The UN Biodiversity Conference starting today has been labelled a ‘critical meeting for people and for nature’. For it to succeed it must turn to traditional knowledge, because when Indigenous Peoples lead on conservation efforts the results are far more positive than those achieved through ‘externally’ controlled conservation, new research shows.

Sidelining Indigenous Peoples and local communities in efforts to protect the environment is commonplace, with governments and international organisations routinely taking control, ‘most prominently through strict protected areas’.

This study shows it is time to focus on who conserves nature and how, instead of what percentage of the Earth to fence off.

Dr Neil Dawson

Examining the effects of this, an international team of scientists, led by Dr Neil Dawson of the University of East Anglia’s School of International Development, found that the way things are being done is counterproductive and that a shift to equitable conservation, facilitating the environmental stewardship of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, would better serve the needs of people and planet.

Dr Dawson said: “Conservation led by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, based on their own knowledge and tenure systems, is far more likely to deliver positive outcomes for nature. In fact, conservation very often fails because it excludes and undervalues local knowledge and this often infringes on rights and cultural diversity along the way.”

Sifting through thousands of publications the team identified nearly 200 conservation projects worldwide that had the necessary levels of detail regarding the social and ecological sides of the equation to enable them to carry out a comprehensive study. The results showed that in 56% of the projects under ‘local’ control positive outcomes were reported, compared to just 16% in those controlled externally.

“Current policy negotiations, especially the forthcoming UN climate summit, and biodiversity summit [starting today], must embrace and be accountable for ensuring the central role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in mainstream climate and conservation programs. Otherwise, they will likely set in stone another decade of well-meaning practices that result in both ecological decline and social harms.

“Whether for tiger reserves in India, coastal communities in Brazil or wildflower meadows in the UK, the evidence shows that the same basis for successful conservation through stewardship holds true. Currently, this is not the way mainstream conservation efforts work.”

Dr Dawsons says that too often laws stand in the way of local stewardship, with commercial interests put before fair and effective conservation.

He added: “Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ knowledge systems and actions are the main resource that can generate successful conservation. To try to override them is counterproductive, but it continues, and the current international policy negotiations and resulting pledges to greatly increase the global area of land and sea set aside for conservation are neglecting this key point.

“Conservation strategies need to change, to recognise that the most important factor in achieving positive conservation outcomes is not the level of restrictions or magnitude of benefits provided to local communities, but rather recognising local cultural practices and decision-making. It is imperative to shift now towards an era of conservation through stewardship.”

Follow part one of the UN Biodiversity Conference, which runs until 15 October, via the live-stream, to hear what governments are planning to do to support such stewardship.

Hindou Ibrahim

The co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change during the historic UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, was one of Marc Buckley’s first guests on the Inside Ideas podcast. Dedicated to protecting all Indigenous peoples, ‘from the Congo to the Arctic’, Hindou’s now famous TED talk on Indigenous knowledge meeting science to solve climate change has been watched by millions.

An official advocate for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Hindou champions indigenous solutions for climate adaptation and mitigation in the corridors of power worldwide. And as the ‘critical’ UN Biodiversity Conference gets underway, she can provide crucial insight on the pivotal role Indigenous knowledge must play in these meetings – catch up with full podcast now.

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