Yesterday, the day before Indigenous Day, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) included indigenous rights in its Special Report on Climate Change and Land.
This is a landmark action. In doing this, the IPCC have recognized that Indigenous peoples are crucial in combatting global climate change, by preventing deforestation and preserving ecosystems.
The report, approved by the world’s governments, warns of the dangerous cycle we are entering- where the continued destruction of forests and huge emissions caused by unsustainable farming speeds up the climate crisis, which in turn accelerates land degradation. Currently deforestation alone causes about 10 percent of global emissions per year, with warming having intensified wildfires, soil erosion and increased droughts.
In a press conference, UN special rapporteur, Vicky Tauli-Corpuz said:
“No one knows the conflicts playing out among food, fuel and forests better than indigenous peoples and local communities. We’re often in the crosshairs of conflicts over land, especially forests. As experts, often guided by hundreds of years of knowledge, we are uniquely suited to manage, protect and restore the world’s forests.”
Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) DG, Robert Nasi believes has long said there is already one “very effective” tool for climate action: land-use and tenure rights for indigenous peoples, women, youth and local communities. He said:
“Many of these communities are already making real and measurable progress in sustainably managing large swathes of land and forests. There is now substantial evidence telling us that when local communities have authority over their forests and land, and their rights are legally recognized, deforestation rates are often reduced.”
In response to the report, Rights and Resources (RRI) have issued somewhat of a mega statement – representing Indigenous and local communities of 42 countries, spanning 76 percent of the world’s tropical forest. Laying out six recommendations for how policymakers can support their vital role, the statement says:
“Our traditional knowledge and sustainable stewardship of the world’s lands and forests are key to reducing global emissions to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by 2030. We have cared for our lands and forests—and the biodiversity they contain—for generations. With the right support we can continue to do so for generations to come.”
Why Indigenous peoples’ issues must be national issues
For the Indigenous communities living in Peru’s Amazon forests, achieving legal recognition that guarantees their collective rights to land is a clunky process that can take as long as 20 years to realize. What’s more, this can be a dangerous process. Peru is the fourth most dangerous place to be an ‘environmental defender,’ according to Global Witness, whose special report into the country was inspired when four Indigenous leaders were murdered after trying to ward illegal loggers off their land
Twenty-three years have passed since Peru’s ratification of the international Indigenous rights agreement, Convention 169, and 11 years have drifted since the signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The international agreements have been signed, but Peru is struggling to promote and protect the land and natural resources rights of its traditional populations.
Since 1974, more than 1,300 Indigenous communities of the Peruvian Amazon have obtained communal titles for approximately 12 million hectares of land. Even with this important progress, which includes 17 percent of the country’s forests, titling remains fraught with logistical problems. It’s a long, complicated and costly process that not all communities can get through. The upshot of this is that the rights to millions of hectares of forested land are unprotected, and vulnerable to exploitation.
In the video above, the titling process is explored. “If the rights of Indigenous peoples are vulnerable, then Peru’s forests are also vulnerable,” explains Anne Larson, principal scientist at CIFOR.
During 2014 – 2018, Larson and a team of scientists and partners studied the implementation of collective tenure rights reforms in Peru as part of the Global Comparative Study on Forest Tenure Reform (GCS-Tenure), a research project that covered six countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Peru’s process was the most complex, had the least number of officials assigned to manage conflict resolution – whereby, for example, mining interests may conflict with local community interests- and had the highest number of conflicts.
The research highlights five key actions that would help Peru advance the recognition of Indigenous territories and pave a sustainable future for the country’s forests:
- Build and demonstrate political will by putting the regularization of indigenous communities’ rights on the political agenda,
- Simplify the current procedures, promote an integrated and consistent set of policies and processes and make a long-term commitment, including the resolution or transformation of conflicts,
- Support subnational governments, which now handle a large part of the titling processes,
- Assist Indigenous communities by providing technical assistance and support in developing their livelihoods, and ensure the condition of the forests is in line with their own vision, and
- Recognize that the titling of communal lands is not enough on its own to guarantee control of the territory when there is pressure on strategic resources in the Amazon: there is more than just the titling to be done.
The inclusion of Indigenous, local community and women’s rights in the latest IPCC report proves that the Indigenous peoples of Peru do not own their issues alone; solving them is in Peru’s national interest, and international interest too.