April 14 2019 - Cornered by Protected Areas

Indigenous Peoples and local communities have been conserving their lands and forests for centuries. But the rise of “fortress conservation” is forcing them from their homes, hurting people and forests alike.

Tropical forest loss is at an all-time high, fomenting the global climate crisis. The result is rising seas, threats to global food security, and conflict across the globe. Along with this violence against the earth, there is growing violence against the people who defend it. Last year, Global Witness tallied 197 murders of land rights and environmental defenders. Year after year, around 40 percent of these deaths are Indigenous Peoples.

Even initiatives put in place to protect forests can end up hurting forest guardians. This new research finds that Indigenous Peoples face significant human rights abuses in the world’s protected areas, part of the disturbing uptick of criminalization and even extrajudicial killings that I have observed in my role as Special Rapporteur.

When bulldozers or park rangers force Indigenous Peoples from their homes, it is not only a human rights crisis—it is also a detriment to all humanity. Indigenous Peoples have long stewarded and protected the world’s forests, a crucial bulwark against climate change.

The rate of tree cover loss is less than half in community and indigenous lands compared to elsewhere. Where community rights to own their lands are legally recognized, the difference is even greater. Worldwide, community lands hold at least a quarter of above ground tropical forest carbon—equal to four times global greenhouse gas emissions for 2014—and likely much more.

This research also shows that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are investing substantially in conserving their forests—up to $US1.71 billion in the developing world. They are achieving at least equal conservation results with a fraction of the budget of protected areas, making investment in Indigenous Peoples themselves the most efficient means of protecting forests.

Yet while Indigenous Peoples and local communities customarily own more than 50 percent of the world’s land, they only have secure legal rights to 10 percent.

World leaders have a powerful solution on the table to save forests and protect the planet: recognize and support the world’s Indigenous Peoples.We have stood as a proven solution to climate change for generations. Recognize our rights, and we can continue to do so for generations to come.

By Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples