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Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Empowering Indigenous and Local Communities Crucial to Solving Climate Crisis

As COP27 begins, one group has demanded the immediate return of more lands to Indigenous stewardship to preserve the planet’s vital ecosystems.

Between the dismal results of the 26th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference’s (COP26) call for more meaningful commitments to reducing carbon outputs and the complete incineration of all hope for limiting global temperatures to 1.5C, it’s becoming painfully evident that world leaders are either unable or unwilling to do what needs to be done in order to maintain the habitability of the planet. In response to this continued failure, the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities has released a statement ahead of COP27 calling for the immediate return to Indigenous and local community stewardship — including legal protections and adequate funding to preserve the planet’s forests and other vital ecosystems.

Global Alliance represents five major organizations that cover 24 countries with a joint population of 35 million spread across Africa, Asia and Latin America. The political platform’s goal is to create a united front from which to protect the planet’s forests and “defend Mother Earth for all humanity’s present and future benefit.” Their statement opened with an acknowledgment that governing bodies within the United Nations have finally begun to recognize the importance of Indigenous people in protecting the natural world, then continued:

“But the planet and its peoples are in crisis, and pretty words are far from enough. We are here to demand specific action to protect our rights as the only path to protect ecosystems that are urgently needed to combat climate change, biodiversity loss and the emergence of future pandemics.”

That crisis is no longer up for debate either — despite what remaining climate deniers may say. In fact, the U.N.’s latest report, Emissions Gap Report 2022: The Closing Window, doesn’t leave any room for doubts as to just how bad it really is. If anything the subtitle says everything world leaders need to know: “Climate crisis calls for rapid transformation of societies.”

The report – which compared the difference between total pledges to cut carbon emissions by 2030 with the amount of reduction needed to keep global temperature increases at 1.5C – concluded in no uncertain terms that humanity will fail to meet the target. Rather, even if all current pledges are kept, global temperatures will still increase by 2.5C — leading to cataclysmic climate repercussions. The only way to prevent this outcome is through an immediate change to the very basis of how business is done, focusing on degrowth in the Global North and worldwide decarbonization.

Furthermore, as Global Alliance’s statement points out — not only are many of the promises hollow, but some, such as global carbon markets, are actively harmful to “.. our peoples and the biodiverse forests they protect across the globe.”

Noting a recent report by the University of Melbourne – which estimates that 1.2 billion hectares of land will be needed to meet the pledges made by member nations – the Alliance continued, “Their dangerous overreliance on land-based methods to capture carbon would gobble up much of our ancestral lands, which we desperately need for food production and nature protection. Simply put, we cannot plant trees to escape climate disaster, there is not enough land. Instead, we need to protect and restore existing forests, and you can only do that with us.”

Yet, Indigenous and local activists face both physical and carceral danger. Land defenders, as they are known, are killed at a rate of one every two days. Most are Indigenous and there are likely many who are not included in the official count. Global Alliance estimates that “While our governments negotiate at the COP in Sharm el Sheik, an estimated 14 Indigenous defenders will be murdered for protecting Mother Earth.”

Although the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has become a big supporter of land tenure for Indigenous and local communities — acknowledging the effect that it has on sustainable practices — little has been done to bring about actual change.

“Many researchers are calling on world leaders to give us more rights and support, but we are not seeing decision makers and politicians galvanize around such promising findings. This is our call to action too,” Global Alliance stated. “The evidence suggests that the future of all humanity is at stake, every day we are closer to the tipping point. We stand on this precipice knowing that at least 30 percent of the global plan for addressing climate change depends on us preventing the destruction of ecosystems, and we need to see this reflected in every national plan.”

Image credit: Global Alliance via Rachel Elkind — Facebook

Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of Baja California Sur, México. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop.

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