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Bonn(22 June 2019) –Forests are home to 1.6 billion people and provide ecosystem services such as fresh water and clean air on a planetary scale. Yet, if deforestation were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the United States and China.

The gap between these realities –long-term benefits for all versus short-term profit for a few— can only be bridged by protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, argued delegates at the opening of the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany.

On 22-23 June 2019, the summit held alongside UNFCCC’s Bonn Climate Change Conference convenes more than 600 representatives and thousands more online to advance a rights-based answer to the climate crisis.

Notably, the event serves as consultation for a ‘gold standard’ for rights that will launch by the end of the year under the leadership of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development and the Rights and Resources Initiative.

The document will guide authorities, industries and non-profits engaged in land management on how to apply principles such as free, prior and informed consent, respect to cultural heritage, and gender equality.

   Each colored candle represents an element of the ecosystem in Mayan culture. GLF/Pilar Valbuena

“Lands managed by indigenous people with secure rights have lower deforestation rates, as well as more biodiversity and carbon storage than lands in government-protected areas,” said Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on indigenous rights.

Indeed, the 350 million Indigenous in the world are stewards of lands holding 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity that sequester 300 billion metric tons of carbon –33 times the global energy emissions in 2017.

“Closing the indigenous peoples’ rights gap is the single greatest opportunity to reduce conflict, advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and boost the conservation and restoration of landscapes,” reiterated Tauli-Corpuz.


From fear to action

The summit kicked-off with the voices of indigenous communities hailing from the forests of the Congo Basin and Papua New Guinea, the jungles of Mexico and the islands of the South Pacific. Others came all the way from the steppes of Kenya and the grasslands of Russia, from the Colombian Caribbean and the Canadian Artic.

They shared stories of criminalization, eviction and prosecution, and how holding on to their roles of environmental stewards of their lands has become one of the riskiest endeavours in the world.

Geovaldis Gonzalez Imenez, an indigenous peasant leader in the Montes de María region in Colombia, decried the pressure from agribusinesses and extractive industries, and noted there have been 135 murders in the area this year.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), more than 1 million people have been evicted from ancestral lands reclassified as national parks, and are not benefiting from alternative income-generating activities such as ecotourism, explained Diar Mochire Mwenge, who leads the Programme for the Development of the Pygme in the DRC.

Indigenous and local activists, including women and youth, are the “superheroes of the environmental movement,” said president of Conservation International Jennifer Morris.

But far from dwelling on these very-real hardships, participants are focused on outlining practical steps towards landscapes that work for people and the planet, in line with the belief that ‘the pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change, and the realist adjusts the sails.’ For example, by raising the profile of a rights-based approach in the climate agenda.

We must “change the narrative from fear and doom to hope and action,” said Hilary Tam, strategy director for London-based agency Futerra, which created an individual action-focused rendition of the SDGs known as the Good Life Goals.


No comfort zones

A rights-based approach to managing landscapes and confronting the climate crisis calls for ownership at all political levels; the meaningful participation of community members; and fair and equal access to resources, said the vice-president of IFAD Cornelia Richter.

“We need to rethink the development paradigm being imposed on indigenous peoples,” agreed Johannes Refisch from UN Environment, noting that violations of rights often take place overtly and with full impunity. “There is a huge gap in the implementation of tools to protect rights.”

For Morris from Conservation International, tackling the climate crisis calls for synergies between a wide range of actors, including socially, economically and politically marginalized groups. “We are not so great at radical collaboration because it forces us out of our comfort zones, and it forces us to put our egos aside,” she said.

But as the first female CEO of IBM said: “I have learned to always take on things I have never done before because growth and comfort cannot coexist.” The same, believes Morris, goes for the sustainable landscapes and climate quest.



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