Small share of land rights pledge went to Indigenous groups: Progress report

Small share of land rights pledge went to Indigenous groups: Progress report

  • A report from funders of a $1.7 billion pledge to support Indigenous and community forest tenure made at the 2021 U.N. climate conference found that 19% of the financing has been distributed.
  • The findings also show that only 7% of the funding went directly to Indigenous and community organizations, despite the protection they provide to forests and other ecosystems.
  • Both donors and representatives of Indigenous and community groups are calling for more direct funding to these organizations by reducing the barriers they face, improving communication and building capacity.

Funders of a $1.7 billion pledge announced at the 2021 U.N. climate conference say they disbursed around 19% of the money to bolster the land rights of Indigenous and local communities, according to the group’s annual report released Nov. 7.

The figure puts them on track to fulfill the five-year commitment. However, organizations led by Indigenous groups or local communities received just 7% of the nearly $321 million delivered in 2021. Indigenous rights advocates and leaders of these groups are calling for this amount to rise.

Indigenous and local communities “live at the center of a global climate and biodiversity crisis,” Zac Goldsmith, the U.K.’s Minister for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, said in a statement. The U.K. is among a group of 22 philanthropies and governments that made the Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’ Forest Tenure Pledge at the start of COP26, the 2021 U.N. climate conference held in Glasgow, Scotland.

“There is strong evidence that their solutions to climate mitigation and protecting nature are highly effective,” Goldsmith said, “but they only receive a tiny fraction of the climate finance that they need to protect forests.”

Maliau Falls in Sabah, Malaysia. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

The commitment, which recognizes that Indigenous and local communities are some of the best protectors of forests and other ecosystems, was among a number of forest-related pledges worth billions of dollars made at COP26.

Now, as COP27 begins in Egypt with a focus on finding ways to address the rise in climate-warming carbon in Earth’s atmosphere, the report provides a snapshot of the progress these donors made in 2021. Studies have revealed that the Indigenous peoples and other communities that manage forests and other ecosystems often protect them and the ecosystem services they provide, such as carbon sequestration, substantially better than other measures like traditional protected areas.

But research has also shown that they often lack the security that legally recognized rights to these lands would provide.

Proponents of codifying Indigenous and community land tenure say securing these rights and boosting the capabilities of Indigenous-led and community groups is one of the surest ways to halt the rise in the average global temperature to 1.5° Celsius (2.7° Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, a target set at the 2015 U.N. climate conference in Paris.

Despite another pledge by leaders in Glasgow to end deforestation worldwide by 2030, tropical forests, seen as a bulwark against rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere, continue to disappear. Few countries are making progress toward that goal, according to a recent report by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

A member of a local community in Papua New Guinea. Image by eGuide Travel via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
A member of a local community in Papua New Guinea. Image by eGuide Travel via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

But Indigenous and local communities could help stem that loss, scientists say. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in February that Indigenous peoples are “critical” to addressing climate change and called for recognition of their land tenure, knowledge systems and management of forests.

“The world’s top climate scientists have called for strengthening the rights and the role of [Indigenous peoples] and [local communities],” Levi Sucre, co-chair of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, said in the statement. “We are a climate risk mitigation strategy, and a just solution for addressing climate change.” The Global Alliance of Territorial Communities is a global platform for Indigenous and local communities.

According to WRI, 2.5 billion people rely on the natural resources and ecosystem services from land held by Indigenous peoples and communities. Globally, these groups manage around half of Earth’s land, and the science suggests that nature benefits. That land holds around 80% of all biodiversity, and forests tend to remain standing when communities or Indigenous people are in control — especially when governments formally recognize those rights: Deforestation rates are 50% lower on tenured Indigenous lands in the Amazon compared with other areas, WRI has reported.

“To help us succeed, our governments must recognize our rights,” Sucre said, “and the entire system for financing climate solutions must overcome long established bureaucratic systems and beliefs about our capacities that prevent us from accessing climate funds that we are capable of managing for the benefit of all.”

Dareshe Village, Ethiopia. Image by Rod Waddington via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Dareshe Village, Ethiopia. Image by Rod Waddington via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Data also suggest securing Indigenous title in the Amazon is cost-effective, working out to about 1% of the total economic value of the benefits these lands provide.

Still, the funders’ report reveals that less than a tenth of the funding went straight to Indigenous and community groups. Around half went to international NGOs.

“We’re very troubled by the fact that so little of that money is going directly to Indigenous peoples and local communities,” Kevin Currey, a program officer at the Ford Foundation, told Mongabay. He said the donors want to ensure tighter collaboration with these groups over the next four years.

“The fact that it’s a single-digit percentage is alarming and really lights a fire under us to do more,” Currey added.

Indigenous Tikuna paddling a dugout canoe on a tributary of the Amazon. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
Indigenous Tikuna paddling a dugout canoe on a tributary of the Amazon. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Indeed, the findings track a broader trend in climate aid. Rainforest Foundation Norway reported in 2021 that Indigenous and community organizations get less than 1% of climate-related aid.

“What we’re also hearing is that they want to be the ones to call the shots,” Currey said.

These organizations are teaming up to develop financial mechanisms such as Brazil’s Mesoamerican Territorial Fund and Indonesia’s Nusantara Fund, in which they have direct access to this financing, he said.

“It’s about kind of flipping the script and changing who’s in control of dialogues and discussions with donors,” Currey added.

He also noted that three new partners joined the funding coalition in 2022, and the hope is to increase the amount of financing available.

“Now we really need to come up with a plan as the funders group … to make sure we’re not just getting more money into the system but that we’re getting the money into the right places,” Currey said.

Banner image: Members of an Indigenous community in Guangaje, Ecuador, after the blessing of a water spring. Image by Azzedine Rouichi via Unsplash (Public domain).

John Cannon is a staff features writer with Mongabay. Find him on Twitter: @johnccannon

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