The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meets every two years to negotiate the implementation of the Convention, which was adopted in 1992 during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The three principal objectives of the Convention are: conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. As many indigenous peoples and local communities depend directly on biodiversity for their livelihoods and cultural integrity, the CBD has important implications for these groups.
The meeting in Kuala Lumpur was the seventh meeting of the COP since the Convention entered into force in December 1994. After two full weeks of negotiations, the COP adopted 33 decisions, several of which are particularly significant for local communities and Indigenous peoples. Among these are:
- Endorsement of the Akwé:kon Guidelines for the inclusion of the cultural, social, and environmental considerations of communities in impact assessments for development projects;
- Request for a working group to develop elements of an ethical code of conduct to ensure respect for the cultural and intellectual heritage of indigenous and local communities for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use;
- Decision to negotiate an international regime on access to and benefit-sharing of genetic resources; and,
- Adoption of a workplan on protected areas that includes the involvement of communities and other stakeholders, as well as the promotion of equity and benefit-sharing.
Immediately following the COP-7 was the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP/MOP), which entered into force on September 11, 2003. Delegates reached several decisions important for poor communities, such as adoption of an action plan for capacity-building to implement the Protocol, and the decision to address socioeconomic considerations in their next meeting.
While many of these decisions are a definite move forward for the interests of communities, much work remains to be done before the CBD is truly a mechanism that goes beyond protecting the interests of indigenous peoples and local communities, to recognizing them as rights holders with an equal and powerful voice in international environmental negotiations.