Equator Prize Winners 2021 deliver the local action solutions we need now

October 1, 2021

The 2021 Equator Prize winners will be celebrated on 4 October at the UNDP Nature for Life Hub.

Asociación de Mujeres Indígenas del Territorio Cabécar Kábata Könana

Their lands cover up to 50 percent of terrestrial area, 33 percent of intact forest area and store a majority of Earth’s biodiversity. They conserve and manage nearly a quarter of the Earth’s highly biodiverse and carbon-rich land. Those lands provide essential ecosystem services, including water, food, fuel, carbon sequestration, hazard mitigation, timber, non-timber forest products, wildlife and tourism.

Yet, 19 percent of these groups live in extreme poverty. They face displacement and dispossession, exclusion from decision-making, constant violence and intimidation. Often, they are invisible to their governments. They lack tenure rights and legal protections.

Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) are vital stewards of our remaining natural ecosystems. They are the guardians of nature and champions of nature-based solutions. Yet, they are among the most vulnerable and among those who suffer the effects of climate change the most.

It is evident that we need to transform relationships between people and nature and build a nature-based planetary safety net for humanity. But how to do so?

Look no further: Indigenous peoples and local communities already have the solutions. There is no viable pathway to a safe climate, healthy ecosystems and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals without the recognition of IPLC rights and without support to their ways of life. We need to listen to their voices and follow their models for a sustainable future.

At the opening session of the UNDP Nature for Life Hub, Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said: “Investing in the rights of Indigenous peoples and their guardianship of territory is one of the most important, and most overlooked, strategies for addressing the existential threats of climate change and biodiversity loss.” During the event, nine organizations pledged US$5 billion over the next 10 years to support the creation, expansion, management and monitoring of protected and conserved areas of land, inland waters and sea, working with Indigenous peoples, local communities, civil society and governments.

It is a promising sign of increased awareness among governments and the private sector about the role of IPLCs and local action for climate and nature.

The UNDP Equator Prize winners of 2021, who will be celebrated on 4 October at the UNDP Nature for Life Hub, exemplify how Indigenous peoples and local communities are already leading the essential transformations we need - on food, climate and our economies:

They champion solutions to manage sustainable food systems.

They strengthen climate resilience for people and planet.

  • 638 communities of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in Mexico promote a carbon-positive economy through the development of a subnational ‘carbon footprint’ scheme that pays landowners to protect forests.
  • A local organization in the Western Ghats of India restores wetlands, forests and mangroves through community-based restoration and conservation and the promotion of local entrepreneurship.
  • The Kichwa people of Sarayaku, in Ecuador, champion the concept of “Kawsak Sacha” (“Living Forest”) as a new category of protected area under Indigenous leadership and pursue a sustainable lifestyle that defends the rights of nature.

They spearhead a new nature-positive economy.


Given these success stories, and those of the other 254 Equator Prize winners since the Prize’s inception in 2002, it’s time to recognize that IPLC nature-based solutions, rather than being niche, are key to the transformative change our planet needs.

It’s time to accept IPLCs as effective agents of change in sustainable management of natural resources, as competent global climate resilience strategists, as leaders of a new nature-positive economic paradigm.

There is no single “silver bullet” to solve the various crises we are in. But without the diversity of successful approaches advanced by IPLCs, progress will not be sufficient. IPLCs possess the traditional knowledge to redefine food security, to re-establish circular models that can underpin a more rational economy, and to steward global biodiversity and carbon stocks.

The success or failure of sustainable development, climate, and biodiversity goals largely depend on the leadership of Indigenous peoples and local communities. Listen to Equator Prize winners’ voices, invest in their models, and help them replicate their nature-based solutions to solve our climate crisis.