Indigenous peoples play a crucial role in nature conservation

 Indigenous peoples play a crucial role in nature conservation

The relationship between indigenous peoples and so-called Nature-Based Solutions is a topic of debate at the UN Climate Conference in Dubai. Experts discuss the need to integrate the fight against climate change, biodiversity protection, human rights, and ecosystem restoration into a single approach.

By Francesca Roseo and Federica Baldo

Translation by Daniele Savietto

For the first time at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Nature-Based Solutions were included in the decision-making texts. Specifically, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan included the term Nature-Based Solution in the section dedicated to forests, but this is not enough. NBS not only affect forests but all ecosystems, including those in urban areas. Therefore, limiting nature-based solutions to forests alone can be dangerous, risking putting reforestation plans for fighting climate change at the center of the solution and sidelining the need to gradually eliminate fossil fuels and protect all ecosystems.

At the United Nations Climate Conference in Dubai, the event “Advancing in NbS and Ecosystem-Based Adaptation Approaches”, held at the IUCN Pavilion, five experts spoke about the need to integrate the fight against climate change, biodiversity protection, human rights, and ecosystem restoration. We live in a world where nature is under unprecedented pressure: many terrestrial ecosystems around the world are no longer able to adapt to changes due to human activities and are therefore doomed to collapse. It’s clear that governments are not addressing the problem as they should and that some lack the necessary funding to develop not only mitigation projects but also adaptation ones, in order to ensure food security, human health, and biodiversity conservation through science – well-founded and oriented interventions for the protection of all ecosystems.

Actions that do not follow the guidelines proposed by the IUCN document “Global Standard for NbS” can be harmful to biodiversity, but also to people, particularly indigenous peoples. The central point of NBS interventions must be sufficiently documented, considering the complexity of the topic and provide social benefits. Indigenous peoples should play a central role in the COP28 decision-making processes, as they are already responsible for protecting 80% of the planet’s biodiversity.

In this sense, indigenous populations and local communities around the planet must be recognized as major protagonists in adapting to climate change and conserving natural ecosystems. As active inhabitants of their lands, they have a deep knowledge and understanding of the ecosystems they live in and have centuries of sustainable land use practices passed down from generation to generation. They base their entire existence on a cyclical conception of life and the symbiosis between the human species and nature, mastering traditional techniques such as the use of plants for therapeutic purposes and notions of when and how to harvest and sow, as well as livestock breeding.

Contrary to what one might think, these communities’ awareness of their environment is sophisticated and owes nothing to the most prestigious modern scientific knowledge. The knowledge of the land for indigenous peoples around the world is inseparable from their culture and the spirituality of these communities. Conservation is not just an ecological act, but also, and above all, a cultural and spiritual one.

The resilience and adaptive capacity that characterize indigenous peoples derive mainly from three factors: centuries of experience and transmitted knowledge, careful observation, and collective assistance. The work carried out by these minority groups is based on mutual learning of best practices, especially among the women of the communities, and the feeling of brotherhood and mutual support is strongly felt and internalized.

By combining traditional indigenous practices and modern conservation practices, we can achieve a more holistic, complete, and effective approach that will benefit not only the environment but also ourselves as a human species. To ensure that the wealth of knowledge of indigenous communities can truly flow into the most accredited scientific processes, it is essential that they be equipped with tools to reach decision-making circuits and that this type of knowledge is trusted and given credibility, once and for all leaving behind the culture of marginalization.

The robust and indissoluble bond between communities and territories is based on a relationship of mutual care. This bond is guaranteed and protected as long as they are granted land rights (the so-called land tenure rights). In a context where indigenous populations continue to be the only ones truly capable of conserving biodiversity, questioning their right would mean condemning the planet to the degradation of its ecosystems. Because it’s clear that no part of global emissions can be attributed to indigenous activities, and this necessarily means that they are the best guardians, with the best model to follow.

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