A reflection by our Secretary General, Josianne Gauthier following her participation in the UN COP15 conference on Biodiversity which took place in Montreal from 7-19 December 2022.
I was born in this city, and grew up here. My children were born here. My body and heart are tied to this place in a way that is undeniable. I know it well, I know its paths, its beautiful spaces, but also its darker, lonelier corners and limitations. We all come from the land and the stories that precede us, and this is the best way I have of understanding, even as a descendant of immigration and settler families the inextricable connection between people and the ecosystem we are part of.
This is a truth that Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities have tirelessly tried to get across to decision-makers and actors in this and other international spaces regarding climate justice, biodiversity, human rights, and food justice. This cry of the land is calling us. Montreal was hosting the COP15 on Biodiversity exactly at the time when CIDSE is opening its reflection on how we must integrate this question of biodiversity as a crosscutting lens into our new strategy, and I felt this was a providential moment to come home that could not be ignored. I came here to see, listen, and learn what this process of the Convention on Biodiversity was about, how it was progressing, and how we could connect these systemic issues of climate and biodiversity justice into CIDSE’s existing and future advocacy work. I also came to renew and build new relationships, and reach out to people already engaged in this process and better understand not only how biodiversity loss is impacting and is impacted by the other areas of work we focus on, such as food and land, energy transition, post-extractivism, and corporate regulation, but also how our different battles could complement each other to contribute to the change we need.
As a faith actor, CIDSE was invited into the multifaith space and delegation, and we were able to connect and learn from all the faith traditions and begin to find our voice in this conversation. I witnessed how all faiths come together here as one voice and are truly contributing to a new narrative around justice, the changes we need to see and commit to, and how critical it is that they be driven by values. It’s hard to overstate how much our biodiversity is linked to our very existence and it is quite shocking to think that we have traditionally relegated this topic to the notions of “conservation”. This is not about conserving. It is about saving the planet and all of Creation – urgently.
As an organisation and network committed to systemic change, the question of biodiversity of course can only be understood as a systemic issue which touches on all the elements of our experience on this planet, indeed, the multifaith group at COP15 has referred to it as the “web of life”. This conversation and process continue to be about recognising the critical importance of our relationships to Nature, to Creation, about acknowledging the harm we have done and are continuing to do, and on stopping the cycle of pain, stepping into reconciliation, reparation, and setting these relationships right. This is the language we are more accustomed to using and hearing when speaking of righting relationships with Indigenous peoples. This is no surprise, as our relationship to Nature and Creation are intrinsically linked to the rights of Indigenous and Local communities, our power relationships between cultures, and the leadership of these communities to safeguard, protect, defend, and honour biodiversity. In short, moving forward on biodiversity justice will require continued commitment to decolonisation and healing broken relationships.
This is extremely challenging. What we are seeing is that the same behavior and logic that is creating the climate crisis is bringing with it the terrifying and rapid loss of biodiversity. All arrows point to the extractivist economic model and colonial patterns of domination over the natural world, something that is deeply rooted in cultural notions of Man’s superiority over all other species. What is at stake, is a double crime, ecocide and genocide, because where there is destruction of nature, we now can no longer deny that there is destruction of culture, of languages, of traditions.
I came to learn and listen and of course, this short week and immersion into a complex and critical discussion on our planet’s future leaves me with mixed impressions and reflections.
What was the COP outcome ?
At the outcome of these two weeks, the GBF (Global Biodiversity Framework) has been adopted. There is much to celebrate after such a monumental effort, after so many years of dedication and commitment, but throughout the difficult process and now as we step in to implementation, important questions remain. Whose voices have been and will be listened to? Will we listen to those who have the most to lose in the very short term, those who have been at the forefront of defending biodiversity and Nature? Will we have such humility and wisdom?
The risks are real and the stakes are high.
Even with a Framework now adopted, we know there are risks of not acting in accordance with the urgency of the situation, of continuing business as usual, and of these new commitments not being fulfilled, without mechanisms, adequate implementation or accountability, or without the needed funding. And then there are the risks associated to the false solutions, the dangerous consequences of certain economically-driven options such as further developing carbon markets, or questionable solutions such as protected areas for biodiversity that would actually harm the Indigenous communities who are already their guardians.
The leadership of certain voices in this process must be acknowledged and carried forward. The role played by Indigenous and Local Communities, but also by Small Island Developing States (SIDS) has been inspiring. From all parts of the world, they have come here to stand strongly for their own rights, cultural identity, and existing good practice but also share the stories of violence and abuse that they have seen and been subjected to along with their natural environments.
It is always challenging when being somewhat inside such a complex and exhausting process, where you see all the potential of ambitions and collective dreams arising, being lifted up by some parties, but also all the other actors here: the youth, the women, the Indigenous and Local Communities, and indeed raised by faith groups, and NGOs, and cities and infra-national bodies. It is challenging to see all the possibilities and then accept the outcome. Because the truth is that coming to global agreements, or indeed any kind of agreement between a diversity of actors is always extremely difficult. Can we embrace the positive while remembering that so much more needs to be done and ensuring that the signed agreement is not the only outcome – and not the end of the road? Relationships were built, visibility was given to a systemic issue, commitments were made, an agreement was signed. But perhaps more importantly, something shifted… a small but powerful shift that cannot be undone.
Ultimately it is about our home and caring for it together, as well as all life that shares this home with us and whom we are so dependent. The focus keeps coming back to our relationships, with each other, and with the Earth. This broken relationship urgently needs healing so that we cannot just survive, but flourish together.
Josianne was also invited to speak at the event “Singing of the Earth: Catholic responses to creation care” hosted by the Missionary society of St Colomban on 16 December.
Cover photo credits: CIDSE