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Climate Change

Success Hinges on Including Forests and Indigenous Peoples

Story Highlights
  • Forests are a key to solving climate change and are home to millions of indigenous people.
  • Indigenous people play a vital role in protecting forest ecosystems.
  • Indigenous areas prevent deforestation better than other types of protected areas.
  • Indigenous peoples must be engaged in decision-making around reducing emissions from deforestation.
"Deforestation threatens the livelihoods of indigenous peoples worldwide. Providing incentives for REDD, so that forests are worth more alive than dead, offers an opportunity to stop the march of deforestation.”

by Lisa Hayden

There is growing consensus that forest protection must be a critical part of the global fight against climate change, reducing almost 15 percent of annual carbon emissions that result from forest destruction.

But the world’s forests are not only key to solving climate change, they are home to millions of indigenous and traditional peoples who depend on healthy forests for their food, water, shelter, income, cultural identity and survival.

To address these two issues, The Nature Conservancy is using its forest protection work on the ground to make the case that reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (a strategy known as REDD) must involve and address the concerns of indigenous people. Conservancy projects have reduced emissions from deforestation and helped local communities:

  • settle disputes with outside corporate interests;
  • receive recognition and legal standing from national governments; and
  • sustainably manage hunting and fishing grounds in rainforest reserves.

Indigenous people have long played a vital role in protecting forest ecosystems that provide the planet with clean air and water. Large tracts of the world’s remaining forests are on indigenous lands, and a 2009 study found indigenous areas prevent deforestation better than other types of protected areas.

The Conservancy strongly believes indigenous peoples must be fully and effectively engaged in decision-making as U.S. and international policy-makers negotiate how to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation. For the promise of REDD to reach those who rely on forests for daily survival, the design and implementation of climate policies must respect their rights, interests, and knowledge.

Benefiting People and Nature

Deforestation threatens the livelihoods of indigenous peoples worldwide. Providing incentives for REDD, so that forests are worth more alive than dead, offers an opportunity to stop the march of deforestation.

By working in partnership with indigenous peoples, policies and programs can be developed that benefit both local people and forest health. The Conservancy has several models for success that are in practice today:

  • In Long Laai, Indonesia, the Conservancy helped settle a land dispute between the Dayak people and a major logging company, stopping forest destruction while allowing villagers to continue living off forest resources. The company agreed to avoid areas of high conservation value within the logging concession — culturally important areas such as village cemeteries, as well as habitat for rare species.The company also adopted sustainable forestry practices that generate increased profits because buyers will pay more for certified wood. Profits are being shared with the community for programs like scholarships.
  • In Bolivia, as part of the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project, a groundbreaking REDD program, the Conservancy and its partners assisted local indigenous communities to receive recognition from the national government. With this legal standing, they were able to win title over the lands they had lived upon for generations.
  • In Oiapoque, in the Brazilian state of Amapá, the Conservancy is working with the people of three legally recognized indigenous areas to sustainably manage the hunting and fishing grounds in their rainforest reserve. Through “ethnomapping,” the indigenous communities used their traditional knowledge to identify historic animal habitat, sacred places and other areas of cultural importance for protection.

    Training is planned to build the capacity of local people to use zoning to protect certain lakes and riversides — areas critical to breeding of river turtles, fish and crocodiles that make up 80 percent of the protein in the indigenous peoples’ diets.
Building Skills for Policy Engagement

As outlined in the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Peoples, REDD policies must respect, protect, and build upon the rights and needs of indigenous peoples and local communities, including free, prior informed consent over activities that affect them and their lands.

To augment these existing rules, the Conservancy has submitted its views to the United Nations on how to develop REDD strategies that include and benefit indigenous peoples.

Without the full involvement of indigenous peoples and forest-dwelling communities, REDD policies will likely fail to realize their potential. But with their participation, REDD programs could provide funding and legal structures to benefit communities.

The Conservancy is working to strengthen indigenous organizations and alliances, and assisting indigenous peoples to engage in natural resource planning, decision-making, and policy design:

  • In cooperation with COIAB, Brazil’s largest indigenous coalition, the Conservancy established the Amazon Indigenous Training Center, where dozens of young leaders from 32 different indigenous peoples have graduated from an intensive six-month course in territorial management, project administration and public policy.
  • The Conservancy; Conservation International, the Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance, GTZ, the Rainforest Alliance and The World Wildlife Fund launched REDD training programs in Indonesia, Peru, Guatemala, and the Democratic Republic of Congo so that all stakeholders have similar levels of understanding about REDD. The Conservancy is working with Amazon indigenous leaders to provide REDD training specifically for indigenous audiences.
  • A coalition of indigenous leaders, government officials, social and environmental organizations — including the Conservancy — are developing new standards to ensure forest carbon projects not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also contribute to human rights, poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation.
  • Spearheaded a coalition of indigenous peoples' organizations and NGOs to enhance knowledge on climate change issues and engagement by indigenous organizations in international negotiations leading up to and including Copenhagen.

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