Incubator project: Indigenous knowledge, politics and accountability in global biodiversity governance

Knowledge can empower non-state actors to hold policy-makers accountable for their (lack of) implementation of global biodiversity goals, including through naming-and-shaming and policy-learning enablement.


Considering the lack of enforcement mechanisms for such goals – and the reluctance of states to hold each other to account for implementation – the engagement of non-state actors in accountability is essential. With a significant portion of the world’s biodiversity residing in indigenous territories, Indigenous Peoples are increasingly interested in engaging in biodiversity governance accountability mechanisms.

Historically Indigenous Peoples have sustainably managed their territories based on their traditional knowledge; nowadays this also involves monitoring biodiversity in-situ to assess progress towards international goals. Thus Indigenous and Local Knowledge (ILK) is an asset for both biodiversity conservation and for empowerment of Indigenous Peoples to engage in multilevel account-holding dynamics.

However, this engagement is challenging because of scientific knowledge hegemony in biodiversity governance and because ILK is linked to more relational values compared to the intrinsic or utilitarian values that are dominating the scientific and political space . Nonetheless, ILK had unprecedented influence on the recent, highly publicized global assessment of IPBES - the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. But what happens with ILK when it enters the politics of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as it currently negotiates its strategic plan for 2021-2030? How are Indigenous Peoples using their own knowledge and worldviews to hold governments accountable for their (lack of) action on biodiversity in relation to global commitments in that process?

These questions will occupy the members of this incubator project as they combine their expertise in political science, ethnography, anthropology, sociology and Science & Technology Studies. More specifically they will through interdisciplinary approaches analyse the inclusion of ILK in the follow-up and review of the 2011-2020 strategic plan and the negotiation process for the post-2020 strategic plan from three thematic angles: First, from the inter-governmental angle by analysing a dataset of all relevant official documents produced by governments and intergovernmental organizations. Second, from the angle of Indigenous Peoples’ organizations analysing their advocacy material and strategies. Third, from the knowledge angle analysing the use of ILK in the key knowledge ‘products’ produced in support for the post-2020 process; the Global Biodiversity Assessment and the Global Biodiversity Outlook.

Timeline of planned activities

Project duration: Sep 2019 - Dec 2020. The focus of the project makes it important to include the period for COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity that will be held in October 2020 in China.

Activities and timing:

  1. Full day team retreats:
    1. Sep 2019: project planning
    2. April 2020: organising write-up of literature review, developing three MSc thesis proposals - one for each thematic angle - and planning recruitment
    3. Dec 2020: Finalisation of outputs and evaluation
  2. Sep 2019 - June 2020. Literature review and document analysis. With help of student assistant finalising literature review (started in earlier incubator on Knowledge & Accountability) and develop data set for master theses.
  3. July-December 2020. Master thesis supervision. The three students will each have two co-supervisors from different chair groups. Supervisors work closely together and organise a mini-thesis ring.

Expected outputs:

  • Data sets of CBD related documents for analysis in Atlas
  • 1 Policy Brief for COP15 of the CBD
  • Three Master theses
  • 1-2 papers (finalisation of literature review from previous incubator based on the MSc theses)
  • Initial ideas for future research applications