Could Indigenous rights be the key to saving our rainforests?
The role of Indigenous peoples and local communities have long been noted as key in combating the climate crisis. A new and extensive study released at the beginning of this year has reinforced these ideas, emphasising the need for political protection and financial support for these communities .
But why is this so important?
The IPCC special report on Land Use, published in 2019 , emphasised the need for improved land management and land-use change, and how these are essential for keeping below 1.5 degrees of warming. Forest management and particularly tropical forest management has the potential to offset approximately 60% of the emissions reduction required to hold warming below 1.5 degrees . Forest management involves reforestation and restoration practices in order to reduce carbon emissions produced by deforestation and degradation. While in theory, this holds great promise the practicalities of implementing solutions that would achieve this amount of carbon reduction are complex.
Scientists have long proven that indigenous territories (ITs) ensure the long term protection of land from deforestation and mineral, oil and gas extraction. Indigenous protection has also been linked to increased maintenance of biodiversity and other key ecosystem services.
However, there are multiple threats to ITs within the Amazon territory spanning across nine different countries throughout South America. Most recently various cases of sociopolitical unrest in Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela have seen a weakening in environmental protection and the violation of indigenous rights.
Image credit: Tarquin Millington-Drake
What does the science say?
There is substantial evidence that shows emissions inside ITs remain well below the levels outside of these territories. Between 2000 and 2015, five times more deforestation occurred outside of ITs and protected areas than within them .
The new study  published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US), examines emissions based on both deforestation but also forest degradation as a result of human and natural disturbance. Degradation can include drought, selective logging and wildfires for example. The study led by Wayne Walker calculates the gains and losses in carbon across the Amazon region, spanning all nine countries between 2003-2016.
The key finding was that within the 13 year period approximately 70% of carbon was lost outside of ITs and protected lands – an area that makes up less than half of the Amazon region. It also highlights that deforestation in the Amazon region is increasing after a relative period of stability, with a 200% increase in carbon loss between 2012-2016. However, ITs and protected areas did still experience some loss of carbon, which were mainly caused by degradation and disturbance not deforestation.
Highlighting the importance of indigenous peoples around the world being involved in the decision making around these issues is vital, as many schemes currently lack the consideration of Indigenous People’s views and perspectives .
Maintenance and enhancement of further Indigenous rights can be ensured through various schemes such as international agreements via the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform of the UNFCCC, or country-level programmes. Political protection and financial support will be important no matter the route taken. New science such as this reinforces why Almond have chosen to work with the Rainforest Trust UK, in working to help gain legal land titles for indigenous communities.
Sources: Walker et al (2020). The role of forest conversion, degradation, and disturbance in the carbon dynamics of Amazon indigenous territories and protected areas. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/01/21/1913321117.short?rss=1  IPCC (2019). Special Report on Climate Change and the Land https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/  Anderson (2019). Blood Gold in the Brazilian Rainforest. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/11/11/blood-gold-in-the-brazilian-rain-forest  Amazon Geo-Referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network (RAISG) (2016). “Amazonia 2016 – Protected areas and indigenous territories/deforestation 2000-2015”  IPBES (2019). Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’ Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’. https://ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment
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