Reporting from COP15: Discussing Inclusion in Conservation
By Taylor Ganis, Bedford 2030 intern.
In December 2022, I had the pleasure of attending COP15 in Montreal, Canada. COP15 stands for the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This COP was crucial for developing a Global Framework to protect biodiversity for the next 10 years, preventing the further destruction of ecosystems and wildlife that provide life to all.
The Global Framework at COP15 has been agreed on, with a determination that 30 percent of oceans and land must be protected by 2030. We need everyone to do this successfully, including people with chronic conditions, disabilities, youth, women, indigenous people and local communities.
Currently 1 million species are at the risk of extinction, and approximately 2 species go extinct every hour (United Nations).
I had the incredible opportunity to speak at this conference, where I discussed the importance of inclusion in the wildlife conservation space. Specifically, I talked about including people with chronic conditions and disabilities in this space.
Globally, over 1 billion people have a disability and one in three adults have at least one chronic condition (World Health Organization).
Excluding this many people from a field, or creating barriers for this many people to enter this field, is problematic and must absolutely be addressed. We know that biodiversity is reaching dangerous, irreversible extinctions, so we must ensure that we are not excluding anyone from these conversations and career paths.
I believe that to be able to be more inclusive to all, we must have conversations that might make us uncomfortable. Disabilities and chronic conditions are rarely discussed, especially in the job field or when it comes to discrimination. Being able to have these sometimes seemingly uncomfortable conversations of exclusion and privilege allow us to become more aware of the barriers and exclusionary systems that are currently in place.
Some of the barriers to the wildlife conservation field (and to other fields as well), are discrimination, accessibility (physical, educational, mental and financial), lack of representation, and lack of opportunities. I will discuss each of these barriers to people with chronic conditions and disabilities in this field, and how we can address them.
Discrimination usually apprears in the form of internal biases that sometimes cloud our judgment. It is important to understand our own biases and work to correct them. Ways we can counter discrimination is by understanding that we as individuals can not decide whether someone’s condition or disability makes them capable or incapable of completing a job. If someone has the qualifications for a job, one can assume that they are a qualified candidate. Disability and conditions are not, and should not be a determining factor for not hiring someone.
Inaccessibility often comes in the form of not having physically accessible buildings and not having ADA accessible trails. Educational accessibility should address accommodating services and financial aid for students, including neurodiverse individuals.
Representation often comes down to how people with disabilities and chronic conditions are represented in the media. What we don’t surround ourselves with initiates internal biases that we are usually unaware of. An example of this might be the thought process that disabilities and illnesses need to be visible for them to be real. When we have more representation, we allow ourselves to challenge our own biases and assumptions, and begin to be more inclusive to all.
The three previous barriers are what often leads us to this last one, lack of opportunity. I call it, “the umbrella barrier”, since all of the previous barriers lead to the lack of opportunities for people in this field. When education becomes inaccessible, people aren’t afforded the same opportunities for jobs. This leads to the continuation of marginalization, as when we don’t see people with disabilities and chronic conditions in the wildlife field, we might come to the assumption that they simply are not present in that field. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We can create equitable opportunities by using inclusive language in job descriptions, removing the lenses of our own biases, and judging each individual by the quality of their experiences.
We can, and we must create opportunities that are equitable and take every person into consideration.
With an estimated 1 million species at the risk of extinction (United Nations), I implore you to create inclusive opportunities, challenge internal biases that may arise, and begin to shift the field of wildlife conservation (and every career field) to one that is more inclusive for all.