Local recognition in the Convention on Biological Diversity

The year 2018 saw several crucially important international conferences for the protection of our planet, such as the Convention on Migratory Species, the Convention on Biological Diversity or the Climate Convention. The United Nations are indeed active in trying to protect the environment.

I attended the 14th Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which took place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from 17–29 November 2018. The CBD has 196 member states, meaning that 196 states of this world have legally committed themselves to the protection of the environment. The United States and the Holy See (Vatican) are the only countries that have not ratified the CBD.

As is common in international law, decisions are being made by the nation states, meaning that they are the subjects and thus represent their peoples on the international stage. Also in case of the CBD it is nation states that are the main stakeholders, that govern the means and ways how biodiversity is being protected and how this protection is being implemented. National parks or other protected areas that are administered by national authorities are primary tools to ensure the success of the convention.

Winds of change? New ways of environmental governance

Governmental control over certain areas for reasons of species or ecosystem protection has a long and often controversial history. For example, national parks in Africa have in the past led to forced relocation of the local communities and the barring of the use of abundant resources. But at CoP10 in Nagoya where the so-called ‘Aichi Biodiversity Targets’ were concluded, a new concept was introduced: in Target 11, ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ (OECMs) are now to contribute to protect at least 10% of marine and 17% of terrestrial areas.

Up until CoP14 in Egypt, OECMs had not been clearly defined, so work on their formal recognition was inert. Now, OECMs, as per Decision 14/8 on Protected Areas and Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures are defined as:

“a geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in situ conservation of biodiversity,1 with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio–economic, and other locally relevant values”;

OECMs thus play an important role in local efforts to protect specific areas as long as they show de facto biodiversity protection. These sites can include (indigenous) sacred sites, privately protected areas or fisheries management initiatives as long as they have been effective in the past up to the present and do not have a concrete conservation objective.

The Way Forward

OECMs were an important topic at CoP14 given that there were quite a few side events dealing with this issue. The question arises, why to recognise OECMs in the first place? One the one hand, states have now found a new way to reach Aichi Target 11. On the other, local initiatives are now formally recognised, potentially strengthening the rights of indigenous peoples to their sacred sites despite a country’s otherwise potentially non-supportive policies. Local and indigenous communities have now an important additional tool to make their voices heard. In combination with the recently adopted Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (see blog post), the link between environmental protection and other rights has been ever more strengthened.

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