Indigenous peoples and local communities are at the heart of the fight against climate change and environmental destruction. When a new mine breaks ground, when land is grabbed, or when industrial loggers raze forests, they are the ones who suffer first, and worst. We have witnessed existential struggles against shortsighted resource exploitation across the planet – and how powerfully and successfully we can prevail against destructive forces when we stand together.
Supporting these peoples to secure land rights is not only important for social justice but also smart policy for environmental protection – and a crucial front in the struggle to stop climate change.
This is why today more than 300 organizations and communities in the world are launching the LandRightsNow Campaign to double the amount of land under local community and indigenous control by 2020. Take action and sign-up here!
“These forests are our life, but they are being taken from us. Outsiders have a financial view of the land. They see it as money. We see it as life. We have to win … for the future of our people”. Nicholas Frederich is a leader of the Wapichan people in Guyana and he is helping his people to get a formal title for their ancestral lands.
Environmental justice and land rights are one and the same. We must heed the words of Nicholas, and others like him, if we are to turn the Paris Agreement on climate change into reality.
Roughly 2.5 billion women and men worldwide depend on lands that are used in common. They belong to Indigenous Peoples and other communities, whose environmental footprint is far lower than that of other societies. Often, these communities are the best custodians of nature.
As of today, these communities protect more than 50% of the world’s land surface. They manage forests from the Amazon to Indonesia and Central Africa, rangelands from South America to Eastern Africa, and the shores of the Pacific, to name but a few. However, these communities have legally recognized rights for just one-fifth of these lands. The rest is vulnerable to land grabs, exposing the communities themselves to displacement and impoverishment.
The link between indigenous and community lands and environmental protection is clear. The facts speak for themselves:
- Forests managed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities store 37.7 billion tonnes of carbon, seven times the US’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes.
- Indigenous territories alone hold 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity.
- 35 of the most important biodiversity hot-spots and wilderness areas in the world, home to nearly 70 per cent of all plants and over half of all vertebrate animals in the world, are in Indigenous territories.
- Five billion hectares of grazing lands sequester globally between 200-500kg of carbon per hectare per year.
- Over the past 15 years, deforestation rates in indigenous territories have been less than one-tenth of those in the rest of the Brazilian Amazon.
The moment is ripe for securing indigenous and community land rights everywhere
Governments have committed to staying below 1.5 degrees of warming, and it’s up to us all to ensure that guaranteeing land rights becomes a central part of the solution. As this movement grows, investors will come to understand the high risks of investing in exploitative projects that threaten indigenous land rights – in tandem with the growing recognition in investor circles that gambling on coal and other dirty energy sources is a losing bet.
Aurelio Chino is the leader of a Quechi peoples’ organization in Peru. Aurelio is fighting for justice, after 40 years of oil extraction on their lands, which released heavy metals into the water and soil. “We have the right to live in a healthy environment,” states Aurelio. “Our territory is our market; the forest is our pharmacy. It is our life … but, it is very contaminated.” Greenpeace has recently highlighted how the burning of forests in the Amazon is destroying the resources people need to feed their families, and leaving communities hungry.
The solution to these and similar struggles is respecting Indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ right to give or withdraw their consent over any operation on their lands. Standing with them is also an excellent strategy for strengthening environmental protection.
Land Rights Now: A Global Call to Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights
It’s time to recognize the incredible contributions and sacrifices these peoples have made to protecting all of our life support systems, and time to do right by communities standing up for justice and for their livelihoods. To close the gap between the 10% of lands legally titled to Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and the 50% which is rightfully theirs, Oxfam, Greenpeace and more than 300 organizations and communities in the world are today launching the Land Rights Now Campaign.
To join us in our demand for social justice, human rights and a healthier planet, add your voice and sign-up on http://ift.tt/20IpcYn.
Luca Miggiano is a land rights policy advisor with Oxfam.
Stephanie Brancaforte is the global lead of the climate and energy campaign with Greenpeace International.
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