This is a critical year for the natural environment. Negotiations by world leaders in Montreal in December will determine the fate of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, a far-reaching agreement that will set the global environmental agenda for the next decade. The future of perhaps a million plant and animal species is at stake, as are the lives and livelihoods of billions of human beings.
Biodiversity is not just about counting trees, birds, fish or insects. These are certainly important, but so is the larger balance of ecosystems on which they, us and many other species depend. Moreover, “we” must include indigenous peoples, who have a particularly important role to play in environmental talks.
I am one of them. My people, the Mbororo of Chad, are like many other groups who have ancient ties to ancestral lands around the world. We are trusted custodians of much of the world’s precious but diminishing natural heritage. Deforestation on our lands is much lower than elsewhere. The vegetation is thicker, the fauna is more abundant, the food chains are stronger. Where we live, the vitality of nature has not yet died out. As many as a third of the world’s rainforests, peatlands and mangroves – carbon-dense ecosystems that account for 80% of global biodiversity – are on indigenous lands.
It is not a coincidence. For indigenous peoples, land is everything. It is the source of our food, shelter and medicine, and the source of our culture and history. Over countless generations, we have learned to live well on our land. We know how to protect it, how to restore it, and how to serve as its engineer and nurturer, not its destroyer.
Science has long confirmed the unique contributions of Indigenous peoples to the well-being of the Earth. In 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasized that indigenous knowledge is essential to managing global warming and its effects. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services came to the same conclusion with respect to biodiversity conservation. In a follow-up report this year, IPBES highlighted the importance of indigenous peoples’ contributions to global conservation.
The growing global recognition of indigenous knowledge was also reflected at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow last year, when several countries and private donors pledged $1.7 billion to support conservation and climate advocacy efforts of indigenous peoples and local communities. It was an unprecedented commitment to a remote but increasingly supportive population.
But while we welcome the growing recognition of indigenous knowledge and practices by world leaders, fulfilling our stewardship role requires more than approval. To continue to serve as the most effective stewards of the natural world, we need the right to own – and therefore to remain on and continue to manage – our ancestral lands.
As indigenous peoples are relentlessly displaced – often violently – from a territory we have always called home, reforming land tenure and securing land rights has become absolutely crucial. Otherwise, outward colonization, agricultural expansion, industrial extraction, desertification and disease will continue to sever our historic ties to the lands on which we live.
Governments must commit to managing land more sustainably.
The 30×30 plan to protect 30% of the world’s lands and seas by the end of this decade is a good idea, provided it is pursued in close partnership with indigenous peoples and local communities. This means ensuring full inclusion, recognition of our land rights and our free, prior and informed consent. We need to be fully represented at the table when new agreements are made and when ecosystem protection and restoration projects are being designed.
To carry out this vital mission, we also need access to funding. The Community Land Rights and Conservation Funding Initiative, which focuses directly on the intersection of land rights and community-led conservation, is a good start. CLARIFI fills a critical gap by channeling funds directly to Indigenous and community-based initiatives. It aims to raise $10 billion by 2030 and expand legally recognized indigenous territories by 400 million hectares. This is crucial to curb deforestation, climate change and biodiversity loss. The goal is to increase legal land ownership by these communities to at least 50% of all tropical forests.
If the world commits to investing in indigenous peoples, we can go from there. With enough funding on the ground – not just on paper and in speeches – we can do more than anyone to protect nature and preserve global biodiversity.
Even though the finalization of the Global Biodiversity Framework is crucial to prevent the general collapse of the ecosystem, the process has been met with delays, disagreements and reluctance from the main parties. World leaders must seize the opportunity and reach an agreement that fully recognizes the unique rights and contributions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
By Hindu Ibrahim
President of the Association of Women and Indigenous Peoples of Chad and member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and of the Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Africa.