They have the skills and knowledge to deliver natural climate solutions

Empower indigenous people to fight the climate crisis

Craig Burnett

Senior Communications Officer

This year Ashden launches its first Natural Climate
Solutions Award. The award will recognise work that manages and protects the
planet’s rainforests by drawing on the skills and experience of indigenous
people – while also supporting these communities. Funding for natural climate
solutions lags far behind backing for technological ones. We urgently need to
raise awareness, trigger investment and push politicians into action.

Rainforests are vital to defending the planet from climate
change. But they,
and the communities that have lived in harmony with them for thousands of
years, are under threat. We are seeking solutions that conserve and restore
these precious ecosystems while also supporting and empowering indigenous

The most promising work we have seen in this area reminds us
that addressing inequality is a fundamental part of radical climate action. We
won’t solve one problem without tackling the other – the transition to a
zero-carbon world must be a fair one.

By storing greenhouse gases, natural environments such as
forests, mangroves and grasslands are playing a huge role in tackling the
climate emergency. Rainforests in the basins of the Amazon and Congo rivers,
and in South East Asia, are particularly important because of their massive
size and biodiversity. All three are under threat. 

The clearance of land for agriculture is probably the
biggest driver of deforestation. With global food demand set to double by 2050,
production must grow in a way that doesn’t harm a key defence against the climate
crisis. Logging and mining, legal and illegal, also pose a huge danger.

The results of illegal logging. Credit: IBAMA

Indigenous people bring expert knowledge

There is growing evidence that one of the best ways to
conserve and manage forests is to use them sustainably – as indigenous people
have done for generations. Past approaches to conservation have sought to block
all human activity in a given area, pushing people off the land. But new research from the University of British Columbia found indigenous-managed lands
had more biodiversity than ‘protected’ equivalents. Research leader Richard
Schuster explained: “collaborating with indigenous land stewards will likely be
essential in ensuring that species survive and thrive”. The World Resources
Institute has found that sustainably managed forests store more carbon than
non-managed forests owned by businesses or the state.

These communities currently manage 900 million hectares
around the world, and have sophisticated knowledge of agriculture, the
biosphere and land management – particularly how to control catastrophic
wildfires. In the Brazilian savannah, dry season fires dropped by 57% when the
fire service collaborated with indigenous tribes.

Indigenous people are on the front-line of the climate
crisis, particularly vulnerable to extreme weather or climate changes that
threaten food production. Their lack of financial wealth and political power
increases the danger they face. If we fail to draw on their skills and
knowledge – or, even worse, allow their way of life to be destroyed – the cost will
be borne by all of us.

Promising solutions

What are our judges looking for? Solutions could include
those helping indigenous people make use of techniques such as agroforestry,
where trees and crops share the same land. The judges are also looking for
finance initiatives that support community forest enterprises, and the creation
of new, sustainable economic opportunities for indigenous people.

Innovation might also tackle the crucial issue of land
rights. It is often harder for indigenous people to claim ownership of land
than it is for governments and corporations. Securing land rights is a
foundation for the community’s wellbeing, and the conservation benefits their
presence can bring – boosting biodiversity and carbon storage, and protecting
land from deforestation. Partnerships involving indigenous people, governments
and forestry commissions or regional authorities have huge potential. 

Entries for the award close on 11 December. The prize will
raise the profile of the winner and other finalists, connecting them with
funders and the media and unlocking new opportunities to scale up or develop.
But it will also strengthen links between the conservation, indigenous rights
and climate change sectors.

We already know there are outstanding initiatives with
benefits in all three of these areas. But if experts in each sector don’t talk
to each other, the full value of the work won’t be understood and shared.
Crucial knowledge will be lost, and chances to improve lives and protect our
planet will be wasted. 

Natural climate solutions have been overlooked
for too long – and with the climate crisis growing every day, we need to take
action with every tool we have. Inclusion of, and protection for, indigenous
people is essential.

Read More

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