Indigenous Peoples Are Vital to Curtailing the Climate Crisis

Madidi National Park has a record-breaking elevational range from 184 meters above sea level in the Amazonian lowlands to Andean peaks of 6,044 meters above sea level. Photo: Mileniusz Spanowicz/WCS.

According to a recent study in Nature, indigenous peoples own or manage at least a quarter of the world’s land surface.

The Tacana are on my mind this week as international leaders meet at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco to adopt measures to reduce the pace of climate change. If we are to mitigate the impacts of global warming and keep the global average temperate rise below the two degree Celsius target set in Paris, our intact forests and the indigenous peoples who manage them have a prominent role to play.

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Indigenous Peoples own or manage at least a quarter of the world’s land surface, including more than 35 percent of all remaining intact forests. Credit: Mileniusz Spanowicz/WCS.

If they are to continue their vital stewardship role, indigenous peoples need national governments to recognize and support their legitimate authority to govern their lands and waters.

In addition to the biodiversity they support, these landscapes are also home to some of the poorest and most politically marginalized peoples on the planet. Indigenous peoples rely on forest resources to sustain their cultures and well-being. Their fates are inextricably bound with these lands, which makes them among our best partners for maintaining healthy forest systems.

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The Amazonian Royal Flycatcher (Onychorhynchus coronatus) one of 1,028 confirmedbird species within Madidi National Park. Photo: Mileniusz Spanowicz/WCS.

If we are to mitigate the impacts of global warming, our intact forests and the indigenous peoples who manage them have a prominent role to play.

Yet if they are to continue their vital stewardship role, indigenous peoples need national governments to recognize and support their legitimate authority to govern their lands and waters. To date, only 21 of 131 tropical countries have asserted that they will expand indigenous and local communities’ land tenure rights under their Paris commitments.

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