The Indigenous World 2021: Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty under the United Nations (UN) adopted in 1992. The Convention has three objectives: to conserve biodiversity, to promote its sustainable use, and to ensure the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from its utilisation (Art. 1).[1]

The Convention has developed programmes of work on thematic issues such as marine, agricultural and forest biodiversity, and on cross-cutting issues such as traditional knowledge, access to genetic resources and protected areas. All the programmes of work have a direct impact on Indigenous Peoples’ rights and territories. The Convention recognises the importance of traditional knowledge (Art. 8j) and customary sustainable use of biological resources (Art. 10c) for the achievement of its objectives.

In 2010, the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (also referred to as COP 10) adopted the Nagoya Protocol on “Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation” and the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. The UN Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020 had hence commenced.

The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity (IIFB) was established in 1996, during COP 3, as the Indigenous caucus in the Convention processes. Since then, the IIFB has worked as a coordination mechanism to facilitate Indigenous participation in, and advocacy at, the Convention through preparatory meetings, capacity-building activities and other activities. The IIFB has managed to get many of the Convention’s programmes of work to consider the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples, their customary use of biodiversity and their effective participation. The IIFB has also been active in the negotiations regarding access to genetic resources in order to defend the fundamental rights of Indigenous Peoples that should be included therein.

2020 had, in advance, been billed as the super year for biodiversity with a new biodiversity strategy - the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework - due to be adopted at the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 15) in November in Kunming, China.

The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

COP 14 in 2018 launched new negotiations under an “Open-Ended Working Group” (OEWG) to address the Convention’s implementation in the period post-2020. The second meeting of the OEWG took place in February 2020 in Rome, Italy, in which Parties to the Convention were given an opportunity to comment on and propose elements for the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The meeting discussed a zero draft of the Framework that had been prepared by the co-chairs of the process, Basile van Havre from Canada and Francis Ogwal from Uganda. They had been mandated to prepare this at the first meeting of the OEWG after some Parties pressed for a document that could serve as a basis for negotiations. Comments on the zero draft were collected, collated and annexed as a document to the conclusions of the meeting. Subsequently, the co-chairs produced an updated zero draft reflecting inputs and proposals made at the meeting.


The OEWG meeting in Rome was one of the last face-to-face meetings under the Convention to take place in 2020. For, even as the meeting was taking place, COVID-19 had started to rage across northern Italy and was soon to become a global pandemic. The plan for a series of high-profile international environmental meetings in 2020, including a UN Biodiversity Summit on the fringes of the UN General Assembly’s annual session in September, ended up for the most part being virtual meetings, or being postponed to 2021.

Important meetings of the Convention’s subsidiary bodies were postponed, including the 24th meeting of its Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA 24), which is mandated to “...carry out a scientific and technical review of the updated goals and targets, and related indicators and baselines…as well as the revised appendices to the framework” (containing the preliminary draft monitoring frameworks for the goals and targets of the draft post-2020 global biodiversity framework).[2]

Also postponed until 2021 was the 3rd meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI 3) which is mandated to:

...provide elements to the development of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, in particular with regard to means to support and review implementation, including implementation support mechanisms, enabling conditions, responsibility and transparency and outreach and awareness[3]

Crucially, the 3rd meeting of the OEWG on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, mandated to propose a draft biodiversity strategy for adoption at COP 15, was also delayed. COP 15 itself was also delayed and so the new biodiversity strategy ended up not being finalised in 2020.

Global Biodiversity Outlook

The 5th edition of Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO 5) was launched on 15 September 2020 at a special virtual meeting of SBSTTA 24. The GBO is the Convention’s flagship publication assessing progress made in the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets translate some of the general obligations of the Convention into specific strategic goals and targets, which were to be implemented through Parties’ National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). The GBO 5 report, which was the final “report card” on progress made during the UN Decade on Biodiversity, made global headlines by concluding that not a single Aichi Biodiversity Target would be fully met by the end of 2020.[4]


Local Biodiversity Outlooks

Jointly with the GBO 5 report, the 2nd edition of Local Biodiversity Outlooks (LBO 2) was launched. The LBO is a complementary publication to GBO 5 highlighting the perspectives of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

A key message of the LBO 2 report focuses on Aichi Biodiversity Target 18 on traditional knowledge and customary sustainable use. The report found that only 11% of Parties reported that Indigenous Peoples and local communities had been engaged in NBSAP processes.[5] National reporting has primarily been piecemeal on projects and activities, and the adopted indicators on traditional knowledge have not been used. The widespread disregard for the vital contributions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use constitutes a major missed opportunity for the UN Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020. This neglect has contributed to the under-achievement of all 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, with fundamental lessons remaining to be learnt about securing the future of nature and cultures. Putting the cultures and rights of Indigenous Peoples at the heart of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework would deliver sustainable livelihoods and well-being, and positive outcomes for biodiversity and climate. This is strongly supported by growing evidence that Indigenous Peoples have been the best custodians of biological diversity within ancestral territories.[6] This legacy is a historical foundation for improved conservation outcomes into the future.

Another key message of LBO 2 is that nature and culture work together. Overcoming separation and imbalances in the relationships between humans and nature is central to addressing biodiversity and health crises, including the rise of pandemics such as COVID-19. Science needs Indigenous and local knowledge to solve contemporary problems holistically and with reciprocity. Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing evoke new narratives and visions of culture and nature working together within a living and sacred Earth.

The LBO 2 report proposed six critical transitions in the coming decade:

  1. Land: securing the land rights and customary land tenure of Indigenous Peoples and local communities will also secure biodiversity
  2. Food: revitalising Indigenous and local sustainable food systems will shift us away from industrial agriculture towards agroecology and food sovereignty
  3. Culture: valuing diverse ways of knowing and doing are fundamental to transformative change
  4. Governance: inclusive decision-making and self-determined development to end discrimination and exclusion in our political life
  5. Economies: sustainable use of resources and the flourishing of diverse local economies away from extractive capitalism and gross social inequalities
  6. Incentives and finance: rewarding effective Indigenous solutions and stopping the financing of destruction

These are inter-generational visions honouring the historical struggles and wisdom of past generations, drawing on the experience and innovations of today’s living generations, and embodying the legacy and hopes for future generations. They contribute to humanity’s joint endeavour to save our common home.


UN Biodiversity Summit

The GBO 5 and LBO 2 were timed for release two weeks prior to the semi-virtual High-Level Summit on Biodiversity of the UN General Assembly which took place despite COVID-19. The Summit’s theme of “Urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development” was meant to highlight the urgency of action at the highest levels in support of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The programme included two “Leaders’ Dialogues” on “Addressing biodiversity loss and mainstreaming biodiversity for sustainable development” and “Harnessing science, technology and innovation, capacity building, access and benefit-sharing, financing and partnerships for biodiversity”. The main outcome from the Summit was a summary of key messages to be transmitted to relevant processes such as the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The UN Biodiversity Summit was preceded by a process in which 70 countries endorsed a Leaders’ Pledge for Nature with 10 urgent actions to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030.[7] The Pledge includes strong commitments to addressing Indigenous Peoples’ rights and issues in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework:

  • Clear and robust goals and targets, underpinned by the best available science, technology, research as well as Indigenous and traditional knowledge.
  • Full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in decision-making and recognition of their rights, as acknowledged in relevant national and international instruments.

A few more countries have since endorsed the Pledge but how the promises will actually be fulfilled remains to be seen.

More than 100 civil society organisations supported an open letter expressing concerns about the UN Biodiversity Summit. In particular, concerns were raised regarding the inadequate representation and lack of a democratic process for civil society participation at the Summit, especially given that it provided “...a prominent role to some of the world’s biggest corporations and financial actors who are among those most responsible for biodiversity destruction.”[8]

Inputs of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to the post-2020 GBF

A “Second Global Thematic Dialogue for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities” on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework was held in early December following a round of regional consultations organised according to the seven cultural-geographic regions recognised by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues: Africa; Arctic; Central and South America and the Caribbean; Eastern Europe, Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasia; North America; and the Pacific. The Indigenous Women’s Biodiversity Network (IWBN) also held a consultation. The joint recommendations[9] from these consultations stated that the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework should:

  • Be based on the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, particularly Target 18 as minimum standards and no less
  • Use a human rights-based approach and prioritise the protection of nature and the human rights of Indigenous Peoples’ defenders
  • Be evidence-based (IPBES Global Biodiversity Assessment, GBO and LBO 1 and 2)
  • Ensure coherence and links between Goals and Targets
  • Nature-culture approach and cultural diversity as a cross-cutting element in the post-2020 framework, with IPLCs [Indigenous Peoples and local communities] as proponents of biodiversity and cultural diversity
  • Protect traditional knowledge of IPLCs and ensure free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), respect and benefit-sharing for their utilisation based on mutually-agreed terms (MAT)

Specific recommendations were also made on a number of targets under the zero draft:

  • Full legal recognition of IPLCs’ lands and territories and support for community conserved areas and governance under Targets 1 and 2 pertaining to conservation of land, waters, territories and resources
  • Customary sustainable use to be recognised and supported under Targets 3, 4 and 8 pertaining to the sustainable use of biodiversity
  • Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol, including respect for FPIC, benefit-sharing, mutually-agreed terms and community protocols under Targets 12 and 19 pertaining to equitable access and benefit-sharing
  • Add a target explicitly focusing on the legal recognition, respect and promotion of Indigenous and Local knowledge, innovations, practices and technologies in Target 19 pertaining to information and traditional knowledge and address ambiguity in the meaning of “availability of traditional knowledge to decision makers and public”
  • Apply a human rights-based approach in accordance with international obligations – including the human right to a healthy environment and the full and effective participation of IPLCs and Indigenous women under Target 20 pertaining to equitable participation and governance
  • Recognise the contribution of traditional knowledge to climate change adaptation and mitigation under Target 7 pertaining to climate change
  • Create a financial mechanism to support IPLCs under Target 18 pertaining to resources mobilisation

Reflections on the negotiations of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

There is now greater awareness and understanding about the vital role of Indigenous Peoples in the conservation, sustainable use and restoration of biodiversity. This recognition needs to be formalised in international environmental law. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted in 2007, embodied 25 years of negotiation with states aimed at respecting and upholding the inherent human rights of Indigenous Peoples. If successful, the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, once finalised in 2021, could mark a similar historic milestone towards international respect and recognition of the vital role of Indigenous Peoples, our cultures, knowledge and our territorial governance for maintaining and renewing the diversity of life. On the basis of the human rights and equality affirmed in the UNDRIP, we are seeking in the biodiversity agreement to redress imbalances in the governance of nature aimed at full recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ contributions to the renewal of cultures and nature.



Joji Carino (Ibaloi-Igorot, from the Cordillera region of the Philippines) is an active advocate for Indigenous Peoples’ human rights at the community, national and international levels. She is currently a Senior Policy Advisor with the Forest Peoples Programme (UK). She is co-lead author of Local Biodiversity Outlooks: Contributions of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020) and to Renewing Nature and Cultures. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This article is part of the 35th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced.  Find The Indigenous World 2021 in full here


Notes and references

[1] CBD. “The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity” 1992. Accessed 22 February 2021.

[2] UNEP and CBD. “Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework: Scientific and Technical Information to Support the Review of the Updated Goals and Targets, and Related Indicators and Baselines.” CBD/SBSTTA/24/3, 18 November 2020. Accessed 22 February 2021.

[3] UNEP and CBD. “Recommendation Adopted by the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.” CBD/WG2020/REC/2/1, 29 February 2020. Accessed 22 February 2021.

[4] CBD. “Global Biodiversity Outlook 5.” 18 August, 2020. Accessed 22 February, 2021.

[5] CBD. “Local Biodiversity Outlook 2.” 31 August 2020. Accessed 22 February 2021.

[6] IPBES. “Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.” 2019. Accessed 2 March 2021.

[7] CBD. “Leaders’ Pledge for Nature.” 25 September 2020. Accessed 22 February 2021.

[8] Lim, Li Lin. “TWN Info Service on Biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge.” Third World Network, 4 November 2020. Accessed 2 March 2021.

[9] UNEP and CBD. “Report of the Second Global Thematic Dialogue for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Frameork, 1-3 December 2020.” 15 January 2021.

Tags: Global governance, Climate, Biodiversity



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