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Sink or swim: How Indigenous and community lands can make or break nationally determined contributions

Published: March 31, 2022

The critical importance of Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) has long been left out of the climate change solutions conversation.

If the international community is to have any chance of meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C, that needs to change. In forested areas, protecting IPLCs and their land can go a long way in reducing carbon emissions and protecting carbon sinks.

This report, authored by researchers from World Resources Institute and Climate Focus, explores the role that IPLCs play in combating climate change. The report focuses on IPLCs in four countries – Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico – and analyzes the role that IPLCs play in reducing carbon emissions in each of those countries’ forested areas.

IPLCs are incredible stewards and protectors of their lands and play a significant role in reducing carbon emissions.

Lands that are home to IPLCs are more effective carbon sinks (meaning that they store more carbon than they emit) than non-IPLC lands because of the traditional and sustainable land management practices used by IPLCs and the fact that they are largely untouched forested lands. To help underscore the relationship and importance of IPLCs and GHG emissions reductions, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru account for 5.1% of global GHG emissions yet store 28% of global carbon across their IPLC lands. Additionally, 80% of the IPLC lands in these countries (IPLC lands in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and just IP lands in Peru) serve as net sinks and sequester approximately 30 MgCO2e per hectare. IPLC lands also sequester over 2 times as much carbon as non-IPLC lands.

Currently, NDCs fall short in recognizing IPLCs and their lands.

While each country briefly references IPLCs from the standpoint of the NDC planning processes, none of the countries analyzed in the report included IPLC related targets in their updated NDCs. Only Colombia and Peru outlined specific actions to support and integrate IPLCs into their formal climate solutions. Additionally, only Mexico and Colombia have included forestry targets in their updated NDC.

To enhance NDCs, there are a few steps that governments can take. Governments should strengthen partnership with IPLCs, integrating IPLC knowledge and technologies into their NDCs. Countries should also work with IPLCs to define ways that they can contribute to emissions reductions and ambition enhancement, developing initiatives that maximize and complement IPLCs’ ability to sustainably manage land and forests. Furthermore, countries should include IPLC’s contribution to forest sector targets in national inventories so that their lands can be accounted for as carbon sources or sinks. This data would be beneficial for the sake of the monitoring of national emissions inventories.

Beyond NDCs, governments should legally recognize IPLC lands, provide rights to land ownership for IPLCs, recognize IPLCs’ right to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), respect IPLC rights in practice, and actively empower IPLCs. 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 honor the very existence, autonomy, and culture of IPLCs. 

Key findings:

  • NDCs and other related policy documents fall short in establishing actions, targets, and policies relating to IPLCs and their lands. The countries assessed include limited references to IPLC lands in the context of fairness, rights and IPLCs involvement in the policy planning processes but fail to acknowledge the crucial role of their lands in meeting national targets.
  • On a per hectare basis, at least 80% of forested IPLC lands in the four countries are net sinks of CO2e, sequestering annually at least 30 Mg CO2e/ha on average. On average, these lands sequester more than twice as much CO2e/ha as non-IPLC lands.
  • IPLCs lands account for 28 % of above ground carbon stored in forests globally. Annually, they sequester an amount of CO2e equivalent to, on average, 30% of the four countries’ unconditional 2030 targets. Without these contributions, other key economic sectors would have to pick up the slack to achieve the emission reduction targets promised. For instance, Brazil and Colombia would have to retire 80% of their vehicle fleet and Mexico would need to retire 35% of its vehicle fleet to account for the loss of carbon sequestered by IPLC lands, whereas Peru would have to retire their entire vehicle fleet to make up for just half of the loss of IPLC contributions
  • Existing governance frameworks in the four countries fall far short of what is needed to realize the mitigation potential offered by IPLC lands. In all four countries, these lands are under constant threat from ranching, mining, and logging, much of which is illegal and linked to corruption and collusion between governments and illegal actors. Governments need to accelerate titling efforts and ensure IPLCs have full rights to the land they own, recognize and respect their right to free, prior, and informed consent, take measures to ensure rights are respected in practice, and actively empower IPLCs to manage their forest through adequate finance and support.
  • To reconfirm commitment to the Paris Agreement, all four countries in the research have signed on to the 2021 Glasgow Declaration on Forests and Land Use aimed at strengthening efforts in the sector to be 1.5C compatible. Hence, meeting or enhancing NDCs’ targets in this key sector will require accounting for the carbon sinks of IPLCs lands


Further Resources

Sink or swim: How Indigenous and community lands can make or break nationally determined contributions
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