World leaders must do more to defend custodians of natural world whose lives are at risk from big business, says UN rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
October 6, 2017 — Global leaders must do more to protect indigenous people fighting to protect their land and way of life if the world is to limit climate change, according to the UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
Speaking ahead of key climate talks in Bonn next month she urged politicians to recognise that indigenous communities around the world were the most effective custodians of millions of hectares of forest “which act as the world’s lungs”.
“Indigenous people’s rights need to be protected in the best way possible, not just for them but because they are also able to provide solutions to many of the world’s problems from climate change to biological diversity.
“It is in the self interest of states and even corporations in the medium and long term to protect and listen to these people – the question is, will they realise this in time?” said Tauli-Corpuz.
A recent study found that a quarter of the carbon stored above ground in the world’s tropical forests is found in the collectively managed territories of indigenous peoples and local communities.
In Brazil, deforestation in indigenous community forests from 2000 to 2012 was less than 1%, compared to 7% outside those areas.
“They are the most effective stewards of these key areas,” said Tauli-Corpuz. “The needs of these indigenous people are converging with the wider environmental needs to protect these areas.”
Indigenous people are locked in fierce conflicts with mining, logging and agricultural companies and their private security firms in hundreds of places from Indonesia to Brazil. 2016 was the deadliest year on record for land rights defenders with about 200 people killed in conflicts in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In addition, thousands more community activists were threatened or harassed. A Guardian project working with Global Witness is highlighting the pressure many of these groups face and has identified at least 134 people who have been killed so far this year.
Tauli-Corpuz, who was speaking at the launch of a new global institution dedicated to securing the land rights of tens of millions of indigenous people, said there was an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in many of these communities.
The event in Stockholm was the official launch of the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility which aims to help communities protect their land resources as well as combat climate change.
Funded by Sweden, Norway and the Ford Foundation, a US charity, the Tenure Facility, has already provided grants and guidance for pilot projects in six nations.
The Ford Foundation president Darren Walker said it was an important development in the fight against climate change and inequality. “Creating mechanisms that allow indigenous peoples and local communities to gain tenure over their land or forests is a way to tackle both these problems.”
The Ford Foundation has pledged $5m, and Norway has announced a grant of $20m over the coming years. Sweden pitched in $10m during the pilot phase and will fund future projects. Walker said he expects donations to rise to $100m overall within a year.
The project aims to boost forestland properly titled to indigenous peoples by 40m hectares, an area twice the size of Spain, within a decade. Organisers say this would prevent deforestation of 1m hectares and the release of 500m tonnes of CO2, more than the annual emissions of Britain or Brazil.
Indigenous leaders representing tens of millions of people involved in land disputes in Asia, Africa and South America attended the conference. They said the tenure programme was an important step towards stopping the persecution of indigenous communities – but warned more needs to be done.
Rukka Sombolinggi, the first female secretary-general of the world’s largest indigenous organisation, Aman, which represents 17 million people in Indonesia, said: “Our houses are being burnt down, people are being killed, tortured, and sent to jail as we speak.”
Sombolinggi said some progress had been made, with much of the forests where indigenous communities live in Indonesia mapped for the first time. And she said “dominant communities” would benefit, not only environmentally from more rights for indigenous people, but argued they could also learn important lessons from the way many of these groups lived.
“If we want to see the beautiful centuries ahead … we need to shift our paradigm of what constitutes wealth or prosperity because too many people see happiness only in terms of material goods and achievements and it is having a devastating impact. Many of us have lost our ability to connect with natural things and no longer seem able to live in harmony with the simple happiness around us.”