From the Amazon rainforest to Indonesia, indigenous groups see little progress on protecting forests since COP26 climate summit, write Reuters. But Gabon could be an exception.
Indigenous groups say 145 governments backing a goal set at November’s COP26 U.N. climate summit to halt forest losses by 2030 should grant them more money and control over ancestral lands threatened by logging, mining, oil production and farming.
As part of the pledges at the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, endorsed by 145 nations, governments committed $12 billion, and private companies $7 billion, to safeguard forests.
In the plan, five nations and a group of charities also promised $1.7 billion for indigenous peoples by 2025 to support their forest tenure rights.
In recent years, many studies have shown that granting land rights to indigenous peoples is a particularly cost-effective approach to combat climate change and protect biodiversity.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air to grow, making them natural buffers against global warming.
But tropical primary rainforests are being lost at a rate of 10 football pitches a minute, according to Global Forest Watch – a platform that provides data and monitors forests.
In the Amazon basin, a 2021 report by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showed that deforestation rates are up to 50% lower in indigenous peoples’ forest lands than in other areas.
Deforestation in Brazil hit a 15-year high in 2021, despite pledges to curb illegal logging. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has weakened environmental protections, making way for mining and farming.
In Indonesia, the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) says indigenous rights have only been fully recognised on about 75,000 hectares (185,329 acres) of customary forests. AMAN claims a total of 40 million hectares.
However, many countries and companies see forest investments as an effective way to offset industrial carbon emissions.
And trades on voluntary carbon markets – mostly in forestry – topped a record $1 billion for the first time last year, according to Ecosystem Marketplace.
Espen Barth Eide, Norway’s climate and environment minister, said that governments should do far more to tap the knowledge of indigenous peoples to manage nature.
Norway has been the top donor nation for preserving tropical forests in the past decade, spending $300 million in 2020 alone.
Lee White, Gabon’s environment minister, said his country was among the few tropical nations with extremely low deforestation rates, making it a big net absorber of carbon dioxide.
The Central African nation signed a $150-million deal with Norway in 2019 to preserve its forests, with a floor price of $10 a tonne of carbon dioxide, double the then-standard $5.
White said the government would ensure a fair share of all carbon income for Bantu and Pygmy indigenous peoples and other rural communities.
« We are planning to create a mechanism whereby 10% of all carbon payments are guaranteed to go to rural areas, » he said, citing help for projects such as better schools and healthcare.
About 90% of Gabon’s population lives in urban areas.
White said sustainable management of forests – including selective felling of trees for timber used in furniture and construction – was creating jobs.
He said rural communities had a role in on-the-ground checks of forests but that ever more monitoring was done by satellites, requiring technical expertise.
« People make a lot of fuss about how indigenous people should be involved in monitoring, but it’s a complex thing. They are not going to work for NASA, mostly, » he added.
Toerris Jaeger, secretary general of the non-profit Rainforest Foundation Norway, said a major turnaround would be needed in forest policies in most nations to promote land tenure and forest management by indigenous peoples.