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Recognizing rights of Indigenous Peoples best for biodiversity, say GLF delegates

Improving livelihoods and landscapes requires holistic action
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Recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights is key to any effort to stem biodiversity loss and climate change in a post-pandemic world, said a panel of experts at the recent GLF Biodiversity Digital Conference: One World-One Health, emphasizing that it is crucial that rights are not only implemented, but backed with adequate financing.

“We are facing a crossroads — one (path leading) towards the sixth mass extinction — and global temperatures are still rising — and the other towards recovery,” said Nonette Royo, executive director of The Tenure Facility, an organization that works alongside Indigenous Peoples and local communities to advance their community land rights. “Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic raises the stakes and forces us to embrace uncertainty like we have never done before.”

In her keynote speech at a session titled “Rights-based Approaches for a Green, Just Recovery,” Royo emphasized how important it is for Indigenous Peoples “not to depend on receiving grants and dole-outs, but to reinstate the fundamentals so that people empowered with secure rights and with the support of their properly functioning governments and distant business partners can generate the resources they need for weathering this uncertainty.”

Organized and moderated by Steven Leonard, an associate policy analyst with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the session was one of the best attended at the conference with more than 700 participants.

It highlighted the crucial role of Indigenous Peoples in stewarding the world’s ecosystems. While they make up less than 4 percent of the global population, Indigenous Peoples protect more than a quarter of the world’s land area, supporting four-fifths of all biodiversity, Royo said.

Deforestation rates, moreover, are two-to-three times lower in secure Indigenous lands, studies show.

Her words were echoed by Tonio Sadik, director of environment at the Assembly of First Nations, the main advocacy organization representing Indigenous Peoples in Canada. “Fencing off nature and defining it as something to be revered but not relied upon, is not the way of Indigenous Peoples,” he said. “The relationship between people and nature must be one of interdependence. Otherwise we risk overlooking something that Indigenous Peoples have known all along: that we are nature and nature is us. Failing to see this simple truth is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place.”

With many recent studies linking biodiversity loss to the increasing occurrence of zoonotic diseases, an analysis of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) options by Kate Dooley, research fellow at Australia’s University of Melbourne, supported the idea that rights-based approaches are best for biodiversity.

Looking at the impact of a broad spectrum of CDR options, from afforestation and reforestation to carbon capture and ocean fertilization, Dooley found that only regenerative options have an overwhelmingly positive impact on biodiversity.

“All other kinds of CDR negatively impact biodiversity,” she said. So-called nature-based solutions, such as afforestation and reforestation, are potentially problematic approaches because they require large areas of land use change, she said. “Then there is a lot of risk, when changing use, of not respecting the rights of, and potentially displacing, Indigenous Peoples and local communities.”

Restoring nature is a viable CDR option and protecting and respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples should go hand in hand with protecting and supporting ecosystems, she added.

Another panel member, Virginia Young, a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), agreed that simply scaling up economic activities reliant on nature will come at the expense of protecting and restoring nature and, in many cases, the rights and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples.

“Offsets in the Convention on Biodiversity in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will encourage business-as-usual, destructive activities and discourage desperately needed holistic action to improve the rights and livelihoods of Indigenous People, biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and real action on climate mediation and adaptation,” she said.

In emphasizing the need for holistic approaches to restore the health of the biosphere, Young called for a better integration of the policy frameworks of conventions established under the 1992 U.N. Rio Convention, which include the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification.

“I would argue that bridging the gaps between conventions is urgent and the obvious bridge is that the integrity of all ecosystems matter to the success or failure of all the conventions, and that biodiversity and Indigenous Peoples underpin the integrity of many important ecosystems,” she said.

For his part, Christopher Martius, managing director of CIFOR Germany, looked at the all-important issue of climate financing, particularly through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), which forms a part of that funding.

From 2008 to 2015, REDD+ funding added up to between $1 billion to $3 billion a year, he said, about 17 percent of the overall amount of funding going to forests and fighting deforestation.

“That might look like a lot, but if you compare it to the mitigation potential and the costs of this mitigation potential, which stand at between $150 billion and $192 billion per year for developing countries alone, you can see the low numbers that are currently being realized compared to what’s actually needed,” Martius said.

At the same time, increased finance has to be complemented by a political environment that allows that finance to flow smoothly, he added.

Martius briefly pointed to the various flavors that climate finance comes in, from grants and loans to risk reducing guarantees and equity, or payments for ecosystem services of which REDD+ is a special case.

“Basically what we need here is to look at how these financial instruments can be made useful in the context of climate solutions that involve the people that are actually on the ground, Indigenous Peoples and forest communities, and poor people living in or near forests,” he added.

That, he said, means not just better regulation and integration, but also the participation of Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, and underprivileged people, as well as transparency and accountability.

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For more information on this topic, please contact Christopher Martius at c.martius@cgiar.org.
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.
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