What does COP15 have to say about environmental defenders?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Video: Malaysian public interest lawyer Theiva Lingam tweeted this video of a silent protest inside COP15 “to remind everyone that there cannot be a Global Biodiversity Framework without rights for #environmentaldefenders.”

While there are many concerns that the 30×30 goal being negotiated at the United Nations COP15 summit in Montreal could lead to the displacement of Indigenous peoples and violence against Indigenous defenders, what does the proposed Global Biodiversity Framework text specifically have to say about environmental defenders?

As it turns out, not very much.

This draft text that emerged from the pre-negotiations that took place from December 3-5 notes (on page 16 under Target 21):

“Ensure the full, equitable, inclusive, effective and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making, and access to justice and information related to biodiversity by indigenous peoples and local communities, respecting their cultures and their rights over lands, territories, resources, and traditional knowledge, as well as by women and girls, children and youth, and persons with disabilities and ensure the full protection of environmental human rights defenders.”

While slight, this is more than the text that emerged from the recent COP27 climate change conference that made no reference to environmental defenders.

Global Witness continues to highlight:

“Land and environmental defenders risk their lives to protect their rights to land and to a healthy environment. They are also our first line of defence against ecological collapse. 200 people were killed in 2021 for standing up for their rights to their land and a healthy environment. That’s the murder of a defender every three days on average.”

It adds that over the past ten years “a staggering 1,733 defenders have been killed, and the violence shows no sign of slowing down.”


In the lead up to COP27, EarthRights International, Global Witness, Natural Justice, Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA), CIVICUS, and the International Land Coalition released a set of recommendations for policymakers calling on them to take meaningful steps to protect those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

Silvana Baldovino of SPDA said: “A higher recognition and incorporation by UNFCCC and COP27 of the role of defenders in facing the climate crisis is crucial to move States towards stronger protection schemes.”

Amnesty International also called on all parties to: “Ensure the action plan recognizes the role of environmental human rights defenders in promoting effective and ambitious climate action and includes concrete measures to protect them in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.”

Indigenous land defenders

At the silent protest at COP15 (photo above), one of the participants is holding a photo of murdered Indigenous Lenca environmental defender Berta Caceres.

In a speech she gave in March 2016, less than a year before she was killed, Caceres stated: “Our Mother Earth – militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated – demands that we take action. Let us build societies that are able to coexist in a dignified way, in a way that protects life.”

PBI-Canada will be present in Montreal on December 16 when Wet’suwet’en land defenders will be there to participate in COP15 events.

Wet’suwet’en land defender Sleydo’ will be in Montreal on December 16.

They will be there to call on the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) to divest from the Coastal GasLink pipeline now being built on Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia without free, prior and informed consent.

More on this action from Decolonial Solidarity here.

Further reading: The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) denounces 30×30 initiative as “fortress conservation” and Indigenous land defenders sing “Trudeau is a colonizer” as prime minister opens the COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal.

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