At Climate Week, guaranteeing Indigenous land rights and funding is crucial (commentary)

  • Indigenous territorial rights are likely to again be affirmed as vital to facing the climate crisis during Climate Week events in New York City from September 17-24.
  • Such statements are welcome but rarely do they come with guarantees of territorial rights or climate finance for Indigenous communities to steward and protect those lands, however.
  • “Discourses about facing the climate crisis are worth next to nothing if they are not accompanied by territorial guarantees and resources for those who keep the biomes standing,” a new op-ed argues.
  • This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Between September 17 and 24, yet another Climate Week will be held in New York City. Once again, Indigenous territorial rights will be affirmed as vital to facing the climate crisis. Once again, however, we will ask the same question: where are the resources for the preservation of Indigenous lands?

The importance of Indigenous lands and that of other local communities as carbon sinks has become commonplace in climate negotiations. This repeated statement, however, does not mean guaranteeing the territorial rights of these communities or the effective investment of climate finance in initiatives that secure stewardship of their territories.

In the case of Brazil, for instance, Indigenous peoples already have a tool to guarantee the preservation of their territories, systematized at least since 2007. These are the Territorial and Environmental Management Plans (PGTA), drawn up collectively by each community, in participatory processes. A forthcoming study by the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies (INESC) shows that there are currently almost 90 million hectares of Indigenous lands with such PGTAs in the country. Implementing them, therefore, would imply preserving and restoring an area equivalent to almost twice the territory of France.

Javari Indigenous territory in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Image courtesy of Bruno Kelly/Amazonia Real.
Javari Indigenous territory in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Image courtesy of Bruno Kelly/Amazonia Real.

Still, according to the same study, there is a lack of resources to get the PGTAs off the ground. Although widespread in the country, both international and public Brazilian investments have been scarce, considering the amount of money that circulates in the climate financing chain. This scarcity becomes even more serious in regard to biomes that are less recognized in the global arena, such as the Caatinga or the Cerrado. Prioritizing one biome over another, it must be noted, makes no sense, neither for Indigenous peoples nor for the scientific community. Preservation occurs in an integrated manner.

Brazil, unfortunately, is not an isolated case in terms of the stark discrepancy between the acknowledged importance of Indigenous peoples in environmental preservation and their access to financing. Between 2011 and 2020, only the equivalent of 1% of Official Development Assistance for mitigation and adaptation to changes was spent on guaranteeing rights and territorial and environmental stewardship of Indigenous peoples. Furthermore, only 17% of these resources reached Indigenous-led organizations or projects that directly mention such organizations.

This impasse is nothing new, having been systematically denounced by Indigenous peoples around the world in such spaces as the UNFCC’s Platform for Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples. Not surprisingly, at COP-26 held in Glasgow in 2021, a group of donors started the Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Forest Tenure Pledge (IPLC Pledge), vowing to invest $1.7 billion in advancing the protection of territorial rights of Indigenous peoples in tropical and subtropical forests between 2021 and 2025.

Although crucial, even initiatives like this seem to follow the same tortuous paths. According to the accountability report, in 2021, 19% of IPLC Pledge resources were invested and, among them, only 7% were allocated to Indigenous organizations, while 51% went to international non-governmental organizations.

While financiers claim it is difficult to make resources reach Indigenous peoples due to technical issues, Indigenous peoples continue to build their own tools. In addition to instruments such as the PGTA, Indigenous funds are multiplying, formulated with the aim of simultaneously meeting the criteria required by financiers and the demands of communities in the territories. Such instruments have gained strength and shape around the world, as is the case of the platform created by the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities (GATC). (The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), of which one of this commentary’s co-authors is executive secretary, is a GATC member). APIB is also working to build its own fund, to add to other initiatives already underway in the country.

See related: Where Indigenous land rights prevail in Brazil, so does nature

The Pataxó territory overlaps with Monte Pascoal National Park in the Brazilian state of Bahia. Image courtesy of André Olmos.
The Pataxó territory overlaps with Monte Pascoal National Park in the Brazilian state of Bahia. Image courtesy of André Olmos.

The creation of Indigenous funds confronts the difficulties claimed by financiers, but also sheds light on their underlying causes. The problem, as usual, is not technical, but political. The same development model that has driven us toward the climate catastrophe we are currently facing, and that for centuries has been violating the territorial rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities, now requires these communities to compensate for those harmful effects, without providing resources for that, however (or worse, imposing actions on these communities that destroy their territorial relations for the sake of market solutions). The old colonialism is now also climate colonialism.

In Brazil, it is indeed symptomatic that the issue of financing is joined by other colonial ventures, such as the attempt to impose the “Marco Temporal” (or “time frame” argument) for demarcating Indigenous lands, which returns to the Federal Supreme Court for discussion on September 20.

We return to the same point: discourses about facing the climate crisis are worth next to nothing if they are not accompanied by territorial guarantees and resources for those who keep the biomes standing.

Dinamam Afer Jurum Tuxá is a Ph.D. candidate in law at the University of Brasilia and executive secretary of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB). Leila Saraiva is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology and political advisor at the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies (INESC).

See related:

Will Brazil’s Supreme Court rule against Indigenous land rights? (commentary)

Adaptation To Climate Change, Carbon Finance, Climate, Climate Change, climate finance, Commentary, Conservation, Finance, Global Warming Mitigation, Green, Indigenous Communities, Indigenous Rights, Land Rights

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