It will take a human rights-based approach to save life on Earth

Written by Cristina Eghenter, Senior Expert, Global Governance Policy, WWF International

COP15 of the Convention of Biological Diversity is convening in Montreal to agree on the new Global Biodiversity Framework that will guide the conservation of nature globally over the next decade. This time, rights and equity need to be at the center of the framework and its implementation.

This is necessary for halting and reversing biodiversity loss in ways that are inclusive, just and sustainable. The framework needs to tackle the root causes of biodiversity loss in effective and equitable ways, and recognize the rights and contributions of all custodians of biodiversity, especially Indigenous Peoples and local communities, women, and youth, many of whom live in, care for, and depend on the most biodiverse places on Earth.

© Brent Stirton / Getty Images / WWF-UK

As the world celebrates Human Rights Day, we recognize that a human rights-based approach is an essential and enabling condition for biodiversity conservation and the resilience of life systems. This is urgently needed because the stakes are high, and if nature fails, the risks to our wellbeing and survival are immense.

Civil society, women, youth, and rights holders are all voicing the urgency of a global commitment to transforming the development model that has undermined biodiversity, the very foundation of life. We all need to act now to safeguard our one and common Earth for present and future generations.

In simple terms, implementing the Global Biodiversity Framework with a human rights-based approach means that biodiversity-related policies, governance, and management practices do not violate human rights, and enable the enjoyment of all human rights, including the right to a clean, sustainable and healthy environment.

A human rights-based approach is a pathway to recognizing and empowering all custodians of biodiversity and rights holders who have often been neglected, and ‘invisible’ in decision- and policy-making related to biodiversity. Without Indigenous Peoples, local communities, women, and all custodians and defenders of biodiversity, mending our broken relationship with nature will be an impossible mission.

Applying human rights to halt and reverse biodiversity loss requires deep transformation in the model of production and consumption that we have created and that is based on the exploitation of nature for the benefit of a few. Businesses need to adhere to both environmental and human rights standards, and ensure that biodiversity is fully valued. Governance systems need to be inclusive and embed the knowledge and institutions of the rights holders who are most dependent on biodiversity, and who are also its best custodians. And Indigenous Peoples, local communities, women and girls, and youth need to be part of any planning and decision-making that could impact their lives, waters and territories.

It is vital that the new Global Biodiversity Framework adopts a human rights-based approach. It is equally essential that we deliver on good intentions through strong and effective rights-based action to realize the vision of people living in harmony with nature.

We must be able to monitor and measure rights and equity. Accountability is part of our responsibility to nature and future generations. The first step is to have elements of human rights principles embedded in all relevant and actionable targets of the new Global Biodiversity Framework. Important, positive steps were secured during OEWG5 just prior to the beginning of COP15, with strong targets (20, 21, 22) on Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ rights, gender equality, the right to information, access to justice, and full and equitable participation. More can and must be done, including ensuring areas and territories conserved and sustainably used by Indigenous Peoples and local communities are recognized, respected, and appropriately supported, with their free and prior informed consent. This is achievable, and can be monitored and reported upon.

It is critically important that leaders meeting in Montreal this week embed human rights throughout the Global Biodiversity Framework. How well they are integrated will determine to what extent we can achieve our vision of living in harmony with nature, and whether we bequeath future generations a thriving planet.

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