Leaflet No. 10: Indigenous Peoples and the Environment
Leaflet No. 10: Indigenous Peoples and the Environment
Key words and ideas
Biological diversity (or biodiversity)
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
Conference of the Parties (COP)
Ad Hoc Open-ended Inter-sessional Working Group on the Implementation of
Article 8(j) (of the CBD)
Global Environment Facility
Summary: The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth
Summit), held in Brazil in 1992, represented a turning point in the promotion of indigenous
peoples’ rights relating to the environment. A number of legal instruments adopted at the Earth
Summit, such as the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21 and the Convention on Biological Diversity,
established international legal standards to protect indigenous peoples’ rights to their traditional
knowledge and practices in the area of environmental management and conservation. Most
importantly, there now exists an international legal framework which recognises the unique
relationship indigenous people have with their traditional lands.
The world’s biological, cultural and linguistic diversity are imperiled. While the nature and extent of the
threat to the Earth’s biological richness is much debated, there is no doubt about what is happening to
humanity’s cultural and linguistic diversity.
Indigenous peoples account for most of the world’s cultural diversity. Their distinct ways of life vary
considerably from one location to another. Of the estimated 6,000 cultures in the world, between 4,000
and 5,000 are indigenous. Approximately three-quarters of the world’s 6,000 languages are spoken by
Many of the areas of highest biological diversity on the planet are inhabited by indigenous peoples. The
“Biological 17”, the 17 nations that are home to more than two-thirds of the Earth’s biological resources,
are also the traditional territories of most of the world’s indigenous peoples. (The countries that comprise
the “Biological 17” are: Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Papua
New Guinea, the United States of America, and Venezuela). When looking at the global distribution of
indigenous peoples, there is a marked correlation between areas of high biological diversity and areas of
high cultural diversity. This link is particularly significant in rainforest areas, such as those found along
the Amazon, and in Central America, Africa, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, New Guinea and Indonesia.
Of the nine countries in which 60 per cent of human languages are spoken, six also host exceptional
numbers of plant and animal species unique to those locations.
In November 2000, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF International), in collaboration with the
international NGO Terralingua, published a report entitled, Indigenous and Traditional Peoples of the
World and Ecoregion Conservation: An Integrated Approach to Conserving the World’s Biological and
Cultural Diversity. The report reveals that 4,635 ethno-linguistic groups, or 67 per cent of the total number
of such groups, live in 225 regions of the highest biological importance. The study reports that languages
spoken by indigenous and traditional peoples are rapidly disappearing. Since the ecological knowledge
accumulated by indigenous peoples is contained in languages, and since in most traditional cultures this
knowledge is passed on to other groups or new generations orally, language extinction is leading to loss
of ecological knowledge.
It is widely accepted that biological diversity cannot be conserved without cultural diversity, that the long-
term security of food and medicines depends on maintaining this intricate relationship. There is also a
growing realization that cultural diversity is as important for the evolution of civilization as biodiversity is
for biological evolution. The promotion of homogenous cultures poses a serious threat to human survival
on both fronts. A workshop on “Drug Development, Biological Diversity and Economic Growth,” convened
by the National Cancer Institute of the US National Institutes of Health in 1991, concluded that “Traditional
knowledge is as threatened and is as valuable as biological diversity. Both resources deserve respect and
must be conserved”.
Languages--the storehouses of peoples’ intellectual heritages and frameworks for each society’s unique
understanding of life--are considered one of the major indicators of cultural diversity; yet given the rate of
language extinction, cultural diversity is threatened on an unprecedented scale. In one century, the world
has lost about 600 languages. Nearly 2,500 languages are in danger of immediate extinction; an even
higher number are losing the “ecological contexts” that keep them “living” languages. At current rates, 90
per cent of languages will be lost in the 21st century; most of them are spoken by indigenous and
traditional peoples. These languages, and their associated ecological knowledge, are being lost at a
growing rate because of the expansion of markets, communications, and other aspects of globalization
that promote dominant languages at the expense of native ones.
The link between culture and environment is clear among indigenous peoples. All indigenous peoples
share a spiritual, cultural, social and economic relationship with their traditional lands. Traditional laws,
customs and practices reflect both an attachment to land and a responsibility for preserving traditional
lands for use by future generations. In Central America, the Amazon Basin, Asia, North America,
Australia, Asia and North Africa, the physical and cultural survival of indigenous peoples is dependent
upon the protection of their land and its resources.
Over centuries, the relationship between indigenous peoples and their environment has been eroded
because of dispossession or forced removal from traditional lands and sacred sites. Land rights, land use
and resource management remain critical issues for indigenous peoples around the world. Development
projects, mining and forestry activities, and agricultural programmes continue to displace indigenous
peoples. Environmental damage has been substantial: flora and fauna species have become extinct or
endangered, unique ecosystems have been destroyed, and rivers and other water catchments have been
heavily polluted. Commercial plant varieties have replaced the many locally adapted varieties used in
traditional farming systems, leading to an increase in industrialized farming methods.
In 1997, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations commissioned a study on indigenous peoples and
land rights. The study confirmed that access to land and resources is crucial for the survival of indigenous
peoples. It emphasized the need to recognize and secure indigenous land rights and urged governments
to consult with indigenous peoples in the management of land and resources.
Yet, development projects in many countries continue to cause environmental damage to water and
natural resources. In some countries, governments and multinational corporations continue to construct
hydroelectric dams and roads, and conduct mining and logging activities, that threaten to harm the land’s
fragile ecosystems and damage large areas of land inhabited by indigenous peoples. The development of
tourism, including cultural tourism and ecotourism, may also have a negative impact on the environment
and welfare of indigenous peoples.
Indigenous peoples and the environment
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in
June 1992, was an important development for indigenous peoples and their rights related to the
environment. The Conference, or Earth Summit as it is called, recognized that indigenous peoples and
their communities have a critical role to play in managing and developing the environment. The
importance of indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge and practices was acknowledged, and the
international community committed itself to promoting, strengthening and protecting the rights, knowledge
and practices of indigenous peoples and their communities.
During the Earth Summit, indigenous peoples and NGOs gathered in Kari-Oca, Brazil, to share their
concerns about the environment. The Kari-Oca Declaration and the Indigenous Peoples’ Earth Charter
adopted at this meeting expressed the values of the world’s indigenous peoples and recognized their
distinct relationship with the Earth. The united voice of indigenous peoples helped influence the outcome
of the Earth Summit.
Another important result of the Earth Summit was the adoption of the Convention on Biological
Diversity. The Convention recognizes the close dependence of many indigenous communities on
biological resources and the desirability of sharing the benefits that come from using traditional
knowledge, innovations and practices to conserve biological diversity, including species diversity.
Diversity of species is important to the natural functioning of ecosystems, and the survival of species is an
indicator of the health of the environment. Indigenous peoples have already lost, or risk losing, ancestral
lands and sacred sites, many of which contain the world’s richest biodiversity. Governments that have
adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity are obliged to introduce domestic legislation, or amend
their constitutions, to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples in the conservation and sustainable
use of their environment.
The right of indigenous peoples to participate in the use, management and conservation of natural
resources is also recognized in the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169
Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, and the UN draft Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The draft Declaration provides for the right of indigenous peoples to own
traditional lands and manage their environment and its resources.
Since the Earth Summit in 1992, interest in the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment has
continued to grow. Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples are increasingly aware that traditional lands
and natural resources are essential to the economic and cultural survival of indigenous peoples. Some
countries, such as Canada, Australia, Finland, Brazil and the Philippines, have adopted legal measures
that acknowledge indigenous land rights or have established legal procedures for indigenous participation
in land-related issues.
A growing number of governments have amended their national Constitutions to recognize the ancestral
rights of indigenous peoples to occupy, own and manage their traditional lands and territories. Many
countries have established Environment Ministries and developed national Environment Policy
Statements and Strategies. Even though some governments now consult with indigenous peoples on
land rights and the environment, many States still have not introduced laws or policies that provide for
indigenous land claims or promote participation of indigenous peoples.
UN environment organizations and processes
• Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar
• UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World
• Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
• UN Declaration on Environment and Development (the “Rio Declaration”) and Agenda 21
• UN Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or
Desertification, Particularly in Africa
• UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
• Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)
• United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
• Inter-governmental Forum on Forests
You should contact the Secretariats of each of these agencies for updates on how they are addressing
issues relevant to indigenous peoples and the environment.
The United Nations’ human rights bodies
Concerns related to land rights and rights related to the environment can be addressed through the
various bodies of the United Nations that deal with human rights, including both charter and treaty bodies.
(See Leaflet no. 3 on “UN Charter-based Bodies and Indigenous Peoples” and Leaflet no. 4 on “Human
Rights Treaty Bodies and Indigenous Peoples”.)
The United Nations Environment Programme
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the UN’s focal point for environmental action and
coordination among governments, UN agencies and NGOs. UNEP promotes and coordinates the sharing
of environmental information and implements projects that support its agenda for sustainable
development, i.e., projects that promote economic, social and environmental development.
UNEP’s main decision-making body, the Governing Council, is composed of 58 Member States that are
elected by the UN General Assembly. The Council meets twice a year at UNEP’s headquarters in
Nairobi, Kenya, to review the state of the world’s environment and to establish UNEP’s programme
priorities. The Secretariat of UNEP, also located in Nairobi, coordinates UNEP’s activities with
international, national and regional inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. UNEP has
six Regional Offices serving North America, Europe, Africa, West Asia, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin
America and the Caribbean.
UNEP and indigenous issues
Following the 1992 Earth Summit, UNEP assumed responsibility for ensuring that States recognize and
foster the traditional methods and knowledge of indigenous peoples, and for ensuring that indigenous
peoples share in the economic and commercial benefits that accrue from the use of those traditional
methods and knowledge.
UNEP also works with indigenous and local communities to implement and evaluate projects that are
identified and funded in support of the Convention on Biological Diversity. UNEP has been involved with
the conservation of biological diversity since 1972, when the issue was first identified as a priority at the
UN Conference on Human Environment, in Stockholm, Sweden. In a major report, The Global
Environment Perspective, published in 1987, UNEP identified the need for an international, legally binding
instrument to protect the world’s biological resources. In 1987 and 1988, UNEP convened two Ad Hoc
Working Groups of Experts on Biological Diversity. These Working Groups reviewed existing biodiversity-
related conventions and prepared the framework for the Convention on Biological Diversity, which was
adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit.
Indigenous peoples also participated in UNEP’s Global Biodiversity Assessment project. This research
project identified five major causes of biodiversity loss: degradation or outright loss of habitats, over-
exploitation of biological resources, pollution, the introduction of non-native (alien or exotic) species, and
climate change. The report concluded that forests, marine and coastal areas, and agricultural and inland
water ecosystems are among those most threatened. The project also included research into “Human
Values of Biodiversity,” which focused on traditional, religious and cultural values related to biological
diversity and emphasized the interdependence between indigenous peoples and their environment. The
research culminated in the report, Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity: A Complementary
Contribution to the Global Biodiversity Assessment, which was published by UNEP in 1999.
UNEP also addresses the rights of indigenous peoples under international environment law. A recent
UNEP publication, New Way Forward: Environmental Law and Sustainable Development, includes a
chapter dedicated to indigenous peoples and the environment.
Participating in UNEP activities
United Nations Environment Programme
P.O. Box 30552
Web site: www.unep.org
Tel: (254) 2-62-1234/3292
Fax: (254) 2-62-3927/3692
The Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international treaty—and, as such, a legally binding
instrument—that promotes international cooperation to manage, conserve and foster the sustainable use
of the world’s biological resources. It is one of a number of such instruments located under the UN
Environment Programme (UNEP). The three primary objectives of the Convention are to conserve
biological diversity, promote the sustainable use of its components, and promote the fair and equitable
sharing of the benefits that accrue from the use of genetic resources.
The Convention, which came into force on 29 December 1993, focuses on protecting the world’s
ecosystems. Parties to the Convention conduct programmes to conserve and ensure the sustainable use
of biological diversity associated with inland waters, marine and coastal areas, forests, dry-land
ecosystems, and agricultural lands that are vital to human well-being and the global environment. The
Convention also promotes the protection of traditional knowledge, which plays an important role in
conserving the world’s biological resources.
Decision-making and implementation: the Conference of the Parties
The Convention’s supreme decision-making body is the Conference of the Parties (COP)--the
governments of the countries that have ratified the Convention. The COP is composed of nearly 180
Contracting Parties, making it one of the world’s most popular conventions. The COP meets every two
years; the next meeting is scheduled to take place in The Netherlands in May 2002. The COP’s functions
include adopting amendments and protocols to the Convention (such as the recently adopted Cartagena
Protocol on Biosafety), establishing programmes, and creating various subsidiary bodies to assist the
COP in its tasks. One such body of particular relevance to indigenous peoples is the Ad Hoc Open-
ended Inter-sessional Working Group on the Implementation of Article 8(j) and Related Provisions, known
as “the Ad Hoc Working Group on Article 8(j)”.
The Convention and indigenous peoples - Article 8(j) and related provisions
The Convention contains a number of provisions of particular importance to indigenous peoples. These
provisions are contained in Articles 8(j), 10(c), 17.2 and 18.4. Of these, Article 8(j) is regarded as the core
provision. It calls upon Contracting Parties to respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and
practices of indigenous and local communities relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of
biodiversity, subject to national legislation. The Convention encourages Parties to promote the wider
application of such knowledge, innovations and practices with the approval and involvement of the
indigenous peoples concerned. Article 8(j) also requires that benefits arising from the application of
traditional knowledge, innovations and practices should be shared equitably with the indigenous
The Convention does not use the term “indigenous peoples”, but refers to them in terms of “indigenous
and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles”. This phrase is interpreted to include the
estimated 1.5 to 2 billion people around the world who have not adopted industrialized practices to exploit
agricultural, forest, animal and fisheries resources.
Article 10, which deals with the sustainable use of components of biological diversity, requires that each
Contracting Party protect and encourage the use of biological resources in accordance with traditional
cultural practices that are compatible with conservation and sustainable use requirements. This Article
has important implications for cultural survival, since particular species form the spiritual and economic
focus of many indigenous cultures. The continued customary use of such species is therefore essential to
the existence of such cultures.
At its fifth meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in May 2000, the COP recognized that maintaining knowledge,
innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities is dependent on maintaining cultural
identities and the material base that sustains them. The COP invited Parties and governments to take
measures to promote the conservation and maintenance of such identities (Decision V/16, para. 16).
Article 17, concerning exchange of information relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of
biological diversity, requires that such information include indigenous and traditional knowledge, and,
when feasible, repatriation of information. This has important consequences for those indigenous
communities seeking to retrieve valuable information collected decades, if not centuries, ago by museums
and research institutions about their traditional knowledge and practices concerning their use of plants
and animals. Such information can be used to fill gaps in current knowledge, or even help revive certain
traditional practices related to particular species.
Article 18 seeks cooperation for the development and use of technologies, including indigenous and
traditional technologies. The COP recognizes that traditional knowledge should be given the same
respect as any other form of knowledge in the implementation of the Convention, and therefore should be
considered to be as useful and necessary as other forms of knowledge, including scientific knowledge.
COP decisions relevant to indigenous peoples
Since the Convention entered into force, the COP has made a number of decisions on the implementation
of Article 8(j) and its related provisions:
Decision III/14: The decision set the stage for the establishment of an inter-sessional process,
which included a five-day workshop on Traditional Knowledge and Biological Diversity, which took place
in Madrid in November 1997 (the Madrid Workshop).
Decision III/17: The COP decided that the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of
indigenous and local communities must be protected in implementing the Convention, and should be
considered in relation to other agreements, such as the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-
related Aspects of Intellectual Property.
Decision IV/9: This decision led to the establishment of the ad hoc open-ended inter-sessional
working group on Article 8(j), and an invitation to submit case studies.
The Ad Hoc Open-ended Inter-sessional Working Group on Article 8(j)
The mandate of the Working Group includes:
• providing advice on the application of legal and other appropriate forms of protection for
• providing advice to the COP related to the implementation of Article 8(j) and related
provisions, especially on the development and implementation of a programme of work at
national and international levels
• developing a programme of work
• providing advice to the COP on measures to strengthen cooperation at the international level
among indigenous and local communities, and suggesting ways to strengthen the
mechanisms that support such cooperation
Invitation to submit case studies
The case studies were to address:
• the interaction of traditional knowledge with other forms of knowledge in the conservation of
biodiversity and sustainable use of natural resources
• the impact of international instruments, intellectual property rights and current laws and
policies on traditional biodiversity-related knowledge
• the extent to which traditional knowledge has been incorporated into development and
resource-management decision-making processes
• guidance on how to conduct research in indigenous and local communities concerning their
• matters of prior informed consent, fair and equitable sharing of benefits, and conservation on
indigenous and local territories
• intellectual property rights
These case studies were to be transmitted to the World Intellectual Property Organization, and to be used
by Parties in initiatives for legislating the implementation of Article 8(j) and related provisions.
Decision IV/9 also encouraged more direct indigenous and local community participation at the
first meeting of the Working Group. Indigenous and local community representatives participated as
observers, while some representatives attended as members of Country Party delegations.
Decision V/16: This decision, adopted at the fifth COP meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, in May,
2000, is the principal decision concerning the implementation of Article 8(j) and related provisions. The
main elements of this decision concern:
• the extension of the mandate of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Article 8(j)
• promotion of the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities, and
particularly that of women, in implementing the Convention
• protection of the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local
communities related to the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural
• adoption of a programme of work for the Working Group.
Funding through the Global Environment Facility
By ratifying the Convention, developed countries are committed to providing financial resources to ensure
that developing countries can implement the Convention. This funding, which can be made through
bilateral, regional or multilateral donations, is channeled through the Global Environment Facility (GEF),
which operates the financial mechanism of the Convention. The COP requested that the GEF finances
projects that strengthen the involvement of local and indigenous peoples in conserving biological diversity
and in maintaining the sustainable use of its components, and supports the priority activities identified in
the programme of work on Article 8(j) and related provisions.
The GEF is an international effort implemented through the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the
UNEP, and The World Bank. If any indigenous communities are to be affected by any GEF-funded
project, they are consulted before and during the project. The GEF’s Small Grants Programme,
administered by UNDP, is frequently used by indigenous NGOs. Further information can be found on the
websites of the UNDP, UNEP, and the World Bank.
Participating in the Convention on Biological Diversity
Indigenous peoples can participate in the work of the Convention in several ways. They can participate in
meetings held under the Convention as members of official delegations and/or as representatives of
indigenous organizations or communities under observer status; submit case studies; and become
members of expert panels and/or the liaison group.
To maximize their participation in the work of the Convention, indigenous communities, through their
organizations, may wish to liaise closely with national governments. In some countries, the national
government has supported the establishment of indigenous bodies to help implement the Convention,
review the decisions of the Conference of the Parties, and participate in the various work programmes
related to indigenous peoples.
Participating in meetings
Given the wide range of issues addressed during meetings under the Convention, it is in the interest of
indigenous peoples and their organizations to make sure that they are well-represented at those
meetings. Observers from NGOs, including indigenous organizations and communities, may attend,
participate in and contribute to meetings of the COP, as well as those of its subsidiary bodies. The
Conference of the Parties encourages indigenous participation in the meetings of the Ad Hoc Working
Group on Article 8(j). Attendance at these meetings also provides important opportunities for indigenous
representatives to share information, network and lobby.
The Secretariat is responsible for notifying government and non-governmental bodies of scheduled
meetings of the Conference of the Parties or of the Convention’s subsidiary bodies. To make sure your
organization is kept informed, you should contact the Secretariat and request that your organization be
advised of any meetings. If you wish to attend any meetings, you must also advise the Secretariat, prior
to that meeting, that your organization would like to be represented as an observer. If you wish to
address participants at any of the meetings of the Conference of the Parties, you can request permission
from the President of the Conference of the Parties prior to the meeting. Your organization should be
involved in fields related to the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
For more information on how to participate in meetings of the Convention on Biological Diversity, see the
contact details below.
Submitting case studies
Case studies addressing various issues concerning the implementation of the Convention help monitor,
assess, and provide guidance on the effectiveness of national actions and work programmes adopted
under the Convention. Case studies submitted to the Secretariat are vital to the preparation of
documents and the development of recommendations to be considered at Conference of the Parties
meetings and meetings of the Convention’s subsidiary bodies. It is therefore important that indigenous
organizations respond to these invitations to present evidence of how the implementation process is
affecting their communities.
Becoming members of expert panels and the liaison group
To assist in the implementation of the Convention, the Conference of the Parties periodically establishes
various panels of experts, drawn from rosters of experts, identified by governments as people with
relevant expertise. Indigenous organizations may wish to liaise with governments to ensure that
indigenous experts are nominated for inclusion in the panels and rosters.
A liaison group composed of representatives of indigenous and local communities reviews the
documents, prepared by the Secretariat, that are to be considered by the Ad Hoc Working Group on
Article 8(j). Participation is open to any body or agency, governmental or non-governmental qualified in
fields relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. Observers have the right to
participate in the proceedings of any meeting but without the right to vote.
Liaison with other international bodies and processes
The Conference of the Parties also liaises closely with other inter-governmental agencies and UN bodies
on issues related to the protection and application of traditional knowledge. This liaison can take the form
of attendance at meetings, delivering updates on the work of the Convention, when invited, exchanging
documents, and contributing to the preparation of documents. The Secretariat works closely with the
World Intellectual Property Organization; the World Trade Organization; UN Conference on Trade and
Development; the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the UN Commission on Human
Rights; the UN Food and Agriculture Organization; and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.
It is regularly represented at inter-agency meetings concerning matters related to indigenous peoples.
The Conference of the Parties has the lead agency role in the Inter-governmental Forum on Forests on
matters concerning traditional forest-related knowledge, and liaises with the other environment-related
bodies mentioned above.
Access to decisions of the Conference of the Parties and other documents
The decisions of the Conference of the Parties are published by the Conference on Biological Diversity
Secretariat a few months after each meeting and are made available on the Convention web site.
Indigenous organizations should obtain copies of the decisions since they contain vital information
concerning indigenous interests related to the many issues addressed by the COP.
About six weeks prior to meetings of the COP and of the other bodies established under the Convention,
documents relevant to the meetings are distributed to the focal points of the Parties and to all other
organizations, including indigenous organizations, that are registered with the Secretariat as observers.
These documents are also available through the Conventions Clearing House Mechanism and through
the Internet at www.biodiv.org.
Contact details for the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity
The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity is located in Montreal, Canada. Secretariat staff
are responsible for preparing documents for consideration by the COP and its subsidiary bodies, and for
arranging and supporting their meetings. The Secretariat’s address is:
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity
World Trade Centre
393, Saint Jacques St, Suite 300
CANADA H2Y 1N9
The UN Commission on Sustainable Development
The Commission on Sustainable Development is part of the UN Economic and Social Council
(ECOSOC). It was established following the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (the
Earth Summit) and is composed of 53 Member States. Those UN specialized agencies that are
concerned with sustainable development are also represented on the Commission. The Commission,
which meets once a year for two or three weeks, addresses issues related to sustainable development
and monitors implementation of the programme of action that was adopted at the 1992 Conference.
The Secretariat of the Commission, located in New York, prepares papers containing background
materials and reports on activities, and makes recommendations to governments. The reporting process
is open to all of the major groups, including indigenous peoples, identified in the programme of action
adopted at the 1992 Conference, and the Commission encourages these groups to participate. The
Commission also encourages Member States to promote self-management by indigenous peoples over
their traditional lands and resources.
Participating in the Commission on Sustainable Development
NGOs that have consultative status with ECOSOC can participate in the Commission’s meetings.
Requests for consultative status are handled by the Non-Governmental Organizations Section of the
Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) in the United Nations in New York (Room DC1-1480,
United Nations, New York, NY 10017 - Tel. 212 963 4842, Fax. 212 963 9248). The person in charge
of the Section is Ms Hanifa Mezoui. Organizations applying for consultative status must fill in a
questionnaire which, when completed, is put before the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations.
This Committee makes its recommendations to ECOSOC which takes the final decision.
Completed applications must be received by June 1 of the year preceding the year the NGO wants to be
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