The first year of the Inclusive Conservation Initiative (ICI): Kicking off a global paradigm shift, together

Anita Tzec, IUCN and Kristen Walker Painemilla, CI

As we ring in 2023, we reflect on 2022, and how the newly launched Inclusive Conservation Initiative (ICI) is facilitating collective efforts to push for direct access to climate and biodiversity finance for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPs and LCs).

Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and supported by Conservation International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), ICI is reimagining how to define and adopt an inclusive model for conservation in which IPs and LCs are recognized and empowered as decision-makers and leaders at all levels of conservation policy and action.

Responding to growing global demand for inclusive environmental finance

ICI is an important step forward in the realm of IP and LC access to GEF funding. Over recent years, though there are significant increases in conservation finance as well as increasing commitments to IPs and LCs. However, very few  initiatives governed and implemented by IPs and LCs are funded and supported. 

ICI provides site-based investments in nine subprojects to prioritize Indigenous and local community organizations to take the lead in carrying out inclusive, culturally appropriate processes for decision-making and strategy development that they have defined, implementing activities within their respective territories, landscapes and/or seascapes.

The establishment of these nine subprojects in 12 countries demonstrates that there is high demand for these inclusive finance models, as they were selected among over 400 Expressions of Interests (EOIs) that were received from 80 countries. 

Spanning from the Kenyan rangelands to the Thai highlands, the ICI subprojects are based in:

An Initiative by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities

We cannot reach global goals on marine and landscape protection without supporting the leadership of Indigenous communities” – Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson, Global Environment Facility (GEF)

As highlighted by Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Indigenous leadership is crucial for Mother Earth’s protection. While making up just 5% of the world’s population, Indigenous Peoples own or manage at least 25% of the world’s land surface, including approximately 40% of terrestrial protected areas and 37% of ecologically intact landscapes. The recognition of the historical and continued role of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in safeguarding natural ecosystems must include prioritizing Indigenous and locally-led governance and supporting the cultivation of a collaborative global community – something that is fundamentally rooted within ICI’s DNA.

For this reason, the governance of ICI resides in the hands of ICI’s Global Steering Committee (GSC), which is composed of Indigenous leaders chosen by ICI subprojects. The GSC is responsible for providing thought leadership for the initiative and coordinating global activities.

ICI activities began in early 2022 with an inception phase composed of a series of virtual workshops to build connective threads between subprojects and networks of supportive stakeholders. Through a series of workshops, the Inception Workshops Program provided an inclusive space to discuss key issues and opportunities, identify synergies with partner organizations, and advocate for a truly transformative initiative that can influence the international community to advance global inclusive conservation efforts.

As recounted by IPF, the subprojects kicked off the work with planning activities to focus on stakeholder engagement as well as targeted organizational capacity building activities and by designing Impact Strategies. The Impact Strategies will reflect the subprojects’ priorities, promote Indigenous rights and the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), further strengthen the management of natural and cultural resources in IP and LC’s territories and address the drivers of environmental degradation affecting sustainable development. They will also promote gender equality and gender-responsiveness and the key role of women in helping advance the paradigm shift put forward by ICI and support the economic and financial stability of IPs and LCs. Together, these approaches will help ensure that ICI’s cumulative impact will generate multiple global environmental benefits for people and nature alike.

Building impact – together

Through the design of subproject Impact Strategies, ICI is building a shared learning experience and strengthening a community of practice.To accompany the process and to learn more about the subprojects’ objectives and priorities, from July to September the Project Management Unit conducted a series of field visits to the communities based in ICI project sites.

The field work – which was met with enthusiasm and which, as UCRT Director Paine Makko recalls, was a highlight of 2022 – helped define strategic lines of action around key issues and priorities that later in the year were amplified at the global stage during the 27th session of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP 27) and the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15).

Amplifying the call for inclusive conservation and climate finance

UNFCCC COP 27, which took place in Sharm-el-Sheik in November, and CBD COP 15, which took place in Montreal in December, and which culminated with a breakthrough agreement on Loss and Damage and a landmark biodiversity agreementcelebrated for its timely recognition of IP and LC contributions, roles, rights and responsibilities to Mother Earth and the Global Biodiversity Framework, were also key to advancing crucial issues such as IPs and LCs’ access to climate and conservation finance, Traditional Knowledge (TK), human rights and conservation and the integration of a human rights-based approach in the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) to the global stage. During UNFCCC COP 27 and CBD COP 15, ICI facilitated strategic engagements at the international level and representatives from several subprojects – including NEFIN, UCRT, Sotz’il (with its partner organizations Ak’ Tenamit and FPCI), ANAPAC and Futa Mawiza – participated in the official launch of ICI to the international community, which took place at UNFCCC COP27 and CBD COP 15 during a GEF event.

As highlighted by NEFIN Director Tunga Bhadra Rai, ICI gave the subprojects the opportunity to share their objectives with the international community.

Looking ahead in 2023

In 2023, ICI will see a scaling up of implementation with the completion of subproject Impact Strategies and preparation for full project implementation. By the first half of the year, the subprojects will finalize their Impact Strategies, which will then be reviewed and approved by the Global Steering Committee. With 2023 looking busier than ever, we are excited to keep working hand in hand with communities from the Pacific Ocean to the Andean Cordillera in order to support and learn from Indigenous and locally led conservation activities while working to ensure the stream of environmental finance for nature’s best custodians becomes an ocean of opportunities.

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