The ’30 x 30′ target, indigenous peoples and local communities


(If you are familiar with the 30 x 30 target, you can skip the Introduction)

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is probably the most important international conservation regime in the world. It currently holds a membership of 196 states with only the Holy Sea and the United States not having signed nor ratified the convention. It therefore constitutes a truly global agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

CBD membership © Nikolas Sellheim, 2021

In 2010, the 10th Conference of the Parties (CoP10) met in Nagoya (Aichi Prefecture), Japan, to discuss new biodiversity targets between 2010 and 2020. These have become known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (here). The Aichi Targets encompass 20 targets that the parties to the CBD are to attain by the year 2020. These targets are subdivided into five strategic goals: 1) Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss; 2) Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use; 3) Improve the status of biodiversity; 4) Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and 5) Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building. Particularly relevant for the concerns of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLC) is Aichi Target 11:

By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascapes.

This target states that at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water should be placed under protection. This is also to occur through “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs). OECMs are areas that do not have a specific conservation objective, e.g. like protected areas, but that show de facto conservation results. This means that their conservation-success is measured by the outcome and not by the objective. OECMs could therefore also be indigenous sacred sites or even unused military areas.

This goal, however, has not been reached in many member states to the CBD. Or even worse, biodiversity loss has been occurring at an unprecedented rate as the recent report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has impressively demonstrated in 2019 (here). Therefore, conservationists and governments have taken a step up to achieve more efficient biodiversity conservation in the post-2020 era, i.e. by 2030 and beyond and it is likely that at the next CoP of the CBD in late 2021, where the new biodiversity targets will be determined, the so-called ’30 x 30′ or ’30 by 30′ target will be adopted, aiming to place 30% of the world’s land and sea areas under protection. Conservation groups also consider that 10% of these 30% should be placed under ‘strict protection’ shielding these areas from any human interference (here). The European Union has taken up this call in its Biodiversity Strategy for 2030: “[A]t least one third of protected areas – representing 10% of EU land and 10% of EU sea – should be strictly protected” (here, 2.2.1, para. 4). It therefore does not seem unlikely that also the CBD parties will pick up on this. In fact, the Global Ocean Alliance – an initiative comprising 55 countries, led by the UK – aims to include the 30 x 30 goal in the currently ongoing negotiations of the UN Agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ Agreement) (here). The idea(l) of a third of the world to be placed under protection has consequently reached the arena of international negotiations.

Not surprisingly, for some the 30 x 30 goal is not enough though. Naturalist Edward O. Wilson, for example, calls for the protection of 50% of the land and sea areas of the world by 2050 (here). This approach is called ‘Half Earth’ or ‘Nature Needs Half’ and is, in fact, gaining momentum on the international level. Especially NGOs are pressing for this even more ambitious goal. In how far this is a realistic option remains to be seen. Yet, I can imagine that if the rate of biodiversity loss continues at the current pace, a 50 x 50 goal might become a real issue internationally.

A Dark Past (and Present) of Conservation

At the recent Congress “Our Land, Our Nature”, organised in parallel to the IUCN World Conservation Congress by Survival International, the 30 x 30 goal ranged high on the agenda. We must not forget that conservation on indigenous lands has oftentimes – and still is – been accompanied by forced resettlement, eviction or relocation. When looking at the history of protected areas or national parks, they essentially are a product of colonialism since the protection of the natural environment served the colonisers as refuge from city life by either creating or maintaining a ‘wilderness’.

Another reason was to ensure the sufficient abundance of game or other wildlife for the colonisers to be able to realise their hunting expeditions. What this brought with it was a gross neglect of the local population, i.e. indigenous peoples who lived in the area and who made use of the local environments (here). As a consequence, in order for the colonisers not to be disturbed in their endeavours, local communities faced forceful relocations and evictions from their traditional lands.

Unfortunately, these problems have not disappeared. While there are nowadays calls for the inclusion of IPLCs in the decision-making process and, indeed, particularly indigenous peoples under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) have the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) concerning decisions that directly affect them, in the context of conservation this does not always occur. In fact, while a sustained hunting yield and mere relaxation as the juxtaposition of urban life are no longer valid reasons for the creation of national parks or protected areas, these have been replaced by a discourse on conservation, biodiversity loss and climate change.

This means that even up to this day forceful relocation and evictions have occurred – and are occurring – in the name of conservation and climate change mitigation. For instance, in Kenya forced relocation of the Sengwer people in the name of the REDD programme (a climate change mitigation programme of the United Nations; here) or violence against peasants in Chitwan National Park in Nepal carried out by guards in the name of biodiversity conservation (here) are but two examples of how conservation efforts are going tremendously wrong.

Effects of and Problems with the 30×30 Target

As the above has shown, violence against traditional inhabitants constitutes a major problem. While I would not go so far as to claim that western notions of conservation through means such as national parks of protected areas inevitably results in violence against locals, it nevertheless may hold the potential to cause exactly that. This type of ‘fortress conservation’ and depending on the IUCN category of protected areas (here) brings about several fundamental problems:

  • Delineating and managing the protected area occurs without the people affected

Indigenous peoples and local communities are hardly part of the decision-making process regarding the area that is to be conserved, how it is to be conserved and by what means this conservation is to occur. This means that while they have been the wardens for these areas for centuries and even millennia, their knowledge – despite explicitly being recognised by Article 8 (j) of the CBD – hardly plays a role. During the “Our Land, Our Nature” Congress, this could be once again seen. Examples from Taiwan, Guatemala or Kenya underlined this problem. As a consequence, if they happen to live in or close by a strictly protected areas or even make use of some of the resources that occur in this area, they are considered intruders without the right to make use of their traditional lands. It is not unlikely that a 30×30 target occurs without the inclusion of IPLCs, which would consequently lead to conflicts over land use. The question of control over these areas has therefore not been answered, nor the question over what degree of utilisation is to occur in these areas.

While numerous NGOs have pledged cooperation with IPLCs, Kashwan et al. show that there are three fundamental drawbacks: 1) While there are pledges to respect indigenous territorial sovereignty, no set of other fundamental rights has been established that NGOs would respect; 2) No mechanism is in place that establishes a system of accountability in case certain rights are being violated; 3) While pledging to cooperate with IPLCs, this does not mean that NGOs defend IPLCs against encroachment from businesses or state authorities, especially with regard to resource extraction on traditional lands. In the end, therefore, it is the state that determines which areas are to be protected (and how) while NGOs follow their conservation objectives. IPLCs, on the other hand, remain in the back seats of decision-making.

  • Western concepts of conservation trump traditional concepts

The entire idea of protected areas derives from a western concept of conservation. While there have always been sacred sites or other sacred areas (rivers, mountains, trees) in indigenous cultures, they have always been embedded in a mythology. These areas would nowadays qualify as an OECM since they have de facto been protected, but not necessarily with the objective of protecting biodiversity. If 30% of a country was to be protected with a clear conservation objective, i.e. that protected areas were to be artificially established, this would mean that traditional conceptions of conservation based on culture, mythology and traditional utilisation would have to subdue to western conceptions of conservation. This would inevitably lead to further dissolution of traditional cultures and potentially cause effects of colonisation. The call to ‘decolonise conservation’ is therefore becoming ever more important in this context. Moreover, or merely point to OECMs as a conservation measure belittles the rights that indigenous peoples enjoy in several countries in the world (here).

  • Lower conservation results

The idea of shielding certain species and areas from human use is an idea that does not take into account the positive conservation results that IPLCs have produced in the past. The media release following the IPBES Report, for instance, notes: “Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities” (here). This means that also the IPBES indirectly challenges the protected area-based mode of conservation, given that the phenomenon of alteration of the environment does not so drastically occur on traditionally managed lands.

While protected areas have produced positive results, the most positive outcomes were achieved through co-management regimes with IPLCs (here). In other words, in case of the establishment of a 30×30 framework, it appears imperative that IPLCs are included from the very beginning – not only as stakeholders, but as key decision-makers and managers of the areas concerned.

  • Indigenous and peasant organisations remain empty-handed

Even though it has been shown time and again that the inclusion of IPLCs contributes to better conservation results, in the past, funding has not reached their representatives organisations. Instead, during the 1990s, large environmental NGOs, such as The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and the WWF have received 70% of all funding (300 million USD) that was made available by USAID. During 2010-2016, 1.3 billion USD were made available to combat wildlife trafficking in Africa and in Asia. Yet, only 15% of that money served sustainable use and livelihoods alternatives (here).

A truly inclusive mode of cooperation with IPLCs would make funding available from different sources. This money would enable them to further engage with their traditional activities and so sustain their livelihoods. As a result, conservation outcomes would, in all likelihood, increase. While the current Director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, has acknowledged the mistakes that were made in the past and distances himself from the racist worldview of Sierra Club’s founder John Muir, he still notes: “[O]nly people insulated from systemic racism and brutality can afford to focus solely on preserving wilderness” (here). This obviously leaves out the fact that of the approximately 2 billion people living in 36 of the biodiversity hotspots are considered poor, vulnerable and marginalised (here). Even if that were so, it would appear even more imperative to strengthen indigenous and local voices in order to improve conservation outcomes.

  • The core problems are not resolved

While the 30×30 target is indeed ambitious and, provided that IPLCs are a fundamental part of planning and implementation, a positive development, I dare to say that the key problems that have actually led to the current state of affairs, are not resolved. For instance, while there are positive effects of an unspoilt environment as a climate mitigation measure, protected areas do not contribute to a reduction in consumption and emissions. Nor do they contribute to mitigating the overall problems with a neoliberal system, which aims at maximising profits.

This begs several questions (which are obviously not complete): in what relation do protected areas stand with unprotected areas? Are there to be buffer zones between industrial areas and protected areas? Can, for example, a river that flows through a protected area be used for industry further upstream? Are conservation initiatives to focus merely on the protected areas and is the rest to be used entirely as an engine for industrial societies?

Summary and Conclusion

As it stands now, the discourse on the 30×30 target has not explicitly dealt with the issues above. While, as the different links show, there has been an academic discourse on the impacts of protected areas on IPLCs and they themselves are increasing their voice, for instance through organisations such as Survival International, no robust and inclusive framework has been developed by states and NGOs that ensure, first, that the rights of IPCLs are not violated; second, that their rights are being defended against state and business actors; third, that they can make use of their traditional lands in the same way they have done before and thereby produce much better conservation outcomes; and fourth, that ‘fortress conservation’ is being replaced by management systems that are inclusive and not exclusive to human use.

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