Traditional landscapes conserved by Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs) across different ecosystems sustain vital ecosystem services and can deliver large-scale emission reductions. Yet despite being highly vulnerable to climate impacts, IPLCs still receive only a tiny fraction of climate aid. COP27 must provide urgent financial support to IPLC-governed organisations to protect these vital but threatened landscapes.
The Quechua Potato Park biocultural territory, Cusco, Peru (Photo: Adam Kerby)
Climate change epitomises injustice. Thousands of people have died in poor countries and millions are struggling to feed themselves due to the impacts caused by emissions from wealthy countries. In 2022, extreme weather events have killed at least 4,000 people and affected a further 19 million in Africa alone.
As the COP27 UN climate negotiations get under way in Egypt, low-income countries are rightly demanding finance for adaptation and loss and damage. But how much of this finance is likely to reach those actually living on the frontline of the climate crisis – in particular, Indigenous Peoples and local communities?
The growing demand for local climate finance
Demand is growing for more finance to directly support locally led adaptation. In particular, much more finance is now urgently needed to support IPLCs that conserve many of the world’s most vital but threatened ecosystems and landscapes.
There has been progress: at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, donors pledged US$1.7 billion over five years to support the tenure rights and guardianship of IPLCs in tropical forests, recognising their critical role in forest protection, climate change mitigation, biodiversity conservation and inclusive sustainable development.
But prior to COP26, a study found that IPLCs receive less than 1% of climate aid (PDF) – a fraction of the finance they need – and only 17% of this is allocated to projects involving IPLC organisations. Moreover, there is no dedicated fund for IPLCs beyond tropical forests.
Why is finance for IPLCs so urgent?
According to the latest IPCC report, land-based mitigation can deliver large-scale greenhouse gas emission reductions. The protection, improved management, and restoration of forests, wetlands, savannas and grasslands have the largest potential to reduce emissions and/or sequester carbon – and at relatively low cost.
But these precious ecosystems and the communities that have conserved them for millennia are increasingly threatened by resource extraction and unsustainable development.
IPLCs are highly vulnerable to climate change (PDF) as they are directly dependent on ecosystems – a vulnerability exacerbated by inequity and marginalisation, often influenced by historical and ongoing colonialism, according to the IPCC. They often live in risk-prone environments such as drylands, semi-arid and coastal regions. Mountain regions have extensive forests and grasslands but are experiencing above-average rising temperatures and melting glaciers, with disasters such as floods and landslides affecting a growing number of mountain people (PDF), as well as downstream populations.
Why IPLCs are crucial for mitigation and resilience
There is mounting evidence that IPLCs are the best guardians of biodiversity and ecosystems. Indigenous and local knowledge systems strongly support integrated adaptation and mitigation strategies and climate-resilient development (PDF). The rich biocultural heritage of IPLCs – including biodiverse landscapes, ecological knowledge, values and worldviews, adaptive management systems and low-emissions agroecological innovations (PDF) – provides vital solutions to the twin climate and biodiversity crises in tropical forests and beyond:
- Grassland soils store almost 50% more carbon than forests, and soil carbon sequestration in cropland and grassland is one of the most effective measures for carbon dioxide reduction (PDF).
- IPLCs protect evolving and co-evolving landscape-based gene banks of major food crops and livestock breeds adapted to climate extremes. These are important for climate resilience and food security locally and globally.
- Mountain IPLCs help to protect watersheds that provide essential water to 2 billion people and two-thirds of irrigated agriculture (PDF). Traditional mountain grazing systems contribute to soil carbon storage, while enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
Empowering IPLCs to protect their biocultural heritage
No one culture alone can confront the scale of the challenges and uncertainty we are facing: we need all the knowledge we can get. But the accumulated wisdom of IPLCs – developed over millennia – is now rapidly disappearing due to modernisation and the loss of land and resources.
If we are to protect the precious biocultural heritage of IPLCs, we must also change mainstream narratives that pit ‘traditional’ and ‘Indigenous’ against ‘modern’ and recognise that non-western cultures rooted in respect for nature are just as progressive or even more so.
IPLCs are already doing vital work, developing effective and cost-effective solutions to address multiple climate, biodiversity and livelihood challenges. But they need much greater support. Without direct finance, IPLCs will not be able to defend the ecosystems, ways of life and knowledge systems that are so critical for addressing the climate crisis. Finance must go to IPLC organisations and networks that are governed by their IPLC constituencies, rather than being decided on by global experts and intermediary organisations.
The International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples (INMIP), for example, supports the establishment of biocultural heritage territories, which conserve critical ecosystems and agrobiodiversity in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Inspired by the successful Potato Park in Peru, these IPLC-governed landscapes enhance resilience by revitalising interlinked cultural and spiritual values, traditional knowledge and biodiversity, boosting biocultural economies and protecting land rights.
Climate finance for IPLCs: what needs to happen at COP27?
Governments and donors at COP27 must ensure that far more financial resources are allocated to IPLCs across different ecosystems, including vulnerable dryland, semi-arid, coastal, mountain and arctic regions.
They must also recognise the central importance and urgency of protecting the land, resource rights and cultures of all IPLCs as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions to meet mitigation and adaptation goals.
- Download 'Biocultural heritage territories: key to halting biodiversity loss'
- Blog: Here's why Indigenous economics is the key to saving nature, by Krystyna Swiderska (April 2021)
- Blog: Why traditional knowledge and Indigenous Peoples’ rights must be integrated across the new global biodiversity targets, by Krystyna Swiderska (August 2021)