By Mary Hearty

For the first time in history, governments in partnership with 17 private funders during a high-level World Leaders Summit pledged to invest US$1.7 billion to help indigenous and local communities protect the biodiverse tropical forests.

For years, only about $270 million of climate finance has been dedicated to forest protection each year, yet the Indigenous Peoples and local communities that protect the world’s forests directly receive only $46 million.

During the announcement made at the COP 26 climate change event, the donors said that the $1.7 billion of financing, from 2021 to 2025, is to support the advancement of Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ forest tenure rights and greater recognition and rewards for their role as guardians of forests and nature.

” We call on other donors to significantly increase their support to this important agenda,” they said.

Some of the governments who pledged include the UK, Norway, Germany, the US, and the Netherlands.

On the other hand, the philanthropic groups joining the new pledge at this critical moment for addressing the climate crisis are the Ford Foundation, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the Christensen Fund, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Sobrato Philanthropies, Good Energies Foundation, Oak Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Others include Protecting our Planet Challenge members, Arcadia, Bezos Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Nia Tero, Rainforest Trust, Re:wild, Rob and Melani Walton Foundation and the Wyss Foundation.

In a statement signed by philanthropic and government leaders and released the same day, the funders promised “to further recognize and advance the forest and nature stewardship role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, in partnership with governments and other stakeholders, with a particular focus on strengthening land tenure systems and protecting the tenure and resource rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.”

The statement goes on to commit the signatories “to prioritize the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in decision-making and in the design and implementation of relevant programs and finance instruments, recognizing the interests of vulnerable and marginalized groups including women and girls, people with disabilities, and youth.”

Tropical forests have immense importance as they help in protecting the planet from climate change, biodiversity loss, and pandemic risk.

With this announcement, the governments and funders hope to take a first step toward correcting an unjust system that has failed to favor communities that have the knowledge and capacity to outperform most other forest managers.

According to World Bank, Indigenous Peoples are distinct social and cultural groups that share collective ancestral ties to the lands and natural resources where they live, occupy or from which they have been displaced.

They are between 370 million and 500 million worldwide, in over 90 countries and hold vital ancestral knowledge and expertise on how to adapt, mitigate and reduce climate and disaster risk.

In addition, they manage half the world’s land and care for an astonishing 80% of Earth’s biodiversity, primarily under customary tenure arrangements.

A recent study showed, however, that Indigenous communities and organizations receive less than 1% of the climate funding meant to reduce deforestation.

Lord Goldsmith, Minister of State for Pacific and Environment said this pledge signals commitment to protecting the world’s tropical forests and those who live in them.

“The evidence is overwhelming that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are forests’ most effective guardians, often in the face of acute danger, and so they should be at the heart of nature-based solutions to the climate emergency. By investing in tropical forest communities and expanding their communal rights, we will also tackle poverty, pollution, and pandemics.” Goldsmith added.

Researchers suggest that forests can contribute as much as 37% toward climate mitigation goals that governments committed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Protecting forests, which harbour precious biodiversity, also helps to prevent encounters with wildlife that can encourage the spillover of potentially dangerous pathogens into human populations.

A growing body of evidence shows that Indigenous Peoples are the most effective guardians of biodiverse tropical forests, which are increasingly under siege.

The UN experts recently urged climate negotiators at COP26 to respond with urgency to the destruction of precious ecosystems. And yet evidence, including a new study released in October, suggests the urgent need to scale up solutions to combat the destruction of tropical forests.

In a comprehensive analysis of progress on a global commitment to protect forests, the authors called for recognizing and securing the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and for making the communities “central to setting goals and priorities for forest activities.”

“There is no viable solution to the climate crisis without forest and land management by Indigenous Peoples and local communities who have proven that they are the best guardians of the world’s forests,” Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation said.

He added: “This historic $1.7 billion pledge is a challenge to all funders to do far more to support and partner with Indigenous Peoples and local communities who hold a key solution to climate change, and have them lead the way.”

Tuntiak Katan, a Shuar from Ecuador and an Indigenous leader representing the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities in his presentation at the World Leaders Summit cited data showing that 12.2 million hectares of forest were destroyed in 2020.

Katan welcomed the unprecedented commitment by donors to support and partner with Indigenous and local communities on the front lines of the climate crisis and called it a major step forward in advancing the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

But, he noted the new commitments for protecting tropical forests and their guardians will require significant political will on the part of governments and the support of the global economic and political sectors.

“We hold the best carbon capture technology our planet has to offer—our forests,” said Katan, whose alliance brings together elected leaders from the world’s largest tracts of forests in Indonesia, Africa, and Latin America and represents 35 million forest peoples.

“The work to protect the planet’s future will only be successful in partnership with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. We want to work with you to transform this world and to change people’s hearts. We are the solution you are looking for.”