“Living in Harmony with Nature”: Faiths at COP 15

The United Nations Biodiversity Conference, or COP 15, ended on December 19 with great fanfare over the signing of the Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). The agreement, which was ratified on the final day of the conference, sets ambitious goals, including protecting 30% of the planet and 30% of degraded ecosystems by 2030 and halving global food waste.

Faith communities were active in the negotiations, represented by the organization “Faiths at COP 15“. The group’s advocacy was organized around the refrain of “living in harmony with nature,” and it argued especially for an emphasis on human rights throughout the agreement and for safeguarding the autonomy of indigenous people and local communities.

This position is crucial. As I noted in an earlier post, biodiversity can be a controversial concept, especially for indigenous communities, with its reliance on the idea of “intact” ecosystems. This idea of untouched wilderness has been and still is used to erase indigenous groups and their histories from the land. Protecting biodiversity is absolutely necessary, but that must include protecting the rights and autonomy of indigenous and marginalized communities. Indeed, the group argues that the knowledge, expertise, and participation of these communities is essential to the success of the GBF.

In a press release, Faiths at COP 15 greeted the final GBF with celebration. The group affirmed the document’s ambitious goals and significant attention to the rights and contributions of indigenous people, local communities, women and girls, and youth. It also commended the agreement’s participatory and inclusive approach.

Where the agreement falls short for Faiths at COP 15 is in implementation: they argue that it is not ambitious enough, with voluntary mechanisms and no required reporting from businesses. The agreement also includes provision for biodiversity offsets – allowing participants to compensate for threats to biodiversity in one area by supporting biodiversity-promoting activities in another area. We’ll do a whole post on the concept of offsets sometime; but suffice it to say that the concept is tricky at best. As one Greenpeace activist put it, “Biodiversity offsets are not a substitute for real action to stop destruction of nature, just as carbon offsets are not a substitute for real emissions reductions.”

These shortcomings notwithstanding, the GBF represents a significant and ambitious step in the protection of biodiversity while also attempting to safeguard the agency of marginalized groups. Faiths at COP 15 has pledged to continue to play a leading role in the implementation of the agreement in local communities.

Published by Andrew Thompson

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