For Companies and Investors, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Must Be Central to Addressing Nature Risks

Feb 14, 2023 10:50 AM ET
Campaign: Human Rights

By Julie Nash, Ph.D., Ceres Senior Program Director, Food and Forests

The historic pact agreed to in December by world leaders to tackle the devastating impacts of global biodiversity loss highlights the critical role that Indigenous Peoples and local communities play in conserving nature.

Bold in its scope and language, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework recognizes the crucial role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in safeguarding biodiversity and the need to adopt human rights-based conservation approaches. This is a result of tireless efforts from the communities that have historically suffered human rights abuses and land use restrictions from strictly protected areas. These groups are proven stewards of effective biodiversity conservation and they must be engaged by companies in creating climate plans that address the escalating risks of nature loss.

Investors recognize that more than half of the world’s GDP ($44 trillion of economic value generation) is either moderately or highly reliant on nature and the services it provides. Further nature loss will cause negative economic repercussions globally. 

To drive greater corporate ambition and action to reduce nature and biodiversity loss, Ceres and its partners recently announced a global investor engagement initiative, Nature Action 100. The investors who are part of the new initiative will engage companies in key sectors that systemically important to reversing nature loss by 2030 – directly contributing to the goals of the Global Biodiversity Framework.

Key to that engagement will be understanding how companies’ nature-based risks mitigation plans involve Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Drawing on our insights from carbon credit projects, including Ceres report, Evaluating the Use of Carbon Credits: Critical questions for financial institutions when engaging with companies, there are certain elements that are shown to make corporate plans more successful. These elements help strengthen participation, improve the distribution of benefits and burdens, enhance cultural and political recognition, and lower business risks.

These key elements build on each other to ensure that these groups are not only considered and respected, but also are active participants in the risk mitigation process:

Upholding rights

As they craft plans for addressing the risks stemming from nature and biodiversity loss, companies need to uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Respect for the rights of these populations is included in the Framework’s sweeping Targets 1 and Target 3, aimed at bringing the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance close to zero by 2030 and ensuring and enabling that at least 30% of terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine areas are effectively conserved and managed. However, the efficacy of the 30x30 target, which was widely disputed by indigenous peoples and human rights organizations, depends on its implementation. Achieving this target by recognizing indigenous territories in Target 3 could pave the way towards a future of effective community and rights-based biodiversity protection.

Safeguarding free, prior, and informed consent

Indigenous Peoples and local communities have the right to free, prior, and informed consent. That means that these groups should be given consent without coercion and with sufficient time to make decisions. They also must have the right to deny any actions at any time in the development of nature-based risks mitigation plans. This concept was acknowledged in Target 21 of the Global Biodiversity Framework, which states that “traditional knowledge, innovations, practices and technologies of Indigenous Peoples and local communities should only be accessed with their free, prior and informed consent, in accordance with national legislation.”

Ensuring active participation

Companies must ensure that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are active participants in the conception, design, and implementation phases of plans for mitigating nature-based risks. Corporate engagement must go beyond simply receiving consent from these groups to involving them in all stages of the development process for plans to be most successful. While relevant to many of the targets, Target 19 about increasing financial resources toward biodiversity conservation specifically alludes to active participation through “enhancing the role of collective actions,” including by Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

Providing for equitable participation

Companies should strive for equitable participation of all community members, including women. Target 23 of the Global Biodiversity Framework directly addresses this concept, highlighting the need to enhance gender equality in the framework’s implementation. Specifically, the target mentions recognizing the equal rights of women and girls and “their full, equitable, meaningful and informed participation and leadership at all levels of action, engagement, policy and decision-making related to biodiversity.”

While it requires dedicated effort by companies, Indigenous Peoples and local communities must be respected, active, and equitable participants as they work to address the biodiversity loss that jeopardizes their own business and to achieve the ambitious aims of the Global Biodiversity Framework. Investors can use these insights to knowledgably engage companies in support of the pact’s just and inclusive biodiversity protection and restoration goals. Additionally, they can join Nature Action 100, which will formally launch in Spring 2023. To learn more about the new initiative, visit