Solving the biodiversity crisis starts with addressing human rights

Biodiversity loss

In February 2021, Preventable Surprises held a week-long online dialogue to set an investor agenda for biodiversity loss. In this Chatham House-rule, text-only online format, participants were invited to discuss and respond to a series of  “provocations” – short texts written by leading experts, designed to yield creative thinking, test the wisdom of the crowd and challenge the status quo. We are publishing these provocations on our blog this month in an effort to broaden this conversation.

By Moira Birss, Climate and Finance Director, Amazon Watch

Humans are part of, and depend upon, nature. Without a healthy planet we can’t grow food, breathe clean air, drink clean water, or live healthy lives. The demise of a single species can lead to the collapse of an entire ecosystem, affecting local communities and ultimately destabilizing economies and governments. And as the world struggles to address new global challenges like climate change and zoonotic diseases, protecting biodiversity and critical ecosystems becomes even more urgent. 

But unsustainable activities are driving massive biodiversity losses and eroding cultures around the world at a rate higher than ever before in history. Around 1 million species face extinction in the next few decades and 10% of the earth’s wilderness has been lost in the past two decades, including about 30% of the Amazon. In 2020 alone, an estimated 2 million hectares (5 million acres) of primary forest were lost across the nine countries of the Amazon.

The business sectors of infrastructure development, urbanization, energy, agricultural production, and mining are key drivers of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. For example, in the Brazilian Amazon, cattle ranching is the biggest driver of deforestation, closely followed by mining.

Most of the world’s domestic and wild biodiversity resides in areas traditionally managed, owned, or occupied by Indigenous peoples and local communities, and it is well established that biodiversity and sustainable land management is more robust in areas with traditional and Indigenous communities. That’s in part because they understand that humans are part of nature and cannot exist without it, and can co-exist harmoniously. Yet these communities face serious threats to their lives and livelihoods from the very same unsustainable, extractive activities that are driving biodiversity loss, which investors continue to finance despite the threats, risks, and impacts. 

Urgent action to comprehensively safeguard biodiversity and wilderness areas, and uphold Indigenous and traditional land rights, is urgently needed. We know there are biodiversity hotspots around the world, many of which are internationally designated, and many of which — particularly those in formally or traditionally conserved areas — are in Indigenous territories. Let’s protect these areas. Let’s commit to ending the financing of any kind of industrial activity — including mining, drilling, agribusiness, large dams — in those hotspots.


What is preventing financial institutions from making such commitments, and establishing clear expectations, timelines and consequences for company inaction on biodiversity loss? 

What would it look like for financial firms to commit to not finance industrial projects, or companies that carry out projects, in biodiversity hotspots?

What would it take for firms to hold companies to account for the full respect of Indigenous rights, including but not limited to their right to reject industrial projects on their ancestral and traditional territories (Free, Prior and Informed Consent)? 

How can investors and companies successfully work hand in hand with indigeneous communities to preserve biodiversity hotspots? What is the role of local governments?

Could investors support better land ownership rights for smallholder farmers and Indigeneous populations? 


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