New global partnership aims to remove barriers to Indigenous climate finance

  • At COP26, a new international coalition of organizations and investors, the Peoples Forest Partnership, announced plans to mobilize US $20 billion per year by 2030 directly to Indigenous forest conservation projects.
  • The partnership believes this initiative can reduce carbon emissions from deforestation by at least 2 billion tons per year while protecting 500 million hectares of threatened tropical forests and biodiversity.
  • While the partnership aims to set a high standard for equitable, accessible and culturally appropriate mechanisms for IPLCs to engage with climate finance, a consultation period is open for interested stakeholders to offer input on criteria and principles.

Research has shown that Indigenous and local communities manage 20% of tropical and subtropical forest carbon, and over 80% of the world’s biodiversity, while receiving less than 1% of international climate change assistance.

In light of this, a new global coalition, the Peoples Forest Partnership, announced over the weekend at the United Nations climate summit (COP26), aims to mobilize US $20 billion in funding per year by 2030 directly to Indigenous community-driven forest conservation and restoration projects. The financial resources are destined to be channeled to approximately 250,000 forest community members worldwide who manage over 2 million hectares (5 million acres) of tropical forests. These funds aim to be long-term private sector investments and public funding that set a standard for equitable and accessible climate finance to Indigenous and local communities (IPLCs).

“The root of the problem is this: whoever deforests the most earns the most,” said Francisca Arara, President of the Regional Committee for Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Communities. “And whoever preserves [these forests], sometimes don’t earn anything. This situation exposes the problems behind climate funding. It is difficult for Indigenous peoples to access these resources. The world needs to know the work we do in the forests, for the climate, for the planet and for the world.”

The canopy of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The canopy of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Image courtesy of Amazon Watch.

From 2000 to 2012, Indigenous lands in the Brazilian Amazon experienced 0.6% deforestation, compared to 7% outside of them. That latter forest loss, amounting to 22.5 million hectares (55.6 million acres) outside of Indigenous lands, resulted in 8.7 billion metric tons of CO2 emitted.

Forests are estimated to contribute to 37% of climate mitigation goals governments have committed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“We hold the best carbon capture technology our planet has to offer—our forests,” said Tuntiak Katan, a Shuar from Ecuador and an Indigenous leader representing the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities

The partnership, which is still in formation, includes Indigenous organizations, conservation groups, companies and investors. The facilitating members of the coalition are Forests Trends, RECOFTC, Wildlife Works Carbon, Everland and Green Collar. They collectively represent a portfolio of community-based forest conservation projects in more than a dozen countries across Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The coalition estimates this initiative can reduce carbon emissions from deforestation by at least 2 billion tons each year, in addition to protecting some 500 million hectares (12.4 million acres) of threatened tropical forests and their biodiversity. It also aims to contribute to the economic development of over 50 million people living in affected communities.

“The platform will support both performance-based payments (such as for carbon credits) as well as other climate funding mechanisms,” said the press release. “[This includes] a financing facility specifically focused on strengthening territorial governance to be managed by Partnership member Forest Trends.”.

Trying to set a high standard for climate finance

A contentious topic regarding climate finance directed towards Indigenous communities is whether – and how – designated funding will reach people and projects on the ground. Recurrently, most IPLC financial support has been captured by international NGOs, consulting firms and agencies that act as intermediaries. This new coalition aims to “set a high standard for equitable, accessible, and culturally appropriate mechanisms for forest communities to engage with climate finance.”

“Very little climate finance directly benefits forest communities,” said David Ganz of RECOFTC, a facilitating member of the Peoples Forests Partnership. “Systems like REDD+ can be difficult for communities to navigate. Safeguards and requirements for free, prior, and informed consent are inconsistently followed. Benefits-sharing programs are not designed in culturally appropriate ways.”

Beto Borges, Director of Forest Trends’ Communities and Territorial Governance Initiative, and a facilitating member of the Peoples Forests Partnership, also underlined how the climate finance system is still not designed to work with Indigenous and traditional peoples.

Drone footage of environmental damage in Xingu and Kayapo, Brazil.
Drone footage of environmental damage in Xingu and Kayapo, Brazil. Image courtesy of Midia India

While details regarding how the funding will be channeled directly to communities are currently in discussion, a draft set of documents has been developed in consultation with select Indigenous leaders and stakeholders.

Currently, the coalition has secured financing for several projects led by Indigenous and forest community members who manage over 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) of forests globally. These projects are projected to generate US $2 billion in private investment and at least 20 million tons per year of verified emission reductions.

“We want to be part of this, and we are already part of it, because we have participated in its design,” said Mateo Estrada, Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC); lead author of the Peoples Forests Partnership’s consultation document on Working with Indigenous Peoples, Traditional Owners, and Local Communities on Climate & Conservation Finance Projects. “We hope that companies, governments, and international organizations can support this great initiative.”

Next year, the partnership hopes to mobilize funds for forest communities’ capacity-building projects. These aim to prepare communities to participate and benefit fully from carbon financing while ensuring they can pursue additional funding to finance projects such as high-carbon low-deforestation forests.

The partnership is seeking expressions of interest from forest communities, businesses, government, philanthropy and civil society organizations. Interested stakeholders offer their input on “documents of engagement, including membership criteria for high-integrity community-based projects and operating principles.”

The announcement by the Peoples Forest Partnership follows a US $1.7 billion private-public commitment by several governments and organizations last week. These funds plan to support IPLC land tenure rights in recognition of their global contributions to climate change mitigations.

Banner image: Indigenous family in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Image courtesy of Amazon Watch/Caroline Bennett.

Related listening from Mongabay’s podcast: A conversation with Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Zack Romo about Indigenous rights and the future of biodiversity conservation. Listen here:

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