Finally, the world’s top scientists recognize what we have always known.
We—Indigenous Peoples and local communities—play a critical role in stewarding and safeguarding the world’s lands and forests. For the first time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released today recognizes that strengthening our rights is a critical solution to the climate crisis.
The report makes it clear that recognizing the rights of the world’s Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and the women within these groups is a scalable climate solution, and that all actors should make us partners in climate protection efforts. Our traditional knowledge and sustainable stewardship of the world’s lands and forests are key to reducing global emissions to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by 2030. We have cared for our lands and forests—and the biodiversity they contain—for generations. With the right support we can continue to do so for generations to come.
As the IPCC now recognizes, a large and growing body of scientific literature demonstrates our critical role as guardians of the world’s lands and forests. This is what the evidence shows:
1. Secure community land and resource rights are essential for the sustainable management and effective conservation of forests. Forests that are legally owned and/or designated for use by Indigenous Peoples and local communities are linked to:
Lower rates of deforestation and forest degradation;
Reduced conflict, illegal appropriation, and large-scale land use / land cover change;
Lower carbon emissions and higher carbon storage;
Greater investment in forest maintenance activities;
Better forest and biodiversity conservation;
More equitable and sustainable forest restoration efforts;
More benefits for more people; and
Better social, environmental, and economic outcomes overall than forests managed by either public or private entities, including protected areas.
2. We manage at least 22% (218 gigatons) of the total carbon found in tropical and subtropical forests (including both above- and belowground sources).
At least a third of this carbon —and likely much more—is in areas where we lack formal recognition of our land rights. Failure to legally recognize our rights leaves our forests vulnerable to environmentally destructive projects that devastate forests and release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
Legally recognizing our land rights and supporting our initiatives is vital to the success of global efforts to mitigate climate change.
3. Indigenous Peoples’ lands intersect with around 40% of all protected areas and more than 65% of the most remote and least inhabited lands on Earth.
Protecting communities’ rights to lands they customarily manage is essential for protection of the world’s biodiversity, conservation of threatened ecosystems, and restoration of degraded lands.
Indigenous Peoples and local communities are as effective—and often better—at protecting biodiversity than state-governed protected areas.
Cultural and biological diversity are deeply integrated: secure land rights are fundamental to our sustainable stewardship of nature, and the maintenance of our traditional knowledge systems is essential for biodiversity conservation and effective environmental governance writ large.
4. The freedom to govern ourselves, leverage our traditional knowledge, and adapt to our changing circumstances is essential to realizing a more sustainable and climate-resilient future—particularly through the leadership of indigenous and community women.
5. Yet our contributions have so far been overlooked. Indigenous Peoples and local communities customarily own more than 50% of the world’s lands, yet governments formally recognize our ownership rights to only 10%. The women in our communities—who increasingly play outsized roles as leaders, forest managers, and economic providers—are even less likely to have recognized rights.
In many places, the legal infrastructure is already in place to recognize rights: legally recognized community forests increased by 40% (150 million hectares) in the last 15 years. We could more than double that progress—and benefit 200 million people—if existing legislation was implemented in just four countries (Colombia, DRC, India, Indonesia).
This gap between our legal and customary rights renders us and our lands vulnerable to the growing threats of agro-industrial production, destructive mining and logging practices, and large-scale infrastructure developments. And we face increasing criminalization and violence for our efforts to protect mother Earth. At least 365 land rights defenders were killed since the Paris Agreement was signed. Many more suffer violence and unjust legal prosecution.
Where our rights are respected, by contrast, we provide an alternative to economic models that require tradeoffs between the environment and development. Our traditional knowledge and holistic view of nature enables us to feed the world, protect our forests, and maintain global biodiversity. Fully respecting our rights and in particular the rights of indigenous and community women represents the world’s single greatest opportunity—in terms of land area and number of people affected—to advance global climate and development goals.
To capitalize on the solution we offer, we call on governments, the international community, and the private sector to adhere to the highest level of international law, standards, and best practices in all actions and investments in rural landscapes. With this, we call on all actors to:
1. Significantly scale up recognition of our land and forest rights by increasing support to indigenous, community, and civil society organizations to implement existing laws and advance legislation that recognizes rights. This includes recognition of the rights of communities to govern their lands.
2. Secure our right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) as part of a continuous cycle of engagement for any activities taking place on or affecting our customary lands.
3. Prioritize bilateral and multilateral investments in indigenous- and community-led initiatives to reduce emissions from deforestation, strengthen community-based conservation and restoration efforts, and improve sustainable land use. Find new ways to ensure international finance for climate mitigation reaches the communities on the ground who can put it to best use.
4. End the criminalization and persecution of Indigenous Peoples and local communities defending their lands, forests, and natural resources.
5. Develop partnerships that allow our traditional knowledge and practical experiences with land and forest management to inform current and future efforts to combat climate change.
6. Recognize and support indigenous and community women’s rights to own, manage and control land, forests and resources which are bases for their livelihoods, community well-being and food security.
*There is no definition of local communities under international law. For the purposes of this response, we recognize that it encompasses communities—including afro-descendant communities—that do not self-identify as indigenous but who share similar characteristics of social, cultural, and economic conditions that distinguish them from other sections of the national community, whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions, and who have long-standing, culturally constitutive relations to lands and resources.