At the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, indigenous leaders from seven countries demanded more say in how tropical forests should be managed to fight climate change. The meeting included calls for free, prior and informed consent to be recognised.
This article from AFP includes an interesting quotation from Tony James, President of the Amerindian Peoples Association in Guyana:
“Conservationists want to prevent us from using our forest lands for economic purposes, and businesses have government concessions to extract ore, water and biofuel from lands that have been ours for generations. We have been hearing more and more about the carbon trade, but indigenous people are not being included in the discussions. We want to know: who will own the carbon, and what will be the impact on us?”
Rainforest dwellers demand more say in climate change efforts
Indigenous leaders in five Amazonian nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia on Wednesday demanded a larger say on how best to manage tropical forests to fight climate change.
More than a billion poor people who depend on forest ecosystems risk economic and cultural devastation if efforts favored by rich nations to reduce greenhouse gases fail to respect their rights and needs, they said at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona.
The clearing of rainforests by developers for mining, slash-and-burn agriculture, cash crops and livestock has all severely reduced the ability of tropical forests to absorb the atmospheric carbon dioxide that drives global warming.
Many governments, scientists and green groups favor an international carbon trading scheme that would compensate developing countries for curbing their exploitation of their forests.
“Conservationists want to prevent us from using our forest lands for economic purposes, and businesses have government concessions to extract ore, water and biofuel from lands that have been ours for generations,” said Tony James of Guyana, President of the Amerindian Peoples Association.
“We have been hearing more and more about the carbon trade, but indigenous people are not being included in the discussions. We want to know: who will own the carbon, and what will be the impact on us?”
Native groups should play a key role in crafting any financing scheme for forests that might be included in a broader UN climate change agreement on how to curb greenhouse gases, James said.
Without their input, he added, this so-called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation mechanism, or REDD, would undermine the land rights of forest communities throughout the tropical world.
During the Congress, members International Union for the Conservation of Nature, composed of more than 200 governments and 800 NGOs, will vote on whether to recommend that forest communities be granted a decisive role in negotiations.
But previous attempts to pass such non-binding declarations have failed, noted Marcus Colchester, Director of the Forest People’s Programme.
“As land pressures mount and new rules are developed for mitigating climate change, recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples to ‘free, prior and informed consent’ is essential,” he said.
“But we see more rhetoric than we see real defense of the territories and rights,” he added, pointing out that these principles are set forth in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Forest leaders at the Congress detailed ways in which their communities were buffeted by both conservation and development forces.
Even as flooding caused by mining are destroying crops and disrupting fishing in Guyana, government agencies continue to expand mining licenses in forest areas, they claimed.
Efforts by conservationists to stake out forest areas for parks and preserves in Colombia and Bolivia have restricted how indigenous people use their own land, they say.
And in Indonesia, the Dayak peoples of West Kalimantan are seeking to curb widespread logging and the expansion of palm oil plantations.
“We are the ones best placed to protect the world’s most vulnerable tropical forests,” said Juan Carlos Juntiach, a Shuar leader from Ecuador and leader of the Amazon Alliance.
“But this will not happen by following the old path of negotiations between governments and conservation agencies.”
The IUCN meeting brings together more than 8,000 ministers, UN officials, NGOs, scientists and business chiefs to brainstorm for 10 days on how to brake species loss and steer the world onto a path of sustainable development. It runs until October 14.