27 May 2021, Rome – Indigenous peoples and afro-descendants’ knowledge, innovations and resilience capacities are essential for the transformation to a more sustainable and climate-friendly world and should be included in the policy-making processes, agreed the High-Level Seminar convened today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the governments of Costa Rica, Spain and the Vatican.
Indigenous peoples are major contributors to positive change, yet these valuable contributions are seldom reflected in mitigation strategies and adaptation policies to address climate change, said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu in his opening remarks.
“We should not leave those who know so much about biodiversity, food diversity and cultural diversity behind,” he added.
This High-Level Expert Seminar provided a dialogue space where representatives of Governments, Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendants, Migrants organizations, UN agencies and international organizations came together to identify solutions to address the effects of climate change on specific population groups.
“The way we treat the environment reflects the way we treat ourselves,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, who grew up in rural Ghana. He called for a new “culture of care” permeating all of society and implying changes in patterns of growth, production and consumption. “It is time to embrace new opportunities.”
Today’s initiative raises awareness of what’s needed to ensure the well-being of the Indigenous peoples and afro-descendants’ groups and to promote the protection of their rights while recognizing their contributions to preserve biodiversity – a key response to the challenges of climate change.
A striking example of that, reported in a new and important FAO study, is that community forests in Latin America where Indigenous Peoples have secure collective land tenure are subject to deforestation rates four times slower than those of neighboring state-protected areas.
The seminar explored how the impacts of climate change are expanding situations of vulnerability for these groups. It was held to echo and intensify reflections in Laudato Si’, the encyclical Pope Francis issued six years ago, which urged all of humanity to heed the way that indigenous peoples and other local peoples are for “our common home.”
Opening remarks at the seminar were also given by Epsy Campbell Barr, First Vice-President of Costa Rica and the first woman of African descent to hold that title, and Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, Deputy Prime Minister of Spain.
Anne Nuorgam, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), gave a keynote speech. “Indigenous peoples are not vulnerable – we are being placed into situations of vulnerability,” she said. “We are agents of change.”
Some key facts
Indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants occupy a vast extension of territories characterized by abundant natural wealth. There are more than 476 million indigenous peoples living in more than 90 countries and speaking more than 4 000 of the world’s remaining 6 700 languages.
Their territories encompass 25 percent of the globe’s surface but – buoyed by their cosmogonies, beliefs, governance, territorial management and the circularity, solidarity and reciprocity of their socio-economic systems, their unique knowledge and food systems – account for 80 percent of the planet’s remaining biodiversity.
The impacts of climate change are eroding their resilience and forcing them to migrate and relocate both domestically and internationally. More than 50 percent of the indigenous peoples in Latin America live now in urban areas.
Learning by listening
Myrna Cunningham, President of the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC), emphasized the importance of the full participation of all – old and young, women and men – in discussions of key issues, listing five in particular: land tenure, territorial governance, ecosystem service payments; community forestry; and traditional knowledge and food systems.
Richard Moreno Rodríguez, Coordinator for the Afro-Colombian National Peace Council, highlighted the remarkable mutual intensity of the relationship between a people and their territory for ethnic communities in his country. “We feel, suffer and live it,” he said.
Alexis Neuberg, President of the Africa-Europe Diaspora Development Platform (ADEPT), highlighted the “marginalization of people who are in fact an asset” that afflicts many migrants, including those compelled to leave their home countries due to climate change or conflicts.
Other participants in today’s seminar included Beatriz Argimón, Vice President of Uruguay; Pearnel Patroe Charles Jr., Jamaica’s Minister of Housing ,Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change; Kluane Adamek, Yukon Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations, Canada; Bruno Oberle, Director General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); Lisa Famolare, Vice President Nature for Climate for the Americas of Conservation International.
“One issue that was made clear by Indigenous and Afro-descendant speakers is that their communities are “among the first to face the consequences of climate change due to their direct dependence on and close relationship with the land and natural resources,” said Torero. “It is essential to build beneficial partnerships with them, including recognizing their collective tenure rights, to build collective strategies to mitigate climate change and contribute to biodiversity.”
The report by FAO and FILAC, Forest Governance by Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, offers rich data indicating the high potential of such an approach. Indigenous Peoples’ territories cover 28 percent of the Amazon Basin but generated only 2.6 percent of the region’s gross carbon emissions. Securing indigenous lands can be up to 42 times cheaper to reduce carbon dioxide emissions than doing so through fossil carbon capture and storage for coal and gas-fired power plants. More facts and figures are summarized here.
“It is pivotal to combine indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge, innovation and technology and establish a dialogue of knowledge that retrofits both and benefits humankind,” Torero said. New technologies and platforms should be used to spread their traditional knowledge, which would also recognize the contribution made by the youth of those communities, he added.
What FAO is doing
FAO launched a Global-Hub on Indigenous Food Systems that within the framework of the UN Food System Summit drafted the White/Wiphala Paper on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems, which will be one of the papers informing the Summit.
In 2019, FAO also established the informal Rome Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples, chaired by Canada.
Director-General Qu also pointed to FAO’s ambitious Globally Important Agriculture Heritage Systems Program (GIAHS). “These ancestral systems constitute the foundation for contemporary and future agricultural innovations and technologies,” he said.
Learn more about FAO’s work in the area here.