Representatives of the world’s indigenous peoples and local communities,
Welcome, bienvenu bienvenidos y bienvenidas, to Montreal.
I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the Elders of the local Mohawk community, Kanien'ke-há-ka (“People of the Flint”), Mr. Charles Patton, Mr. Kenneth Deer and Ms. Lynn Jacobs, for providing a traditional welcome.
I take this opportunity to respectfully acknowledge the traditional peoples of this territory that we are gathered upon.
The representative of the COP presidency, Dr. Hamdallah Zedan; and Ms. Elizabeth Mrema, Officer in Charge of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat.
The last time I was together with many of you, in Nairobi just a few months ago, we spoke about the importance of the task ahead as you set the direction for the Convention on Biological Diversity after 2020. We talked about the need for greater ambition in the post-2020 biodiversity framework. The need for appropriate baselines, targets and indicators. The need for a focus on the quality of protected areas as much as quantity. The need to get the buy-in of sectors – such as agriculture and infrastructure – that impact the land.
We also talked about how our target-setting will mean nothing without the right solutions. And nobody can deny that indigenous people and local communities – IPLCs for short – have been deploying exactly the kind of solutions the wider world needs to consider for a sustainable future.
One of the landmark studies that this year added urgency and impetus to your work by warning of the ongoing collapse of biodiversity and ecosystem services – and I won’t go into the findings, as you all know them as well as I – showed just how important IPLCs are to biodiversity and ecosystems. The IPBES assessment told us that even though biodiversity is in decline across the globe, it is declining less rapidly in areas managed by IPLCs. Evidence of IPLCs’ good management of lands and waters is everywhere. To cite just one further example, a study published in Science magazine found that in Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil, land managed by IPLCS emitted over 70 per cent less carbon than land managed by others.
Such results are massive when we consider that over a quarter of land area is traditionally owned, managed, used or occupied by indigenous peoples. As Ms. Edna Kaptoyo, speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group, told the UN Environment Assembly in March this year, up to 80 per cent of forest biodiversity lies within indigenous people’s territories.
Despite their track record of success, without secure tenure, the territories of IPLCs are under threat: from extractive industries, agriculture, infrastructure and so much more. And, when representatives of IPLCs stand up and try to protect their lands and waters, they all too often pay for their efforts to protect nature with their lives. In 2018, 164 environmental rights defenders were killed, almost four a week. Many of them were indigenous peoples and many of them were women.
To the many representatives of IPLCs in this room today, I offer my deepest thanks and respect for everything you have done and are continuing to do. We, as a global community, need to help you protect your lands. We need to work with you and learn from you. We need to give you a much stronger role in global efforts to preserve biodiversity and ecosystems for the good of all humanity. This is why article 8(j) of the CBD – which calls on Parties to respect and preserve the practices of IPLCs that promote the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity – is crucial.
This is also why this working group is a key moment. It allows Parties to back IPLCs to help achieve the goals of the Convention and its vision of humanity living in harmony with nature.
This working group will be making recommendations on a new integrated programme of work on article 8(j) and related provisions, as well as institutional arrangements for IPLCs in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Whatever you chose, fully capturing the collective and local contributions of IPLCs is vital to the development of the architecture and elements for a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.
In post-2020 consultations thus far, IPLCs have put forward exciting proposals that can massively contribute to the post-2020 framework.
For example, indigenous community conservation areas or indigenous protected areas – as well as the in-situ conservation of traditional crops and animals for local food systems and food security – are very attractive proposals. I thank the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, which acts as an Indigenous Caucus to the Convention, for your contributions so far on this work.
Some countries, such as Australia, are already harnessing the power of community conservation through extensive partnerships with indigenous peoples. In Australia there are now 75 Indigenous Protected Areas, covering over 67 million hectares. This makes up more than 44 per cent of the National Reserve System, creating the largest contiguous area of protected arid land in the world. Here, Canada has surpassed its commitment to protect 10 per cent of its ocean territory with the announcement of interim protection for Canada’s newest and largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) – Tuvaijuittuq, which covers 5.55 per cent of Canada’s ocean territory, in partnership with the Qikiqtani (Qi – Kik – tani) Inuit Association and the (indigenous) Governments of Nunavut.
These successes, and the others I mentioned previously, send a very clear message: we need to make IPLCs full partners in the implementation of the Convention.
This makes absolute sense. IPLC territories are islands of diversity in a sea of degraded ecosystems. They are clearly doing something right, and we need to allow them the space to get on with it. IPLCs, and especially the women within them, need secure land tenure and access to their natural resources. They also must be able to manage these lands, waters and resources in sustainable ways. This Convention can help to make that happen. However, in the sixth national reports to the CBD so far, recognizing and encouraging IPLCs local and collective actions remains largely a missed opportunity for many Parties, with some notable exceptions.
To give further prominence to IPLCs, and support healthy ecosystems and community resilience, we must do everything we can at a global level to bring biological and cultural diversity closer together.
Modern urban societies have been built entirely on using nature as an extractive resource and distancing ourselves from it as far as possible, save for the controlled spaces of parks or trips out into the wild. This disconnect is the source of most of the environmental problems the world faces. We made nature both our servant and enemy, rather than ally and friend.
But the separation of nature and culture is not possible for the indigenous peoples of the Americas, who regard themselves as descendants of the Maize, or the Squash. It is not possible for the indigenous peoples of the Pacific, who are descended from the Taro. The separation of nature and culture is not possible for any traditional community or indigenous people, since their histories and values have developed in an intricate relationship with nature over millennia.
And yet, we all know inherently, instinctively that nature and culture are deeply connected. Nature and culture together provide us with a sense of place. A sense of peace. A sense of self. A memory of our past and a vision for our future. Nature shapes our history and determines our culture.
One way we can help to close the distance between culture and nature is through the proposed International Alliance for Nature and Culture. Such an Alliance is a natural extension of a decade of joint efforts between the CBD, UNESCO, IUCN and governments in understanding the links between biological and cultural diversity and applying the lessons learned to our work.
Fundamentally, though, such an alliance and any arrangements this working group decides upon are tools. They are ways of helping to raise up and spread solutions that can reverse the trends of biodiversity loss. And the keepers of many of these solutions are indigenous peoples and local communities. They are the ones who have the kind of relationship with nature to which modern societies should aspire. We have paid too little attention to their voices and their example for too long. This working group has a real opportunity to give these voices the power they deserve. I urge you to take it.
And, as we have just heard from the Dr. Zedan, representative of the COP President, we need ambition, inclusivity, commitment, and unfaltering determination to ensure that nature and all species can be sustained. So may your spirit and hearts be moved and mobilized in the manner that Charles Patton asked for. He implored us to take action. To protect. To care. With that spirit, I wish this meeting every success.
Executive Director, UN Environment Programme
(Prepared for delivery)
 Mohawk, self-named Kanien'kehá:ka (“People of the Flint”), are an Iroquoian-speaking North American Indian tribe and the easternmost tribe of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy. The local indigenous community closest to Montreal is Kahnawake.