Science and indigenous and local knowledge have complemented and enriched each other throughout the IPBES global assessment process

Eduardo S. Brondizio (Indiana University Bloomington; Co-chair, IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), on behalf of the co-chairs, technical support units, and authors of the IPBES Global Assessment

It was clear that fulfilling the mandate of the IPBES Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services would require a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to incorporate, synthesise and scale up the contributions of indigenous and local knowledge, practices, and innovations and issues concerning indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), from local to global levels. Evidence shows that, while indigenous and local knowledge systems are locally based, they are manifested in regional landscapes and ecosystems, and are globally relevant. IPLCs have shaped the ecologies, conservation initiatives, and resource economies of vast regions of the world, from managing forests, soil fertility, grasslands, mountains, watersheds, and coastal areas to cultivating and nurturing domesticated and wild species, and managing vast social-ecological production landscapes, for humans and non-humans. They are also at the forefront of pressures created by expanding extractive industries, pollution, infrastructure and climate change, and, at the same time, playing key roles in supporting the Convention’s 2050 vision for biodiversity, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Paris Agreement on climate change. In the spirit of Aichi Target 19, science and indigenous and local knowledge have complemented and enriched each other throughout the IPBES global assessment process.

A strategy on indigenous and local knowledge and engaging IPLCs was developed at the outset, and discussed and reviewed by several constituencies within IPBES, particularly the task force on indigenous and local knowledge systems, and in dialogues with experts and IPLC representatives. This guiding strategy included several components. During the first authors’ meeting, an authors’ liaison group for indigenous and local knowledge was formed, which collaborated throughout the assessment process within and across chapters. This group of 28 authors (coordinating lead authors and lead authors) and 32 contributing authors analysed evidence and participated in dialogue and consultation workshops.

A question-based approach provided a common guiding reference for authors to review empirical evidence, and guided consultations and dialogues. Three overarching questions were developed, and further detailed into 36 chapter-specific questions. These were:

  • What have been the contributions of indigenous and local knowledge practices and innovations to the sustainable use, management and conservation of nature and nature’s contributions to people at regional and global scales?
  • What are the most important features, pressures and factors related to and/or enabling or constraining these contributions, as well as impacting present and future quality of life of IPLCs?
  • What policy responses, measures, and processes can contribute to strengthen and improve the institutions and governance of nature and its contributions to people with regard to IPLCs?

Addressing these questions through a systematic and inclusive review of evidence from multiple sources included: literature searches in indexed journals and review of a wide range of reports; information from other IPBES assessments and earlier IPBES dialogue workshops on indigenous and local knowledge; various types of geospatial data; and inputs received from online and face-to-face consultations with IPLC networks and organisations. Dialogues and consultations carried out in international fora and on community grounds provided further essential contributions to the global assessment. An online call for contributions (in three languages and equipped with a webpage translation tool) engaged 363 contributors from over 60 countries, and over 1200 bibliographic resources. Altogether, the authors reviewed over 3000 relevant references, generating, for instance a synthesis of over 500 local indicators of social-ecological changes, and a systematic review of all Aichi Biodiversity Targets and SDGs as related to IPLCs. Literature review and dialogue workshops also allowed authors to assess the available scenarios, the pressures experienced by IPLCs in different parts of the world, and the relevant policy options and instruments directly or indirectly affecting IPLCs.

Together, and in consonance with the broader array of scientific evidence, the global assessment shows the global importance of IPLCs to the management and conservation of nature; to agrobiodiversity; and to climate change mitigation. It shows their innovations and emerging governance solutions, and it shows the pressures and struggles IPLCs suffer from, both current and projected. It shows that recognising the knowledge, innovations, practices, institutions and values of IPLCs, and their inclusion and participation in environmental governance, enhances their rights and quality of life while simultaneously advancing nature conservation, restoration and sustainable use with implications for the broader society.

The experience of the global assessment shows the importance of co-producing and co-learning through multiple forms of interaction among and between assessment authors and representatives of IPLCs. While having a dedicated group of authors and a dedicated indigenous and local knowledge technical support unit (at UNESCO) were fundamental, the process ultimately depended on the recognition and engagement of the wider community of scientists in the assessment team and knowledge-holders and community representatives from around the world who engaged with the process.

It is important to note that the global assessment process calls for mobilising funding and supporting staff from the outset. Going forward, it is important to continue to advance the participation of IPLC representatives during an assessment’s scoping and expert nomination phases, including expanding the participation of IPLC experts and representatives with relevant knowledge in the assessment team.

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