Let the people protect the forests

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Do you want to restore and protect the world's forests? Then protect the rights of the people who live in them, says Danny Chivers.


Samela, a 23-year-old activist from the Association of the Satere-Mawe Indigenous Women in Amazonas, Brazil, makes face masks.RAPHAEL ALVES/IMF/CREATIVE COMMONS

What’s the best way to restore the world’s forests – and slow the climate crisis? Lawmakers at climate conferences argue about forestry carbon markets or complex ‘offsetting’ schemes for giant polluters (where they pay, or plant trees in exchange for producing more carbon). But the method that works most often is much simpler: to respect and protect the rights of the people who live there.

Governments and businesses in the countries with most forest have been using the Covid-19 pandemic to do exactly the opposite. In a new report by the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), indigenous and local land rights are disappearing around the world. This will have serious effects on the climate.

At least 50 per cent of the world’s land is in the traditional territories of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, and other traditional communities. After years fighting for more control, communities now have legal rights to 10 per cent of this land, and part recognition for another 8 per cent.

They might lose a lot of this progress now because of mining. Research by FPP shows that the governments of the world’s five most tropically forested countries (Brazil, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia and Peru) have been taking away the rights of local people ending protection of forest – while the world is worried about Covid. A board member of FPP said it is now ‘business as usual on steroids’.

In Brazil, between March and May 2020, Jair Bolsonaro’s government passed 195 new laws that stop environmental protection and make it easier to grab land illegally in indigenous territories.

In Peru, no-one has punished the big businesses for many new oil spills in indigenous territories. Also, the government says that the hydrocarbon and mining businesses are really important for economic recovery. So they relaxed regulations to help these industries expand.

In Indonesia, a ‘job creation’ law, passed in October 2020 as part of post-Covid economic recovery, says that indigenous territories are ‘abandoned land’. So mining, tree-cutting and agricultural companies can use it.

The legally protected areas of indigenous peoples’ lands include 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, according to the World Bank. The areas where local people have land rights have less deforestation, more biodiversity, and store carbon more successfully. But no one listens to them, or worse, treats them with violence.

In all five countries with most tropical forest, indigenous peoples have been fighting against this. But they have often suffered from government violence, harassment and criminalization.

This year, 2021, there are big UN conferences about climate and biodiversity. We need indigenous peoples to be part of these talks. And defending them and expanding their rights needs to be at the centre.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2021/04/06/temperature-check

(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)