A new “gold standard,” which emphasizes rights for Indigenous peoples and local communities – a crucial step towards confronting the global climate crisis – was formally presented on Sunday to kick-start consultations with Indigenous peoples’ organizations and non-governmental organizations from 83 countries around the globe gathered at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) conference.
The new standard, developed by the Indigenous People’s Major Group for Sustainable Development (IPMG), working with the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), will support the vital work Indigenous peoples and communities are already doing to adapt to global warming, threats to the world’s biodiversity and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Evidence shows that when the authority of local communities over their forests and lands, as well as their rights, are legally recognized, deforestation rates are often reduced.
“By implementing a gold standard, we can both uphold and protect human rights and develop conservation, restoration and sustainable development initiatives that embrace the key role Indigenous peoples and local communities are already playing to protect our planet,” said Joan Carling, co-convener of IPMG, which recognizes that Indigenous and local communities are bearers of rights and solutions to common challenges.
“This will enable the partnership that we need to pave the way for a more sustainable, equitable and just future,” said Carling, a member of the Kankanaey tribe in the Philippines. It’s expected the consultations on this ‘gold standard’ will continue until year-end.
“It’s clear that when rights of local communities and indigenous peoples are recognized, there are significant benefits for the fight against climate change and environmental degradation,” said Robert Nasi, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), which jointly coordinates GLF with UN Environment and the World Bank.
“Whoever controls the rights over these landscapes has a very important part to play in fighting climate change,” he said. Indigenous peoples make up less than six percent of the world’s population but account for 15 percent of the poorest people, according to the United Nations. They live in some 90 countries, represent 5,000 different cultures and speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 6,700 languages.
Alain Frechette, of Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), said that rights has been proven to be an essential condition for sustainable development projects to succeed. “Rights – the ability of people to make basic decisions about their needs, the use of their lands, their ambitions and their hopes or aspirations – invariably determined social-ecological outcomes, including economic security, wellbeing and livelihoods.”
The basic principles of a gold standard already exist, such as free, prior and informed consent, according to Frechette. What has been lacking is the application of principles which would be boosted by high-level statements that could “spur a race to the top.”
The lands of the world’s 350 million Indigenous peoples and local communities already act as powerful shields against climate change, holding 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity and sequestering nearly 300 billion metric tons of carbon. Over 80 percent of biological diversity is found on local peoples’ lands.
The proposed gold standard aims to:
- Strengthen respect, recognition and protection of the rights Indigenous peoples and local communities, including women;
- End the persecution of land and environment defenders;
- Increase recognition of, and sustain support to, Indigenous peoples and local communities – including women – as stewards and bearers of solutions to landscape restoration, conservation, and sustainable use;
- Build partnerships to enhance engagement and support for rights-based approaches to sustainable landscapes across scales and sectors; and,
- Dramatically scale up efforts to legally recognize and secure collective land and resource rights across landscapes.
HIGHLIGHTS of the GLF Summit
The Bonn GLF summit, held alongside the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Bonn conference (SB50), began with a poem by Inuk activist Aka Niviâna, which set the tone for conversations focused on the rights of the world’s most important environmental stewards, who are also among the most threatened, criminalized, and ignored in terms of rights: Indigenous peoples, local communities, women and youth.
Four international organizations joined GLF as charter members, further building momentum towards a more sustainable future. Conservation International, World Resources Institute, Climate Focus and the European Forest Institute are all working to build sustainable landscapes and will share their expertise, research and work on GLF’s growing platform and network of environment and development organizations.
Indigenous people were bearing witness to the violence they and rights activists have faced.
- “We’re defending the world, for every single one of us,” said Geovaldis González Iménez, an Indigenous peasant leader in the Colombian Caribbean. Already this year, 135 murders have been reported in his region, including a local leader killed in front of a 9-year-old boy the day before the GLF summit began.
- “Our identity is being threatened, and we need to avoid it being completely eradicated,” said Diel Mochire Mwenge, who leads the Initiative Programme for the Development of the Pygme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He witnessed more than a million people evicted from their traditional land to make way for a national park and given no benefits from the ecotourism industries brought in to replace them.
- “Indigenous peoples are right on the frontline of the very real and dangerous fight for the world’s forests,” Alec Baldwin, actor and Indigenous rights activist, told the GLF in a video address.
Individuals and activists alike must focus on optimistic action and “change the narrative from fear and doom to hope and action,” said Hilary Tam, strategy director for London-based global change agency Futerra. “Optimism in this case is essential, because hope beats fear every time.”
Funding agencies of landscape action need to see standards defined and certification metrics developed and applied, said Eva Mayerhofer, lead environment specialist at the European Investment Bank. At present, the capacity isn’t yet there to understand what benefits are offered to different sectors by the landscape approach. Experts also called for more inclusive and sustainable investment opportunities, involving stakeholders along the entire value chain.
GLF announced its Landscape Heroes competition winner is Peru’s Javier Ruiz Gutiérrez, who risked his life and was imprisoned for organizing to protect the Chaparri ecological reserve.
For more on GLF Bonn 2019, see:
- GLF Bonn 2019 photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/globallandscapesforum/
- Official event website: https://events.globallandscapesforum.org/bonn-2019/