Lands held by Indigenous peoples and other local communities (IPLCs) sequester emissions equivalent to about 30% of the 2030 carbon reduction targets in four countries that are the focus of a new study by the Forest Declaration Platform.
The findings show that, to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, climate decisions must include IPLCs and protect their lands, which are effective carbon sinks thanks to generations of traditional land management practices, write researchers from the World Resources Institute and Climate Focus.
“Research consistently shows that IPLCs are effective forest stewards that manage ecosystems sustainably, act as agents of restoration, and protect against illegal and unsustainable deforestation,” the report states. “Conversely, displacing Indigenous communities from their land interferes with and degrades the biocultural and natural systems on which Indigenous communities and lands thrived, with disastrous effects on the ecosystems left behind.”
IPLC land accounts for half of the world’s total and maintains a significant share of global forest carbon, the report states. There is “abundant evidence” of the effectiveness of IPLCs’ land stewardship, but there is also a large data gap on the role of IPLC lands in reducing carbon emissions. Furthermore, colonialist government policies and ongoing exploitation by mining, logging, and agriculture increasingly threaten forests on IPLC land.
Researchers aimed to fill this data gap by analyzing forest carbon fluxes—the balance of carbon emitted from and absorbed by forests—between 2001 and 2020, in IPLC lands and in other lands in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. The goal was to “help policy-makers understand the role that IPLC lands are already playing in mitigating climate change, and the risks to countries’ mitigation efforts if these lands are not protected.”
Findings showed that IPLC lands sequester emissions equivalent to roughly 30% of the four countries’ 2030 targets, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), under the Paris climate agreement, and failing to protect the land will make it difficult to meet NDC goals. Brazil and Colombia, for example, would need to retire 80% of their passenger vehicle fleets to compensate for the increase in net emissions if IPLC forests were lost.
“In the longer term, losing IPLC forests would make fulfilling net-zero goals by the target year almost impossible,” the researchers wrote.
To maximize IPLC lands’ contributions to NDCs, governments will need policies that “enable and empower” Indigenous peoples and local communities to continue protecting and managing their land. Legally recognizing IPLC lands, conferring broad land rights, bolstering the right to free, prior, and informed consent, practicing respect for IPLC rights, and actively empowering IPLCs with financial and institutional support are all essential elements, the researchers said.
“Taking these steps would not only allow IPLCs to have the platform that they need to continue to contribute to global carbon reduction, but also honour the very existence, autonomy, and culture of IPLCs,” the researchers concluded.