Unsung Heroes of Conservation: Indigenous People Fight for Forests

Human Wrongs Watch

5 April 2023 (UNEP)* — Every year, the world loses enough forest trees to fill Portugal. Much of that deforestation happens on Indigenous lands and often without their prior and informed consent. But these communities are demanding change and fighting to protect their ancestral lands.


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Indigenous groups are doing this by demonstrating effective conservation, patrolling forests, and at times, even taking governments and developers to court with the ultimate goal of protecting fast-disappearing forests.

In recent years, many Indigenous community leaders, such as Nemonte Nenquimo of Ecuador’s Indigenous Waorani, have taken on governments and powerful corporations to protect their ancestral land and way of life.

Indigenous Leader
Nemonte Nenquimo. Photo Credit: UNEP

In 2019, Nenquimo, a UN 2020 Champion of the Earth, fronted a lawsuit that banned resource extraction on 500,000 acres of her ancestral lands. The victory of that court case has brought new hope to Indigenous communities around the world.

Securing the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities is one of the major ambitions of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, a landmark agreement signed in December 2022 to guide global action on nature through 2030.

Advocating for people fighting to protect forests and nature as a whole is also an important part of the work of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Conservationist and environmental human rights defenders are critical agents of change in conserving, protecting and restoring forests,” said Patricia Mbote, Director of UNEP’s Law Division.

“UNEP has committed itself to supporting the promotion and protection of these defenders through its work on advancing human rights obligations relating to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment,” she added.

Many see Indigenous people’s push for protection of their rights to lands and territories as critical to slowing deforestation. There is a good reason for this, said Constantino Aucca Chutas, co-founder of the Association of Andean Ecosystems and the United Nations 2022 Champion of the Earth, who is also of Indigenous Quechua ancestry.

“Indigenous communities do not clear entire forests,” he said. “They cut a few trees or branches but never entire forests…the forest and the creatures that live in it are like family to them.”

The unsung heroes of conservation,Indigenous peoples make up about 476 million of the global population. Together, they own, manage or occupy one-quarter of the world’s land that is home to 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity.

However, extractive practices such as large-scale logging, industrial farming and mining are risking both the rights of Indigenous peoples and critical forest ecosystems.

Indigenous communities are not just fighting to remain the stewards of the ecosystems on which their way of life depends. They are also demanding fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of the genetic resources derived from the forests they call home.

Genetic resources refer to the genetic material of plants, animals, and microorganisms that are used to develop new and lucrative medicines, agricultural crops, and cosmetic products, among others.

Access to and equitable sharing of benefits is one of the major goals of the Global Biodiversity Framework, recognizing that alongside the urgent need for the sustainable use of nature, is the necessity that communities benefit from what is derived from their land.

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United Nations 2022 Champion of the Earth, Constantino Aucca Chutas. Photo Credit: UNEP

Forests are some of the most valuable resources for people and the planet. They support the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people and are home to more than half of the world’s terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. They cycle and recycle water, maintaining steady and healthy moisture and precipitation.

Forests also play a critical role in mitigating the climate crisis thanks to their capacity for absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and helping offset greenhouse gas emissions.

However, through deforestation, 12 million hectares of forests are destroyed annually, mainly as a result of the production of agricultural commodities such as palm oil, beef, soy, timber, and pulp and paper. Halting this trend requires decoupling commodity production from deforestation.

One of the biggest impediments to decoupling commodity production from deforestation thus far has been financing for sustainable farming, nature-based solutions and conservation.

In order for Indigenous peoples to continue fulfilling their role as custodians of forests, access to greater finance is needed, commensurate with their role in helping avoid deforestation and associated climate and nature crises.

According to UNEP’s State of Finance for Nature 2022 report, finance going to nature-based solutions is currently US$154 billion per year. But this is less than half the US$384 billion per year needed by 2025 to meet climate change, biodiversity and land degradation targets.

To help address the funding gap, the Global Biodiversity Framework calls for at least US$200 billion per year in domestic and international biodiversity-related funding from both public and private sources to be mobilized by 2030. The framework also calls for a marked increase in international financial flows from developed to developing countries to at least US$20 billion per year by 2025 and to US$30 billion per year by 2030.

The lack of adequate financing is something Constantino Aucca Chutas know all too well in his 30-year career in forest conservation.

“If you want to do meaningful conservation and restoration of forests, you need five years minimum,” he said, “But, most of the finance we get for conservation projects are for one or two years. That’s not realistic.”

For Chutas, forests are not just valuable ecosystems for all of humanity; they are also home to millions of Indigenous people around the world. And he has message for those who wish to work with them to protect and restore forests.

“Forests are something that need to be understood and respected. That can only be done with the help of Indigenous communities,” he said. “I have been successful in working with Indigenous communities on restoration because I respect them, I talk with them, I listen to them and I learn from them.”

About the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 is a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world, for the benefit of people and nature. It aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems, and restore them to achieve global goals. The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the UN Decade and it is led by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The UN Decade is building a strong, broad-based global movement to ramp up restoration and put the world on track for a sustainable future. Over 100 organizations – ranging from global institutions to restoration implementers on the ground – have since joined the effort. That will include building political momentum for restoration as well as thousands of initiatives on the ground.

*SOURCE: UNEP. Go to ORIGINAL:https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/unsung-heroes-conservation-indigenous-people-fight-forests

2023 Human Wrongs Watch

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