Human rights must be at the heart of UN plan to save the planet

Special rapporteur says countries must move away from "business-as-usual" biodiversity conservation and ensure human rights compliance
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Banco de imágenes de arrecifes de coral/Yen-Yi Lee  -   A school of fish off Malaysia's Lang Tengah Island

The recently published United Nations blueprint for conserving and protecting nature must be amended to put human rights at its heart if we are to secure the future of life on our planet, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment said recently.

David Boyd stressed that "leaving human rights out of the process cannot be an option, because human rights-centred conservation is the most effective, efficient and equitable way to protect the planet".

He urged states to put human rights at the heart of the new Global Biodiversity Framework, recently released by the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, ahead of a conference in the Chinese city of Kunming.

At the event, representatives of 190 governments will finalise the Framework, which will address threats to biodiversity, human well-being and the future of life on Earth.

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Unsplash/Ryan 'O' Niel - Malaysia is one of the world's most biodiverse countries
More inclusive approach needed to conserve biodiversity

"States must move away from a "conservation-as-usual" approach to saving biodiversity and ensuring the fulfilment of human rights for all," Boyd said, adding: "A more inclusive, just and sustainable approach to protecting and restoring biodiversity is an obligation, not an option."

The summit's goal is to establish a "world living in harmony with nature" by 2050, in part by protecting at least 30% of the planet and restoring at least 20% by 2030.

"This new framework is vitally important because accelerating efforts to expand protected areas have proved woefully insufficient to halt or even slow the tide of environmental destruction sweeping the planet," he said.

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OPS/Karen Gonzalez - Indigenous children in the Amazon
Indigenous peoples' and women's rights

Boyd said that rapid expansion of protected areas to cover 30% of the world's land and sea is essential, but must not come at the cost of further violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples and other rural populations.

The rapporteur said that special attention must be paid to the rights of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, local communities, peasants, women and rural youth, none of whom are given due priority in the current draft despite recent improvements.

These individuals and groups "must be recognised as key partners in the protection and restoration of nature". "Their human, land and property rights, their knowledge and their contributions to conservation must be recognised, respected and supported".

He warned against "fortress-like conservation" approaches that seek to restore "pristine wilderness" without human inhabitants, saying that this approach has had devastating effects on the human rights of communities living in targeted areas, such as indigenous peoples or other rural dwellers.

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ICS/Craig Nisbet - Seychelles in Africa committed to protect marine biodiversity
All human rights are ultimately dependent on a healthy biosphere

Boyd noted that the current draft of the Framework makes no mention of fundamental safeguards, "ignoring the basic fact that all human rights ultimately depend on a healthy biosphere".

"States must improve the draft Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework by ensuring that rights-based approaches are mandatory in all actions to conserve, restore and share the benefits of biodiversity, including conservation finance," he said.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what are known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name for the Council's independent investigative and monitoring mechanisms that deal with specific country situations or thematic issues around the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.