Indigenous groups from 11 countries
met in Manaus, Brazil, last week to develop a plan by which developing countries would be compensated for preserving designated forested areas. The plan, officially known as REDD
(Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), could be an important step in distributing both the costs and benefits of tropical forest preservation. It could be a significant boon to indigenous peoples, especially in the Amazon, where native groups have permanent rights to 21 percent of the territory—some 49 million acres. An international carbon-trading plan has been on the table since last year’s climate conference in Bali
, and this recent meeting demonstrates indigenous peoples’ commitment to keeping their collective knowledge, voice, and needs on the table.
The vast experience of indigenous people in adapting to changing climates “will not be sufficient—they also need better access to other information and tools,” says Gonzalo Oviedo, a contributing author for the IUCN report Indigenous and Traditional Peoples and Climate. Indigenous groups are often most vulnerable to climate change’s impacts, but their expertise in adapting to climate change has long been overlooked by policymakers. These oversights could prove disastrous, the report warns, as the adverse effects of climate change may overwhelm their capacity to adapt, especially given the marginalization of many indigenous communities. The report describes an “urgent need to help indigenous peoples living in tropical forests to prepare for different climate change scenarios.”
Indigenous groups have already seen the effects of climate change. The frequency of forest fires has increased in Borneo, the Congo basin, and vast tracts of the Southern Amazon basin, while indigenous communities in the Arctic have been affected by changes in the “migration patterns, health, and range of animals” on which they depend for their livelihoods. The IUCN report cautions that while plans like REDD are steps in the right direction, they may benefit corporations and large landowners as much as or more than indigenous peoples.
To address the heavy burdens that climate change will place on indigenous communities, the report makes a number of recommendations, including:
• Actively involving indigenous communities in formulating policies to protect their rights and entitlements;
• Supporting further research of the impacts of climate change on vulnerable cultures;
• Promoting collaboration between indigenous peoples and scientists; and
• Raising awareness of traditional adaptation and mitigation strategies.