Climate pledges need Indigenous peoples

September 1, 2022
Papua New Guinea
UNDP Papua New Guinea

It is no secret that Indigenous peoples and local forest communities have been left out of decision-making processes for far too long. Time and time again, we have seen leaders publicly demanding to be recognized and respected as rightful owners of forests.

As government representatives gathered in Bonn for the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June, a new groundbreaking analysis revealed that international climate pledges will be unsuccessful if they do not consider local realities, especially the perspectives and knowledge of Indigenous peoples.

The findings of the report are yet another reminder that it is impossible to effectively combat climate change without putting the rights and knowledge of Indigenous peoples at the heart of the implementation, monitoring, and reporting of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Indigenous peoples invisible as agents of change

Working with Indigenous authors in ten countries in Asia, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact ( AIPP) led a review of how the rights, roles and knowledge of Indigenous men, women, young people, and persons with disabilities are addressed in national climate policies and plans.

One of the conclusions is that Indigenous peoples are nearly invisible as actors or agents of change. Instead, they are often viewed as victims of climate change, or as beneficiaries of climate projects. Yet the lands and territories of Indigenous peoples are critical ecosystems for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

In fact, research shows us that despite increasing external pressure on their land, many forests and other ecosystems within areas managed by Indigenous peoples are in better health than nature outside these areas. Indeed, forests are also central to the traditions, cultures, and livelihoods of some 70 million Indigenous people who provide environmental stewardship to at least 36 percent of the world’s intact forests.  

Each of the reports in the series dedicate a section to highlight how Indigenous peoples are making invaluable contributions, through their day-to-day way of life as well as through specific projects, to global climate mitigation and adaptation goals, as set out in the Paris Agreement.

Timor Leste mangrove
UNDP Timor Leste

Here are a few ways they make invaluable contributions to the fight against climate change.

1. Forests and biodiversity: Though they constitute only five percent of the global population, Indigenous peoples manage around 25 percent of the world’s land, which contains much of the planet’s biodiversity and the carbon stored in soil and biomass. Despite increasing external pressure, many Indigenous managed forests and other ecosystems are in better health than nature outside these areas.

2. Customary sustainable use of natural resources: One key example of sustainable resource use by Indigenous peoples—a practice that is embedded in their customs—is shifting cultivation. Studies have found it to be an ultimate source of carbon storage. Yet it's regularly defined as a driver of deforestation in national policies.

3. Traditional knowledge and climate change adaptation: Indigenous knowledge makes an invaluable contribution to societal resilience to climate change. It is this knowledge and these practices that national adaptation actions should be based on and guided by.

4. Transmission of traditional knowledge: The efforts of Indigenous peoples, particularly women, to ensure the continued transition of knowledge from older to young people is vital. Many Indigenous communities find themselves having to leave their birthplace to take up education or work.

5. Food security and sovereignty: Indigenous peoples are inspiring examples of how to build and maintain resilient food systems and inform the transformation of larger food systems to adapt to a changing climate. A concerning observation from the report shows that the climate policies almost exclusively fail to address land tenure insecurity and the related threats to traditional livelihoods.

In some cases, climate policies even contribute to the criminalization of traditional sustainable practices by defining them as drivers of deforestation.

It is paramount that countries recognize the importance of land security for Indigenous communities and reflect this in their climate policies, for insecure land tenure threatens cultural survival and vital knowledge systems that protect our ecosystems.

Equal partners
Representatives of Indigenous peoples from around the world released the Indigenous Peoples Declaration on June 3, at the conclusion of the Stockholm+50 international conference in Sweden.

The declaration criticized national and international organizations for failing to include Indigenous peoples in the planning and execution of conservation and climate change initiatives that directly affect their lands and communities. "Conservation is typically done for us and around us, not with us," it reads.

The proclamation echoes the findings of these reports and provides a strong call to action: National climate policies must recognize Indigenous peoples as rights-holders, knowledge-holders and equal partners in efforts to combat climate change. Without this, nations will find themselves making promises that they can’t keep.

On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, let’s promise to honor the role of Indigenous women, men and youth in the preservation of traditional knowledge and their invaluable contribution to forests all around the world.


Editor’s note:

If you found this blog useful, check out the detailed summary of findings, and recommendations by viewing the Overview Report.

Analysis undertaken by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) and the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) over the past two years, has been supported by UNDP and the UN-REDD Programme, among other partners. The report investigates the rights, roles, and contributions of Indigenous Peoples in the NDCs of ten countries in Asia against nine indicators. 

UNDP’s Climate and Forests Programme, is working to encourage national participatory dialogues to enhance the inclusiveness of NDCs, with particular attention given to the upholding of Indigenous rights and knowledge in climate plans. The initiative represents a lever for participatory policy engagement, enabling use of the diverse instruments and practices outlined by UN-REDD.