Will the new IPBES go the way of IPCC, or will it do a better job in using indigenous and local knowledge? An International Expert and Stakeholder Workshop took place on 9-11 June 2013 in Tokyo, on “The Contribution of Indigenous and Local Knowledge Systems to IPBES”.  It was convened by the IPBES Multidisciplinary Expert Panel (MEP) and jointly organized by the Government of Japan, UNESCO and UNU. The meeting included 28 participants from 23 countries (nine of them from indigenous groups) and nine people from organizing agencies. The objectives were to:

  • Examine and identify procedures and approaches for working with indigenous and local knowledge systems in the framework of IPBES, and
  • Review and assess possible conceptual frameworks for the work of IPBES that are based on or accommodate indigenous and local knowledge systems and worldviews.

Sometimes called “the IPCC for biodiversity”, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) was created by the UN General Assembly last year. It has the task of supporting decision‐makers in the translation of knowledge into policy. IPBES will help reduce the gulf between knowledge on declining biodiversity and action to reverse trends; identify gaps in knowledge; support policy; and build capacity for the interface between policy and knowledge – knowledge in all its forms. Through an operating principle adopted at a preliminary meeting in Busan, the recognition of and respect for indigenous and local knowledge is embedded in all aspects of the work of IPBES. Governments agreed that IPBES is to be guided by a set of operating principles including: “… to recognize and respect the contribution of indigenous and local knowledge to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems.” Participants at Busan recommended that the word “knowledge” should be used throughout, rather than “scientific information”, as knowledge is a more inclusive notion that encompasses science as well as indigenous and local knowledge.

Objectives of the Workshop were set by the first Plenary meeting of IPBES in January 2013. Workshop participants provided input to MEP on “the recognition of indigenous and local knowledge and building synergies with science” to develop draft procedures and approaches for working with different knowledge systems. Much time and effort was spent on the discussion of an IPBES Conceptual Framework that accommodates indigenous and local knowledge systems, and diverse conceptualizations of human-nature relations and well-being. It was also concluded that discussions on the Framework should be opened to local and indigenous knowledge holders to broaden the basis for building synergies with science. The Workshop report, still under review and revision, includes many recommendations; they tend to be rather general but emphasize the importance and relevance of indigenous and local knowledge:

“ In line with the Operating Principles of the Busan Outcome that form the basis of IPBES, as well as Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity and Aichi Target 18, which recognize and respect the contribution of indigenous and local knowledge to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems, IPBES should ensure that a meaningful and active engagement is established with indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) holders in all relevant aspects of its work and across all of its functions including by:

  • recognizing that indigenous peoples and members of local communities have distinct status as knowledge-holders and rights-holders;
  •  putting in place mechanisms and procedures to ensure effective participation in the MEP and its activities, including in any working groups, expert bodies and other structures that may be established, in the development of the conceptual framework and work programme, as well as in outreach to indigenous peoples and local communities.”

Will IPBES (unlike IPCC so far) effectively include indigenous voices and indigenous knowledge? The name of IPBES includes “ecosystem services” language, sometimes associated with a hard-nosed economic approach to biodiversity. This is of course very different from the worldview of many indigenous peoples who see biodiversity conservation as an ethical and livelihood issue, rather than an economic issue. Hence, one of the recommendations is for IPBES to critically evaluate the Ecosystem Services framework to restore indigenous community well-being. Perhaps the ultimate measure of success is that not only will IPBES incorporate indigenous knowledge, but also that indigenous communities will benefit directly from IPBES.  

The three authors are CEESP members. Peggy Smith and Fikret Berkes were CEESP appointees to the workshop, and Gabriela Lichtenstein was Argentinean government appointee. Gabriela Lichtenstein is the Chair of SSC South American Camelid SG.