Can Indigenous Communities Help Fight Climate Change?

Ric Porteus

Ric Porteus

Image of a young woman native to the peruvian amazon rainforest

We are going to cover how Indigenous communities can help fight the climate crisis. We’ll start by discussing the kind of pressures facing these communities. Many Indigenous communities are struggling with land rights and ownership. We’ll go on to discuss the work and policies of the UN and other respected organisations to protect these Indigenous communities. We’ll finish with our thoughts on these agreements and what we at One Tribe can and will do to support them. 

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Indigenous communities and the world’s tropical forests are intrinsically connected

Current estimates suggest there are over 370 million Indigenous people in the world, living in over 90 different countries. While Indigenous communities make up about 5% of the world’s population, they represent some 15% of those who are extremely poor. They speak a majority of the world’s 7,000 languages and they are classified in as many as 5,000 different ethnic groups. At least 60 million Indigenous people live inside or close to dense tropical forests. They are also dependent on these forests for their subsistence and income.

Indigenous communities and the world’s tropical forests are intrinsically connected. Indigenous communities in tropical forests are generally disadvantaged relative to the rest of the population. This is in terms of income, access to resources, overall individual well-being, and representation.

They have struggled for their rights and recognition for centuries. Indigenous communities lack secure rights to their lands in most countries. Out of 13 countries with large amounts of tropical forest, only 6 of them require consent by Indigenous and local communities before the government or private purchasers can acquire land. On the other hand, only 2 countries fail to recognize community rights to land at all. Or simply deny Indigenous communities the ability to be treated as legal entities for the purposes of land ownership. Consequently, multinational corporations have been buying land in low and middle-income countries on a large scale.

The organisations helping to protect Indigenous communities

To help solve these problems, numerous domestic and international Indigenous organizations have been established to promote Indigenous community interests. In particular, they seek international recognition in forums like the League of Nations and the United Nations. The United Nations adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”) in 2007. UNDRIP asserts the equality of Indigenous peoples to other peoples, affirms their rights to self-determination and provides guidance on the responsibilities of States regarding upholding these and other rights.

In 2008, the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (“IPFCC”) was established, giving Indigenous peoples formal standing and resources to take part in UNFCCC negotiations. They’ve also achieved international recognition through REDD+ and other programs initially established to protect forests as part of deterring climate change. This was an element neglected in the Kyoto Protocol but regained international support through the UNFCCC conference in Bali in 2007.

Graphical representation of the 3 phases employed by the REDD+ program
photo credit: REDD+

The agreements and development of Indigenous rights and community support

Originally called “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation” (“RED”), the idea was amended by adding a “D” to include tropical forest degradation. A “+”  was also added to refer to conservation, sustainable management of forests, and encouraging regrowth of forests to sequester (store) carbon. REDD+ was articulated by the UNFCCC in Bali in 2007 and was ultimately endorsed in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In Cancun in 2010, the UNFCCC issued decisions regarding REDD+ that included safeguards. The Paris Agreement adopted at the UNFCCC Conference in 2015 further recognized the importance of human rights. The Conference in Paris decided to create a knowledge-sharing platform for Indigenous and local communities. Which in turn was subsequently endorsed at the Conference in Morocco in 2016.

The Green Climate Fund (“GCF”) was established in 2010 as the official UNFCCC means by which to finance climate change mitigation projects. In 2016, the GCF gave Indigenous peoples a voice in its governance structure by approving the appointment of an Indigenous community representative.

Recognizing their struggles transcend borders, the Indigenous have established their own organizations like the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) and the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change.

A infographic representing the REDD+ Cancun Safeguardss
photo credit: REDD+

One Tribe supports the UN’s REDD+ programs

One Tribe are planning to support REDD+’s programs. Achieved by looking at the parallel importance of protecting Indigenous community land to halt deforestation globally to mitigate climate change. The international community adoption of the UNFCCC endorsement of Indigenous rights has made it possible to implement programs that now enjoy protection. Implementation of REDD+ programs has also created new opportunities for political support.

One Tribe believes any failure of REDD+ programs to influence government action against deforestation represents one of the greatest risks to long-term conservation efforts. Therefore, we plan to partner with organizations who focus their efforts in regions of uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, mining and human settlement. Especially those with a determined conservation commitment and sustainability planning.

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