SAN FRANCISCO, California — Lands owned and managed by indigenous peoples and traditional communities store carbon more efficiently and regrow forests faster than lands controlled by governments and businesses, making them a vital part of efforts to combat climate change, according to a report released this week ahead of a major global climate summit.
The report, by forest and land rights advocacy Rights and Resources Initiative, found that lands controlled by indigenous communities capture nearly 300,000 million metric tons of carbon annually— equivalent to the amount of carbon emitted by 45,000 households. Yet these communities' rights to land and resource management often go unrecognized.
That could change following the announcement earlier this week that nine US-based philanthropic foundations would commit $459 million to the conservation of forests and lands and the protection of indigenous rights worldwide.
Protesters gathered outside the site of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco Thursday. The three-day event brought together officials, businesses, civil society groups and activists to commit to greater efforts to tackle climate change. Forests, food and land managment was part of those discussions / Credit: Alanah Torralba
“If we continue to treat forests and lands as infinite and expendable resources, science shows that people and the planet will suffer—and we won’t achieve our climate goals, ” said Harvey V. Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, one of the foundations pledging finance for forest conservation.
Because forests capture carbon, they have the potential to reduce global emissions by one-third of what is needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius is a core part of the Paris Agreement, the landmark accord designed to fight climate change.
Research has shown that limiting warming would benefit plant and animal species and keep rising sea levels in check, a major concern among low-lying island nations that often bear the brunt of climate change's impacts.
They didn't cause it, but they suffer the most
“[Indigenous peoples] did not contribute to the cause of climate change, yet they suffer the most because they live in fragile ecosystems,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or IPs.
IPs and activists also continue to experience violence when defending the environment, Tauli-Corpuz said.
According to Global Witness, an international non-profit, 207 land and environmental defenders were killed last year around the world. The Philippines recorded the deaths of 48 environmental activists.
The way to move forward, Tauli-Corpuz said, is to safeguard the rights of IPs and ensure that the money for forest conservation goes directly to the communities.
“We need to ensure that IP rights are recognized in the discussions on climate solutions,” she said.
This story was supported by the 2018 Climate Change Media Partnership (CCMP), a collaboration between Internews' Earth Journalism Network and The Stanley Foundation.