Valuing traditional knowledge in environmental assessments

March 2016: Adjunct Professor Peter Bridgewater was part of the Australian delegation to a recent meeting of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in Bonn, Germany.

A key topic at the meeting was the role of Indigenous and local knowledge on the platform. “A lot of scientists refer to ‘integrating’ Indigenous knowledge with scientific environmental assessments. However, Indigenous and local people do not see their knowledge as something that can be integrated, rather it should be viewed alongside scientific assessments, and with equal merit,” says Professor Bridgewater. “I agree, and think biodiversity conservation and management will be better informed by considering a range of worldviews.”

After lengthy discussions on the subject, all 126 member countries agreed on an approach to Indigenous and local knowledge. Discussion points included ways to talk about traditional knowledge, listening, ensuring participation, how to gain trust, and creating dialogue. Although several years in preparation, this is the first time the subject has been agreed by the platform, and it is an important and significant way forward. The next steps will be how to bring different worldviews together and promote them through Assessments and other deliverables of the Platform.

“Australia already does a number of these things well,” says Professor Bridgewater. “However, we can also definitely learn from this approach.”

The IPBES is the intergovernmental body which assesses the state of biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides to society. It is a way of providing scientific information in response to requests from policy makers. IPBES is placed under the auspices of four United Nations entities: UNEP, UNESCO, FAO and UNDP and administered by UNEP.