COP15: Indigenous-led conservation key to ensuring biodiversity goals says ICC

A landscape in Greenland. Inuit-led protected areas in the Arctic are one of the best ways to ensure biodiversity of the regions, says the Inuit Circumpolar Council. (Christian Klindt Solbeck/ AFP/ via Getty Images)

As the global community gathers in Montreal for COP15, the organization representing Inuit internationally says full involvement of Indigenous people is a key way to ensure biodiversity goals.

“We really want to have the world understand that Indigenous-led conservation has to be part of the protection of biodiversity,” Lisa Koperqualuk, president of the Canadian chapter of Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), said in a phone interview. 

ICC represents the approximately 180,000 Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka, Russia.

“We don’t want to save biodiversity just for the sake of biodiversity, but because humanity is linked to biodiversity,” Koperqualuk said. “That’s the Indigenous approach, which is integral to how we view the world.”

Looking for way forward to 2050

The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity runs from Dec 7-19.

Approximately 20,000 people from over 190 countries will be attending. 

The goal of this meeting is to develop a global framework for protecting biodiversity. 

“Despite ongoing efforts, biodiversity is deteriorating worldwide and this decline is projected to continue or worsen under business-as-usual scenarios,” the first draft of the framework, known by its working title “the post-2020 global biodiversity framework,” said. 

A person walks by the lit up sign during the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal on December 7, 2022. (Photo by Andrej Ivanov / AFP/ via Getty Images)

The framework, once hammered out, would be used by national governments to guide biodiversity targets, action plans, and monitoring to 2050.

The framework also lists four main goals to reach by 2050 including :

  • enhanced integrity of all ecosystems, with an increase of at least 15 per cent in the area, connectivity and integrity of natural ecosystems, and at least 90 per cent of genetic diversity within all species maintained
  • that nature’s contributions to people are “valued, maintained or enhanced through conservation and sustainable use supporting the global development agenda for the benefit of all”
  • the monetary and non-monetary benefits of genetic resources are equitably shared, including for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
  • financial gaps necessary to achieve the 2050 Vision are closed

Incorporating local knowledge in conservation efforts

“The foundation of our culture, our Indigenous knowledge, comes from, and is created out of, the Arctic ecosystem,” says ICC-Canada President Lisa Koperqualuk. (Courtesy ICC-Canada)

The first draft of the  framework includes 21 milestones to reach by 2030; which includes things like ensuring 20 per cent of degraded aquatic ecosystems are under restoration; and that at least 30 per cent globally of land areas and of sea areas are conserved and equitably managed.

Two targets also outline the importance of equitable and effective participation of Indigenous people in decision-making related to biodiversity, as well as incorporating Indigenous knowledge and practices in conservation efforts. 

“Often, some of the most biodiverse areas are where Indigenous people live and are areas that Indigenous people rely on, and so there’s incredible local knowledge around these places” Koperqualuk said.

“In the Arctic, Inuit have an inextricable link with the marine ecosystem, the terrestrial ecosystem, the ice, the tundra, the glaciers and everything else.”

Hunters out on the land in the southeast portion of Victoria Island, Nunavut prepare to bring a muskox skin back to the community of Cambridge Bay. Biodiversity in the Arctic is not only about preserving the environment, but also about Inuit health, says the ICC’s Lisa Koperqualuk. “Even in 2022, we remain a harvesting culture,” she said. “Men that are able to, go out to provide healthy food for their families and that knowledge is passed from generation to generation. That is linked to identity and when identity is strong, health is strong as well.” (Eye on the Arctic)

Importance of Inuit-led protected areas

Koperqualuk says the initiative led by Canadian and Greenlandic Inuit to establish a marine protection area covering the North Water Polynya, known as Pikialasorsuaq in Greenlandic, is an example of the kinds of Indigenous-led projects that can help work towards biodiversity conservation in the Arctic. 

Discussions are ongoing between Canada and Denmark on the initiative, Koperqualuk said. But the significance of the region to Inuit on both sides of the border, makes them important stewards of the habitat. 

This is a very important area for Inuit, it’s an important feeding area for marine mammals and it’s an important area of biodiversity. That makes it very important to protect.

“It’s also a way for Inuit to exercise their right to self-determination. They’re part of management of the conservation area.”

Canadian biodiversity targets

The Canadian Government has previously pledged that Canada is aiming to have 30 per cent of its lands and oceans protected by 2030. 

On Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $800 million over seven years to support Indigenous-led conservation projects. 

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

CanadaFeds and Inuit gov in Atlantic Canada sign MOU to explore feasibility of new Indigenous protected area, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finns increasingly worried about biodiversity loss, especially abroad, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sweden not doing enough to protect biodiversity, new report shows, Radio Sweden

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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