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Want to reach biodiversity goals? International human rights law could help

Bird in forest

A new paper in Transnational Environmental Law explores the extent to which the review mechanisms of international human rights law can help to improve compliance with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Photo: T. Sobek/Unsplash

A healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. International human rights law could help improve compliance with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity

Story highlights

  • Several assessments have reported on the weak compliance with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets by the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
  • Research shows that the CBD can draw from international human rights law to address compliance challenges
  • Improving the CBD’s peer review mechanism is important for strengthening accountability with upcoming the post-2020 global biodiversity framework

MUCH TO BE GAINED: Although there are a wide range of guidelines designed to help with implementing the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), the world has failed to fully meet any of its global biodiversity targets.

Countries are not sticking to their promises, and biodiversity is suffering.

This has implications for human rights too, as the full enjoyment of such rights depends on a healthy and sustainable environment.

Compliance gap

In a new paper published in Transnational Environmental Law, centre PhD student Niak Sian Koh, with colleagues Claudia Ituarte-Lima and Thomas Hahn, explores the extent to which the review mechanisms of international human rights law can help to improve compliance with the CBD.

There is an urgent need to take the compliance gap seriously and initiate the transformative changes required to achieve the 2050 CBD vision of living in harmony with nature.

Niak Sian Koh, lead author

Signed in 1993, the Convention on Biodiversity has near universal membership with 196 member states. This makes it one of the few multilateral environmental agreements that has been ratified by almost every country in the world.

The CBD adopts decisions with commitments via consensus of the states. An example of such a commitment is the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020, which contains the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Window of opportunity

Koh and her colleagues explored why the Aichi Biodiversity Targets have not been fulfilled, despite the fact that states set targets for themselves and guidelines exist for their implementation.

The authors identified key challenges that hamper state compliance with CBD obligations:

  • lack of institutional capacity
  • slow uptake of CBD guidelines into national policies
  • difficulties in ecological monitoring and establishing universal biodiversity metrics
  • inconsistent biodiversity policy integration
  • questionable opportunities for effective and meaningful public participation

They then analysed what insights could be gained from international human rights law to foster implementation and enforcement of the CBD.

Useful review mechanisms

The authors suggest that the CBD can draw from international human rights law to address these compliance challenges, through, for example, facilitating the participation of civil society organizations to provide specific input, and engaging independent biodiversity experts to assess implementation.

Other strategies include self-assessments by the country under review, peer review by thematic experts and member states, country visits as well as formal mechanisms to follow-up with recommendations.

The authors highlight a case where an NGO was able to challenge a development project by using both human rights and biodiversity review mechanisms to build a legal case. This way, a stronger argument could be built to emphasize the negative impacts of the project on people and biodiversity.

“This paper provides evidence that insights from human rights law can be useful for strengthening accountability within the post-2020 global biodiversity framework,” conclude the authors.

Link to publication

Topics: Biodiversity
Published: 2021-08-31