The UK, Norway, Germany, the US, and the Netherlands, in partnership with 17 funders, pledged to invest US$1.7 billion to help Indigenous and local communities protect the biodiverse tropical forests that are vital to protecting the planet from climate change, biodiversity loss, and pandemic risk, according to an announcement made at a high-level World Leaders Summit at COP26.
Indigenous Peoples and local communities manage half the world's land and care for an astonishing 80% of Earth's biodiversity, primarily under customary tenure arrangements. A recent study showed, however, that Indigenous communities and organizations receive less than 1% of the climate funding meant to reduce deforestation.
Among the philanthropic groups joining the new pledge at a critical moment for addressing the climate crisis are the Ford Foundation, Children's Investment Fund Foundation, the Christensen Fund, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Sobrato Philanthropies, Good Energies Foundation, Oak Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and, as part of the Protecting our Planet Challenge members, Arcadia, Bezos Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Nia Tero, Rainforest Trust, Re:wild, Rob and Melani Walton Foundation and the Wyss Foundation.
For years, only about $270 million of climate finance has been dedicated to forest protection each year, yet the Indigenous Peoples and local communities that protect the world's forests directly receive only $46 million. With today's announcement, the governments and funders hope to take a first step toward correcting an unjust system that has failed to favor communities that have the knowledge and capacity to outperform most other forest managers.
Researchers suggest that forests can contribute as much as 37% toward climate mitigation goals that governments committed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Protecting forests, which harbour precious biodiversity, also helps to prevent encounters with wildlife that can encourage the spillover of potentially dangerous pathogens into human populations.
A growing body of evidence shows that Indigenous Peoples are the most effective guardians of biodiverse tropical forests, which are increasingly under siege; UN experts recently urged climate negotiators at COP26 to respond with urgency to the destruction of precious ecosystems.
And yet the evidence, including a new study released in October, suggests the urgent need to scale up solutions to combat the destruction of tropical forests. In a comprehensive analysis of progress on a global commitment to protect forests, the authors called for recognizing and securing the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and for making the communities "central to setting goals and priorities for forest activities."
In his presentation at the World Leaders Summit today, Tuntiak Katan, a Shuar from Ecuador and an Indigenous leader representing the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, cited data showing that 12.2 million hectares of forest were destroyed in 2020. Katan welcomed the unprecedented commitment by donors to support and partner with Indigenous and local communities on the front lines of the climate crisis and called it a major step forward in advancing the goals of the Paris climate agreement. But he noted the new commitments for protecting tropical forests and their guardians will require significant political will on the part of governments and the support of the global economic and political sectors.