A new report by the UN has found that 45% of the intact forests in the Amazon are in Indigenous lands, representing an area that sequesters more carbon than all the tropical forests in either Indonesia or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
What is Happening?
- The report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean says that ensuring the land rights of Indigenous and tribal communities in the Amazon could help absorb carbon emissions at affordable rates for governments.
- Additionally, investing in Indigenous land tenure presents an opportunity to both address climate change and associated issues like biodiversity loss, along with helping hard-hit Indigenous communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The UN report, which reviewed more than 300 studies, said that Indigenous peoples control up to 3.9 million square kilometres of Amazon forest — more than a third of all forests in Latin America.
- Indigenous-occupied forests in this region hold more carbon than those found in either Indonesia or the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to the next two biggest swaths of tropical forest after Brazil. Both the forests themselves and the carbon they contain are declining more slowly than in non-Indigenous-held areas. The report found a loss of 0.3% of the carbon in these forests between 2003 and 2016. Over the same period, non-Indigenous parks and reserves lost 0.6% of their carbon. Outside these spaces, the loss of carbon was much higher at 3.6%.
Myrna Cunningham Kain, a leader of the Miskito people in Nicaragua and president of the public rights organization Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC), says, “If there’s investment in securing [Indigenous] land and rainforest, then there will be solutions that face climate change.”
- In recent years, the Amazon has been steadily degraded by land clearing for ranching, agribusiness and development. Meanwhile, rising temperatures have led to droughts and increased fires. This has culminated in warnings from scientists that the Amazon is nearing a tipping point, beyond which it may lose its ability to bounce back from degradation and sequester carbon, and move to a savanna ecosystem.
David Kaimowitz, manager of the FAO’s Forest and FarmFacility and the lead author of the report, says, “When you have almost half of the intact forest in the Amazon in Indigenous and Afro-descendant territories, then they have to be a big part of any discussion about a tipping point.”
- Over the last two decades, Latin American governments have implemented programmes that increasingly protect Indigenous land rights. However, more recently, as pressure has grown to extract more resources from the Amazon, governments have begun to weaken protections for Indigenous lands. Kaimowitz says, “In just about every country we’ve looked at, government support for these Indigenous territories is declining rather than increasing at a time when they should be increasing dramatically.”
- He says that the best way to help stabilise the climate, preserve biodiversity, and protect indigenous cultures is to further strengthen the hold of Indigenous Amazon peoples over their ancestral lands.
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