Inclusive conservation: a path to protecting 'the heart of the planet'
Conserving biodiversity has never been the work of governments alone, and a much more inclusive approach is needed to propel efforts to protect endangered ecosystems and species, the head of the Global Environment Facility stressed during the COP15 biodiversity summit.
“It is very important that funding for the environment reaches those who are actively working to protect and restore natural resources,” GEF CEO and Chairperson Carlos Manuel Rodriguez said. “Our support for biodiversity and nature needs to respect rights and recognize all of those engaged in this effort.”
At a series of events held at the GEF Pavilion in Montreal, environmental leaders and advocates from around the world shared their experiences working to confront urgent threats while also supporting and influencing environmental policy-making and goal-setting processes, including the COP15 negotiations.
Mrinalini Rai, Co-Coordinator of the UN CBD Women’s Caucus and former member of the GEF Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group, stressed the many ways that women and civil society organizations are working to influence and inform international environmental decisions and to ensure social justice is factored into planning, including through gender action plans.
Christian Schwarzer of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network added that young people were also actively engaged with the Convention on Biological Diversity – not to influence specific words in negotiated texts, but to ensure that that the focus remained on needed outcomes. “The importance of grassroots activity is often forgotten in the negotiating rooms,” he said. “We are really anxious about our future, and we want to see concrete action.”
Several representatives of communities located in biodiverse areas shared their experiences working to advance projects that improve local conditions as well as create global benefits.
“We live in the thick of biodiversity. As a community our focus needs to be both policy and practice,” said Gladman Chibememe, a conservation biologist and environmental policy planner from Zimbabwe’s southeast Lowveld, an area that borders Mozambique and South Africa.
Ruth Spencer, Chair of the Board of the Marine Ecosystems Protected Areas Trust in Antigua, stressed that in her community, work to address environmental challenges was both pragmatic and personal.
“The process really moves forward based on your connection with people,” Spencer said, describing how local concerns related to plastic waste, chemicals, and health led to projects and programs. “When you are working on the ground you are not thinking about categories, you are working on issues facing people,” Spencer said.
The GEF is the world’s largest dedicated source of biodiversity funding and also provides financing and technical assistance to developing countries related to the drivers of habitat loss.
Most of its grants and blended finance support national initiatives managed in partnership with implementing agencies.
The GEF also directly finances community-led conservation work through the Small Grants Programme, connects experts and advocates through the GEF Gender Partnership, and supports inclusion through its policies on gender equality and stakeholder engagement, as well as through specific initiatives related to young environmental leaders and scholars.
It also recently launched the Inclusive Conservation Initiative in partnership with IUCN and Conservation International to provide financial assistance directly to Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Under the GEF-7 funding cycle, the Inclusive Conservation Initiative provided $25 million to support Indigenous leadership in the protection of biodiversity including nine Indigenous-led projects and knowledge exchange activities across Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The program itself is also directed by a steering committee of Indigenous Peoples.
“The Inclusive Conservation Initiative is a new paradigm for how we can work,” Rodriguez said, saying that direct support for other non-state actors would help as efforts to end biodiversity loss continue to gather steam. “We need to be guided by the people who are doing the groundbreaking, on-the-ground work related to environmental stewardship,” he said.
Giovanni Reyes, a member of the GEF Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group, welcomed this approach in recognition of rich biodiversity in the lands Indigenous communities take care of. “The 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity that coincides with Indigenous territories serves as the heart of the planet. If you destroy that heart, it is the same effect as destroying the heart of a person,” he said. This sentiment was echoed by Lucy Mulenkei, Chair of the Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group, who said: “Nature is part of us and we are part of nature. We cannot exist without it.”
All photos credited to Olivier Besson/GEF