Working paper Open Access
This article explores the meanings attached to the participation of indigenous peoples and local communities articulated in the decisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Participation in multilateral environmental agreements by local groups is argued by proponents of civic environmentalism to be crucial in achieving fair and effective policies for environmental protection (Bäckstrand and Lövbrand 2016, Sconfienza 2017). According to this reasoning, equitable environmental governance can only come about through participation in policy formation by a range of stakeholders whose standpoints and ideas are taken into account. A challenge to this line of argument comes from more radical schools of environmentalism that posit the need to move beyond market economy thinking in order to protect the environment. In this reading, merely ‘tweaking’ the current market system to accommodate the value of the environment will not save the planet since it cannot address the fundamental power imbalances that have brought humanity to the brink of disaster in the first place. By exploring the meanings of participation, this article will contribute knowledge to discussions about whether the types of participation outlined in the CBD would allow better and more just policies to emerge, as suggested in the civic environmentalist approach, or whether a more radical approach to overcoming power imbalances might be necessary. Our analysis uncovers 30 different frames for participation, amongst which frames describing mechanisms for participation are the most frequent. Over time, there is an increase in talk about participation, though a clear high point emerges at the 7th meeting of the parties in 2004. Participation is foreseen at the domestic and international levels in more or less equal proportions, yet the local level is singled out very rarely. While an overarching, ‘zoomed out’ perspective of our findings suggests a positive trend in terms of the steady increase in provisions mentioning or more directly addressing participation by indigenous peoples and local communities, our more detailed assessment gives rise to a more cautious conclusion as a nuanced and complex picture emerges. Though the findings of the paper are not enough to draw firm conclusions on this wide-ranging debate, they make a concrete contribution based on empirical findings, and suggest promising avenues to direct future research on the CBD and on the local level.