Governments and private funders have announced a historic pledge in support of Indigenous Peoples and local communities as the guardians of precious tropical rainforests.

News from Glasgow – following an announcement made at the World Leaders Summit at COP26 (the United Nation’s 2021 climate change conference), the UK, Norway, Germany, the US, and the Netherlands, in partnership with 17 funders, have pledged to invest US$1.7 billion to help Indigenous and local communities protect biodiverse tropical forests, which are vital to protecting the planet from climate change, biodiversity loss, and pandemic risk.

Unfortunately, Australia was not represented in the mix, which will add to the growing criticism of our country’s representation at the conference, which has included hosting oil and gas giant, Santos, at our pavilion in the exhibition centre and bowing out of an international pledge to reduce methane emissions.

And it’s not like we’re spared a role in fighting deforestation – according to the Wilderness Society, an MCG-sized area of forests and bushlands is destroyed in Australia every two minutes and we have lost 27% of our rainforest, 19% of open forest, 11% of woodland forest and 28% of mallee forest since 1750. In a nutshell, we’ve cleared almost half of our forest cover in the past 200 years. Vast amounts of logging continue in Australia despite the devastation of the 2019/20 bushfires, when tree cover loss increased by a devastating 42%.

“We hold the best carbon capture technology our planet has to offer – our forests.”

The critical role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities

A growing body of evidence shows that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are the most effective guardians of biodiverse tropical forests, which are increasingly under siege. They manage half the world’s land and care for an astonishing 80% of the earth’s biodiversity. A recent study showed, however, that Indigenous communities and organisations receive less than 1% of the climate funding meant to reduce deforestation, which stands at just $270 million per year on average, a small proportion of the estimated US$80 billion given as climate finance by developed nations to less wealthy nations in 2019 (which still falls short of the US$100 billion promised by 2020 at the 2009 United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen).

With the US$1.7 billion announcement, the participating governments and funders hope to take a step toward correcting an unjust system that has failed to favour communities who have the knowledge and capacity to outperform most other forest managers.

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 spill-over of potentially dangerous pathogens into human populations.

“By investing in tropical forest communities and expanding their communal rights, we also tackle poverty, pollution, and pandemics,” said Lord Goldsmith, Minister of State for Pacific and the Environment in the UK.

On this note, the donors involved committed to delivering funding directly to communities and promised them a role in ‘decision-making and design’ of climate programs and finance instruments.

The philanthropists leading the way

Among the philanthropic groups joining the new pledge are the Ford Foundation, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Christensen Fund, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Sobrato Philanthropies, Good Energies Foundation, Oak Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Arcadia, Bezos Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Nia Tero, Rainforest Trust, Re:wild, Rob and Melani Walton Foundation and Wyss Foundation.

“We are demonstrating our commitment today by announcing an initial, collective pledge of US$1.7 billion of financing, from 2021 to 2025, 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,” says a statement released today by the donors. “We call on other donors to significantly increase their support to this important agenda.”

“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,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “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.”

In his presentation at the World Leaders Summit, Tuntiak Katan, a Shuar from Ecuador and an Indigenous leader representing the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, 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.”

And we hope that Australia will be part of the solution too – it’s time to see the Australia in the climate change headlines, for the right reasons.

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