Indigenous people gain unprecedented showcase, voice and funds at COP26

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After being ignored for decades in the debates and commitments of climate conferences, indigenous communities joined in coalitions and for the first time gained space at the discussion tables.

At COP26, which began Monday (1) in Glasgow, indigenous leaders and so-called “holders of traditional knowledge” gained a voice in panels that were previously limited to scientists and activists.

“It is quite significant that the UK has used its COP presidency to elevate the importance of indigenous peoples and local communities in protecting forests by including them in the World Leaders Summit,” says Kevin Currey, Head of Programme, Natural Resources and Ford Foundation Climate Change.

One of them was 24-year-old paiter-suruí Txai Suruí, who spoke in English at the opening of the conference in the presence of leaders such as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The Rondonense defended the participation of indigenous peoples in the decisions of the climate summit.

For the president of the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker, the communities knew how to react to the silence that was imposed on them: “There was a paternalism of the global leaders, who ignored these peoples. This united them and allowed them to build power and open the way.” He says that COP26 is “a historic moment” in indigenous political action.

“Finally, people who are essential to solving the climate crisis will be given power and a place at the table. A new paradigm is emerging and we will hear it loud and clear in Glasgow,” he said.

In addition to political influence, the IPLCs, as they are called among activists, have also gained more autonomy to directly manage resources destined to the conservation of the areas in which they live.

On Monday (1), the governments of the United Kingdom, USA, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands headed a pledge of at least US$ 1.7 billion (almost R$ 10 billion) that will be used by the PICLs to protect their territories. Foundations such as Ford, Rainforest Trust, Bezos Earth Fund, Arcadia, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Sobrato Philanthropies and Wyss Foundation also contribute.

More than the amount involved, what is fundamental is that the resources reach the communities that protect forests and that the decision on how to use them is made by them, says Currey, who must accompany the US$ 100 million destined by Ford.

The announcement was well received by leaders such as Victoria Tauli Corpuz, a former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and a member of the Kankana-ey Igorot ethnic group from the Philippines.

Indigenous communities manage areas that contain about 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity, but receive less than 1% of climate finance aimed at reducing deforestation.

The pledges made by funders so far result in an average value of US$ 340 million per year, which multiplies by 2.5 times the amount allocated so far by governments and philanthropic organizations for the protection of the territory and forest management.

It could be more, says Currey: “Given the clear evidence that IPLCs protect forests better than anyone else, a significant portion of the $19 billion announced today for forests should go to them, if governments really take their goal seriously. reverse deforestation by 2030”.

Studies indicate that forests can contribute up to 37% to the Paris Agreement’s climate mitigation goals, and a review by the UN of more than 300 scientific studies indicates that, in South American areas under indigenous control, deforestation is half of what happens in other contiguous territories.

“It’s not just about carbon. Ensuring the rights of IPLCs also benefits the integrity of our ecosystems and biodiversity and reduces the risk of pandemics,” says Victoria.

One of the main goals of this funding is to secure the right to the territory these communities occupy: only 10% of the lands inhabited by indigenous peoples in the world are protected and legally assigned to them.

The programs will include mapping areas, recording tenure rights, supporting forest tenure reforms and strengthening conflict resolution mechanisms.

According to Walker, the prejudice that indigenous communities cannot deal with the technology needed to carry out the mapping and guarantee land tenure must be overturned. “This narrative is a barrier that hinders organizations that are very sophisticated, both socially and technologically. They know and apply solutions. You just have to listen to them.”

Although some funders have frozen the transfer of funds to Brazil because of actions by the Bolsonaro government seen as a threat to the environment, Currey says that the Ford Foundation kept its partnerships active in the country.

“We will continue to work with indigenous peoples, quilombolas and traditional communities to guarantee and defend their rights, because that is what social justice requires and because they are our greatest hope in protecting tropical forests,” he said.

According to a report by Cimi (Indigenous Missionary Council), the year 2020 was tragic for Brazilian indigenous peoples, whose situation was aggravated by the pandemic, increase in illegal mining and by actions and omissions of the federal government.

They also face threats of legal changes, such as bill 191, introduced last year, which regulates mining and the exploitation of hydrological and oil resources on indigenous lands.

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