Human rights and gender in the new Global Biodiversity Framework

While not perfect, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework that was adopted last December is a step in the right direction. It brings about a paradigm shift as it moves towards human rights-based, gender-responsive and socially equitable biodiversity conservation, which facilitates better implementation and accountability. This achievement would not have been possible without the articulated efforts and advocacy of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs), women and youth groups, and numerous civil society organizations.

Header photo: Environmental defender Demetrio Pacheco, stops to listen for the sound of a chainsaw in his forest concession. Madre de Dios, Peru (c) Tom Laffay

The natural systems that make life on Earth possible, including human life, are in danger. IPBES is clear when it indicates that, if we want to comply with the objectives of biodiversity, climate and sustainable development for 2030, “business as usual” will not work.

In this sense, the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment states that human rights must be at the center of biodiversity action to save the planet, ensuring effective, efficient and equitable conservation. The rampant destruction of nature throughout the world endangers the general well-being of the population and the realization of fundamental rights, ultimately risking our chances to achieve just and sustainable human development.

On December 19, the Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP 15) concluded and the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was adopted after four years of negotiations. The GBF will guide global and national biodiversity actions until 2030.

The four goals of the GBF focus on conservation, sustainable use of biodiversity, fair and equitable sharing of benefits, and adequate means of implementation. Targets cover a wide range of issues, from expanding protected and conserved areas and reducing pollution to ensuring that food production is sustainable and phasing out incentives and subsidies that are harmful to biodiversity.

A step in the right direction

‘We welcome this new GBF,’ states Ana Di Pangracio, Deputy Director at Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), a partner of IUCN NL in the Forests for a Just Future programme, who has been closely following the CBD process for over a decade. ‘It is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. It is the product of a multilateral effort, so important in current times, as well as the result of an unprecedented open and participatory process with contributions from civil society organizations, IPLCs, youth and women groups.’

‘The new Global Biodiversity Framework is fully transformative in regards to human rights.’

Ana Di Pangracio, Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales

The GBF addresses the cultural and rights dimensions of biodiversity in an improved manner. Di Pangracio explains that ‘while the 2011-2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets were pretty much blind to human rights, the GBF is fully transformative in this respect.’ The GBF recognizes the human right to a clean, safe and sustainable environment declared by the United Nations General Assembly last July 2022. It also enshrines the principle of intergenerational equity, whole-of-government and whole-of society approaches and calls for a human rights-based implementation of the framework.

Women’s and indigenous peoples’ rights

With the GBF´s Target 23 on gender equality, the CBD becomes the first environmental treaty to have a specific target on women’s rights. It embeds a gender-responsive approach in which all women and girls have equal opportunities and capacity to contribute to the GBF’s objectives. This includes recognition of their equal rights and access to land and natural resources, and their full, equal, meaningful and informed participation and leadership at all levels of action, involvement, decision-making and policy-making related to biodiversity. In addition, COP 15 adopted a new 2030 Gender Action Plan that will serve as a guide for realizing the goal of gender equality in biodiversity policy.

The GBF also states the full recognition and respect for the rights to land, resources and territories of IPLCs, their culture and traditional knowledge, and guarantees for the protection of environmental and human rights defenders. Not only with an exclusive target (number 22) but in different relevant targets throughout the text.

Environmental human rights defenders (EHRD) are on the frontline of protecting biodiversity and its contributions to human well-being; many are attacked and killed every year[1]Global Witness reports over 1700 killings in the last decade, with a marked increase in the last three to four years … Continue reading. The fact that in its Target 22 the GBF calls to ensure the full protection of EHRD is highly relevant and transformative. Di Pangracio adds: ‘it is totally aligned with the provisions of the Escazú Agreement which was signed in our region.’

COP 15 decided to establish an ad hoc group of technical experts from Parties and observers to advise COP 16 on the further operationalization of the GBF monitoring framework, including indicators, which is still a work in progress. This will be a relevant process to follow up to ensure it facilitates assessing progress on a human-rights based implementation and hold State Parties accountable.

Implementation by national governments

The National Biodiversity Strategies and Plans of Action (NBSAP) are the main tool to apply the GBF at the national level. NBSAPs are expected to be adopted as policy instruments, and developed and implemented in an effective, participatory manner.

They require the involvement of decision makers from diverse state agencies whose activities have an impact on biodiversity, accompanied by a financing and resource mobilization strategy, as well as the engagement of civil society observers and rights holders at the local and national level to integrate their priorities and needs in order to create ownership and increase the chances of reaching the biodiversity goals. On this latter, capacity building and awareness raising will be key to ensure these groups fully participate and contribute. NBSAPs also provide opportunities to advance in recognizing and integrating the empowerment of women and girls and gender equality.

It is now crucial that State Parties get down to work and honor the commitments made in the GBF to avoid repeating past failures. ‘The Aichi Targets were only partially reached, in large part due to the lack of political will and effective and just implementation. We cannot afford to be in this same position in 2030’ affirms Di Pangracio, ‘strengthening the mainstreaming of biodiversity is not an easy task, but it is indispensable. It requires extensive processes and sustained commitment, regulations that ensure that the use of biodiversity by various sectors of society is done in a responsible manner, with a focus on safeguarding the common good and not on the concentrated interests of a few. Implementation at the local level starts now and is as important as the global one.

This article was written in cooperation with Ana Di Pangracio, who is also an IUCN Regional Council Member for Meso and South America.

Liliana Jauregui
Liliana Jauregui
Senior Expert Environmental Justice


1 Global Witness reports over 1700 killings in the last decade, with a marked increase in the last three to four years