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The math is simple: about 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are connected with land use, and the traditional territories of indigenous peoples cover a quarter of the world’s land surface. Therefore, no climate solution is complete without respecting the rights of these ancestral environmental stewards.

This is one of the main takeaways from the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany, which on 22-23 June brought together 600 participants from 83 countries to advance the recognition of rights as a centerpiece of the climate crisis discussion. The event, held alongside the UNFCC’s Climate Change Conference, also reached more than 7,500 online viewers and an additional 14 million through social media.

“When local communities have authority over their forests and land, and their rights are legally recognized, deforestation and forest degradation rates are often reduced,” said director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

The reason is that tenure security gives local communities the possibility, and the incentive, to invest in resource management practices. “No rights, nothing goes forward,” summed up indigenous Amazonian leader Juan Carlos Jintiach.

   At GLF Bonn 2019: Rights in the Landscape, Indigenous peoples from all over the world voiced the threats that faced their culture and environment GLF/Pilar Valbuena


David vs Goliath

Over two days, participants shared experiences from the frontline of indigenous people and women’s rights, often featuring a David-versus-Goliath scenario of local communities up against powerful corporations and corrupt institutions.

“There are many laws, but there is a lack of political will to implement them,” lamented secretary general of the National Coordination of Indigenous Peoples of Panama, Maximiliano Ferrer.

Ferrer’s experience echoed that of delegates from places as far flung as the Canadian Arctic, the Maasai steppe in Kenya and the rainforests of Papua New Guinea –all of them burdened with the stories of eviction, death and love for the land that the 350 million indigenous people in the world can tell in thousands of languages.

   A delegate speaks up at GLF Bonn 2019: Rights in the Landscape GLF/Pilar Valbuena

However, participants from a wide range of sectors used the GLF summit to explore ways of securing and upholding the rights of people affected by changes in land use plans.

Several delegates, for instance, brought in the finance and supply chain perspective.

Bastiaan Louman, a program coordinator with sustainable management non-profit Tropenbos, outlines several ways forward: from ensuring that profitable commodity production is not at the expense of ecosystem services for local communities, to better aligning the banking sector, industries and governments to ensure the complementarity between economic activities and policies designed to create sustainable landscapes.

“Is there a need for more money or is there a need to change the impact of the money already invested in a landscape?” queried Louman.


Restoring dignity 

The GLF summit presented the first draft of a ‘gold standard’ on rights, which will define the principles of secure and proper rights to be applied by public, private and non-profit actors in the implementation of policies, business and initiatives in global landscapes

“We wish to establish that the respect of our rights is non-negotiable,” said Joan Carlin of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development (IPMG), which leads the initiative together with the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

   Joan Carlin, Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development , at GLF Bonn 2019: Rights in the Landscape GLF/Pilar Valbuena

The draft standard will be shared with indigenous groups after the event to ensure it aligns with their priorities and needs, and additional consultations will be held at upcoming GLF conferences in Ghana and Chile and at the Santiago Climate Change Conference (COP25) later this year.

At least 200 people were killed defending their lands in 2017, according to a study by environmental and human rights watchdog Global Witness, and Carlin herself has been threatened for her indigenous and environmental activism in her native Philippines.

Realizing the rights of indigenous peoples, including those of women, is important to confront global heating, and also to restore two billion hectares of degraded land worldwide —an endeavor GLF delegates discussed following the recent approval of a UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030.

   Jeffrey Campbell (FAO) at Global Landscapes Forum Bonn, 2019 GLF/Pilar Valbuena

For Jeffrey Campbell, manager of the Forest and Farm Facility of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), restoring rights is essential to bringing ecosystems back to life.

After all, he pointed out, “in forests trees are holding hands underground,” the ultimate goal of restoration is reviving the intricate mesh of mutually-beneficial relationships between living beings in a given landscape.

And that includes the connections among people and between communities and their lands: “What will restore ecosystems is restoring rights, and restoring rural cultures, identities and economies.” The GLF summit is over, but the game is on.


This is part II of a two-part story.

Read also: GLF Bonn 2019, part I: Adjust the sail of Rights to brave the climate storm, urge GLF delegates


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