IUCN approves several motions that support indigenous peoples rights, including “no-go” zones for industrial development

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has approved a motion urging governments to prohibit industrial activities like mining, dam building, oil and gas extraction, logging, and road building from national parks and indigenous peoples’ and community conserved territories and areas (ICCAs).

Motion 26 was passed during the World Conservation Congress held in Hawai’i from 1-10 September 2016. It includes the following two paragraphs, which, if implemented, would make protected areas and ICCAs “no-go” zones for industrial development:

3. CALLS ON governments to prohibit environmentally damaging industrial activities and infrastructure development in all IUCN categories of protected area, and to take measures to ensure that all activities are compatible with the conservation objectives of these areas, through appropriate, transparent and rigorous pre-emptive appraisal processes, such as international best practice environmental and social impact assessments, strategic environmental assessments, and appropriate regulation;
4. FURTHER CALLS ON governments, decision makers, community and private landowners to give high priority to avoiding environmentally damaging industrial activities and infrastructure development that impact sacred natural sites and territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities (ICCAs), noting the ICCA Registry maintained by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. The aim is to ensure that all activities are compatible with the conservation outcomes of these areas through appropriate, transparent and rigorous pre-emptive appraisal processes, such as international best practice environmental and social impact assessments, and via free, prior and informed consent, in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Motion 26 calls on governments not to de-gazette protected areas or move the boundaries of protected areas to allow destructive development. It also calls on corporations to respect protected areas as “no-go” areas for “environmentally damaging industrial activities and infrastructure development”, and to withdraw from destructive activities inside protected areas.

Aura Tegria, a member of the U’wa in Colombia, was in Hawai’i for the World Conservation Congress. All over the world, indigenous peoples’ territories are under threat from industrial activity. In a presentation during the Congress she said,

Our sacred Mt. Zizuma is threatened … by the presence of energy mining projects within U’wa territory, which accelerate climate change and violate our mandate to protect, take care of and safeguard our Mother Earth, carrying us toward a physical and cultural extermination.

While IUCN’s motion is not legally binding, it is an important boost for rights of indigenous peoples. Fiona Wilton of the Gaia Foundation comments that,

“Indigenous peoples have historically suffered great injustices at the hands of conservation groups, as well as the extractive industries. Motion 26 is a good indication that the world’s biggest conservation players are waking up to the fact that recognising indigenous peoples rights, supporting their lived forms of conservation and helping them protect their lands from destructive industries through policies like Motion 26, is the best way to protect life on Earth.”

IUCN recognises the importance of ICCAs and the Whakatane Mechanism

The IUCN Members’ Assembly also approved a motion on “Recognising and respecting the territories and areas conserved by indigenous peoples and local communities (ICCAs) overlapped by protected areas”.

Motion 29 requests the Director General, Council, Commissions and Members, together with the ICCA Consortium and relevant partners, to carry out a series of actions relating to ICCAs and protected areas. The first three are as follows:

a. develop, disseminate, and urge implementation of best practice guidance on identification, recognition, and respect for ICCAs in protected area overlap situations;
b. require appropriate recognition and respect for overlapped ICCAs before including any protected area in IUCN’s Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas or before advising the granting of World Heritage status, including by ensuring that the custodian indigenous peoples and/or local communities maintaining these ICCAs give their free, prior and informed consent to the proposed designation;
c. encourage indigenous peoples’ organisations and networks and the Whakatane Mechanism to support the recognition and respect of ICCAs overlapped by protected areas, including recognition of indigenous peoples’ continuing governance and management of them;

The Whakatane Mechanism website, gives an explanation of what the mechanism aims to achieve:

The aim of the Whakatane Mechanism is to assess the situation in different protected areas around the world and, where people are negatively affected, to propose solutions and implement them. It also celebrates and supports successful partnerships between peoples and protected areas.

Motion 80, proposed by the Forest Peoples Programme, was also approved. The motion aims to strengthen the Whakatane Mechanism. On its website, Forest Peoples Programme states:

The approval of this motion will help raise awareness of the Whakatane Mechanism as a tool that has proved successful in resolving conflicts in areas which have been given official ‘protected’ status, while also being the ancestral homes of indigenous peoples and local communities.

New IUCN membership category for Indigenous Peoples

IUCN Members’ Assembly also voted to create a new category of membership in IUCN for indigenous peoples. This is the first time in IUCN’s history that a new category of membership has been created.

IUCN membership currently consists of 90 states, 133 government agencies, 115 international NGOs, 1006 national NGOs, and 50 affiliates.

In a statement on IUCN’s website, Inger Andersen, IUCN’s Director General, says,

“Today’s decision to create a specific place for Indigenous peoples in the decision-making process of IUCN marks a major step towards achieving the equitable and sustainable use of natural resources. Indigenous peoples are key stewards of the world’s biodiversity. By giving them this crucial opportunity to be heard on the international stage, we have made our Union stronger, more inclusive and more democratic.”

Last week, Conservation Watch noted that indigenous peoples were mentioned only three times in the Hawai’i Commitments, and that the word “rights” was not mentioned at all. A fourth mention was added to the final version relating to the Paris Agreement:

Critical to the successful implementation of the Paris Agreement is building trust across the full range of stakeholders, especially indigenous peoples and women in local communities, who engage directly in mitigating climate change.

And the word “rights” appears in the final version:

To achieve the transformation required to promote a ‘Culture of Conservation’, while respecting human rights and gender equity, we need to support and build constituencies for nature, and to address the way human societies are changing nature and our world.

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