Traditional knowledge in international forest policy: contested meanings and divergent discourses
Traditional knowledge’ gained political space in international environmental policy up until the early 1990s as a result of three areas of growing concern: environmental sustainability, indigenous peoples’ rights and the commercial potential of traditional knowledge. Prominent at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), traditional knowledge was a key term in the emerging discourse alliance on sustainable development. This article traces the convergence and divergence of discourses on traditional knowledge in international environment and development policy before and since UNCED, particularly in the UN forest policy process, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It demonstrates how shifting discourses are affected by shifts in power relations and priorities among the actors concerned, and examines how different institutional contexts affect the outcome of this process. Finally, it explores how a new focus in international policy on climate change offers an opportunity for the re-insertion of the interests of indigenous peoples and biodiversity conservationists into mainstream development, based on a storyline in which traditional knowledge is once again likely to act as a key term.