Peruvian indigenous communities have shown themselves to be exceptional environmental and conservation leaders. Their leaders have worked for a decade to ensure a government commitment to conserve 54 million hectares of forest, as a part of the REDD+ program.

REDD+ includes country efforts to: reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation; foster conservation and sustainable management of forests; and enhance forest carbon stocks. This program, first negotiated over a decade ago, encourages richer countries to pay developing countries to limit deforestation and forest degradation.

Across the Amazon, indigenous people protect 200 million hectares, or 490 million acres, of forest. These leaders are bringing to life the commitment to include community management of forests into their government’s Nationally Determined Contribution climate action plans. At the 2018 UN climate conference in Poland (known as COP24), Peruvian indigenous leaders of the Coordinated Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) shared their progress and called for increased support on the Amazon Indigenous REDD+ (RIA) initiative. They also encouraged other Amazonian countries to protect forests within and outside of indigenous territories from deforestation.

RIA is a private-public partnership that is developing protocols using carbon financing to support Life Plans, indigenous development plans. Indigenous people from the Amazon region have used Life Plans for over 20 years to manage their forests sustainably. As such, RIA is closely aligned to indigenous values and offers carbon financing.

Despite this progress, however, REDD+ annual funding of about $1 billion annually, is insufficient to address the challenges that participating countries face, including competing with corporations keen to acquire land for agriculture or other commercial purposes. At COP24, the indigenous leaders called for increased funding of the program.

RIA Provides a Template to Mobilize Indigenous Communities to Help Conserve Forests

Started by a multi-ethnic coalition in 2010, RIA combines carbon accounting and indigenous agroforestry techniques with a focus on securing collective land rights.

Through RIA, over 400,000 hectares (nearly a million acres) in the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve in the Peruvian state of Madre de Dios have been protected by the Amarakaeri community. This program was implemented in partnership with national and local governments as a part of Peru’s NDC.

“By working together with the government on the project, we opened a dialogue that has led to us co-administering the territory on equal footing with the government. The Amarakaeri governing structure is now a regional government within Peru,” Fermín Chimatani Tayori, president of Peru’s National Association of Communal Reserve Leaders, told Ecosystem Marketplace.

Peru’s successful inclusion of community forest management should encourage other countries and governments to employ similar approaches in their own NDCs.

Indigenous Action Helps Countries Achieve their NDCs

Protecting forests on indigenous lands stores carbon, sequesters carbon dioxide, protects 80 percent of global biodiversity, and provides other ecosystem services. The average annual deforestation rates in tenure-secure indigenous forestlands in Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia from 2000-2012 were two to three times lower than similar land that wasn’t managed by indigenous people. Community-based conservation is also a key factor in achieving land-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Indigenous and other rural communities inhabit more than 50 percent of the world’s land. Globally, national laws recognize only 10 percent of land as belonging to communities, with another 8 percent designated for their use. By failing to protect these ancestral land rights, governments are missing out on a low-cost, high-reward public policy investment.

If governments were to secure their country’s indigenous and community land, they could accelerate progress on many SDGs and help limit Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).

Secure Land Tenure to Ensure Development and Protect Forests

As seen in Peru, communities with formal land rights are incentivized to protect areas from deforestation. These lands are essential to the well-being of indigenous people and other communities.

Securing land rights for communities isn’t just equitable and fair; it’s necessary for development that benefits all people and the planet. Secure indigenous and community land also helps ensure governments actualize on their international climate commitments.

To learn more about how securing land rights can help countries achieve the SDGs, read a recent WRI Commentary or report.