A report released this week by the Mesoamerican Alliance of People and Forests demonstrates the importance of Indigenous People in the storage of carbon in tropical forests. The report, which was prepared for the UNFCCC COP21, indicates that “indigenous territories located in the Amazon Basin, the Mesoamerican region, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Indonesia contain 20.1% of the carbon stored aboveground in the planet’s tropical forests. ” The amount of CO2 that would be released if these forests were lost is 168.3 Gt CO2 or more than 3 times the world’s emissions in 2014.
The report suggests five policy interventions necessary to ensure the long-term conservation of tropical forests in Indigenous territories. They are:
1. Title all currently unrecognized indigenous territories: Recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities to land tenure is widely understood to be a viable strategy for mitigating climate change. Nevertheless, progress on the recognition of these rights worldwide has slowed recently, so it is urgent that efforts to title unrecognized territories be redoubled.
2. End the persecution of indigenous leaders: Indigenous leaders are criminalized for defending their basic human rights to their territorial lands and this practice must end. These rights are fundamental to their ability to secure their forests against all manner of threats.
3. Recognition of indigenous peoples’ contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation in the context of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs): Indigenous knowledge and tradition is essential to mitigating climate change, especially in the case of forests. Governments must recognize the role of indigenous peoples as part of their INDCs and ensure adequate support – both financial and political.
4. Implement the use of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC): This principle is fundamental to reaching working operational frameworks of governance supported by mutual consensus between local and external actors. Moreover, it is key to ensure that the considerable investments in climate change initiatives are not lost due to the denial of consent by indigenous peoples.
5. Direct access to climate financing for indigenous peoples organizations: Despite significant efforts by indigenous peoples to defend and preserve their territories, they have yet to receive adequate recognition from climate financing mechanisms. The vast majority of current support is channeled to governments and NGOs where administrative and other expenses not directly related to forest conservation limit the resources available. Therefore, more balanced and direct funding for indigenous peoples is necessary in order to protect the forests that are critical to long-term climate stabilization.