are central to the realization of a range of human rights. Moreover, global data indicates that Indigenous and community rightsholders’ lands have lower rates of deforestation, store more carbon, and hold more biodiversity than lands managed by either government or private entities.

Indigenous Peoples, Tribal Peoples, peasants and other land-dependent local communities play an outsized role in conserving biodiversity and combating climate change. Recognizing and enforcing their right to land and tenure rights is, in any case, a human rights imperative, and in line with the latest science, a key solution to the climate and biodiversity crises.

As Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and John Knox, professor at Wake Forest University, have powerfully expressed: to conserve nature, protect human rights.

Geneva Outcomes:

The pace of the Geneva intersessional UN biodiversity talks were ‘glacial’ and a large number of brackets that remain in the substantive text of the GBF, signifying a concerning lack of consensus. (See current version of the post 2020 GBF.) Nevertheless, significant progress was made including the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in the text, and it was encouraging to see strong support from many States in this context. The rights of Indigenous People and local communities are now in the proposed text for the Global Biodiversity Framework, without the brackets that indicate opposition and there have been advances in achieving a cross-cutting indicator on land tenure security. However much human rights related text in the most current version of the text is still in brackets. There is particular concern that references to territories and land of Indigenous Peoples and local communities as well as free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) remain in brackets in key targets, especially as FPIC is an oft-violated norm of international law. Going forward, States must commit to adopting a human rights approach overall, and among other rights, center the overarching right to self-determination, including free, prior and informed consent, the right to land and tenure rights, in cross-cutting ways across key targets.

In their press release issued on the final day of the Geneva talks, IIFB noted that “for this framework to be successful and inclusive it will require further improvements, and the full and effective participation of [Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities] in the process leading up to COP 15 and beyond."

Next Steps:

There will be further intersessional discussions in June in Nairobi, Kenya as governments try to reach a draft agreement to be finalized at the biodiversity summit Cop15 in Kunming, China, in September. Building on ESCR-Net’s collective work on land as well as the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, including inter alia mutual exchanges, submissions to UN CESCR, advocacy for a binding UN treaty on business and human rights; amicus briefs and prior advocacy on CBD, ESCR-Net members will continue to call for centering human rights, in particular the right to land and tenure rights in the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. To protect biodiversity, we must work towards a transformational transition from systems rooted in colonization, extraction and capitalism to rights and justice-based societies foregrounding public and planetary well-being.


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