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.
- The Indigenous Kábata Könana women in Costa Rica promote the use of traditional practices and knowledge for food security and maintain diverse native seed stocks, while safeguarding 400,000 hectares of rainforest.
- A local organization in Kyrgyzstan promotes the transition of agriculture in rural and mountain communities to organic-only production in a landscape-level approach.
- A coalition of agricultural unions and farmer groups in Niger has improved food security for over 5,000 members through participatory variety development, the production and marketing of diverse crop varieties, and greened 22,000 hectares of land.
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.
- A group of young women and men in Bolivia improves economic opportunities for youth, slowing migration to cities, by reforesting and managing non-timber forest products sustainably.
- A community network in Brazil’s Cerrado ecoregion works with smallholders in a “farmer-to-farmer” method to sustainably grow and process fruits, plants and seeds, improving local livelihoods for 26,000 people.
- A community-based enterprise in Cameroon supports Indigenous communities surrounding a national park to grow cacao and other fruits, creating hundreds of jobs for women.
- An Indigenous-led cooperative in Southern India supports green entrepreneurship, processing and marketing a diverse range of sustainably harvested forest products, earning members premium prices on their products.