Indigenous peoples across the globe have always been custodians of forests and other natural landscapes in the real sense of the word. This comes as a reason of their close knit association with their surroundings upon which they depend for their food, shelter, clothing, and all other basic needs.
By Salam Rajesh
The 26th Climate Conference of Parties (COP 26) held at Glasgow in Scotland during November this year came up with a ‘Declaration on Forests and Land Use’, endorsed by 124 countries, which contains a bold commitment “to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation”.
The declaration stated that such a goal is essential to meet the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global average temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius, and if possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2030.
Environmental activist Ashish Kothari reflecting on the declaration observed that the declaration has been achieved by a ‘combination of intense public pressure, scientific opinion, and astute political sense that finally turned the tide in favour of the earth’.
This observation comes at a time when many world leaders are facing criticism for their role in promoting policies that seek to devastate forests, water bodies and other natural landscapes with their push for extractive industries and other ‘developmental’ agendas.
The 124 countries that signed the declaration committed that they will ‘strengthen efforts to conserve forests and other terrestrial ecosystems and enhance their restoration. They will facilitate trade, development and agricultural policies that will enable this, empower communities to become resilient and enhance rural livelihoods, and generate funds and align financial flows to support all these actions’.
The world leaders who gathered at Glasgow also committed to recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples and other local communities (IPLCs) as relevant to the goals and actions outlined in the Glasgow declaration.
The World Conservation Congress held during September at Marseille in France organized indepth deliberations on the proactive role of IPLCs in shared responsibility towards short and long term protection and conservation of forests, peatlands, wetlands, mangroves, and other natural landscapes and seascapes.
The contradicting factor in the midst of these concerns is the persisting pursuits of certain countries in their neo-colonialism policies of destroying forests to extract minerals, coal, petroleum, and for expansive commercial activities like cattle rearing, mono-cropping of oil palms, cocoa and rubber.
India at this point of time is pursuing certain policies projected as ‘developmental’ agenda but which activists say are largely aimed at the neo-colonial policy of extractive industries at the cost of the indigenous peoples and local communities who form part of the ecosystem of forests and wetlands.
The pursuit by the Government of India to amend provisions of the Indian Forest Conservation Act, 1980, for instance, and the dilution of the Environment Impact Assessment, which is highly critical of protecting forests and other natural reserves, is being seen by activists as of extreme concern in the global target of meeting climate deadlines.
The dilution of these legislations that protect natural landscapes is seen primarily as attempt to intrude into pristine natural landscapes to scrap the forests bare for mining minerals, coal, petroleum and other commercialized commodities. These come at a huge cost to carbon emissions that induce global warming.
The Glasgow climate summit has some ‘first times’. For instance, it is being reported that for the first time ever in several years, world leaders have clearly recognized the interlinked relationship between the global biodiversity and climate crises, and of the critical role that nature plays in both adaption and mitigation. This also comes with the recognition that IPLCs play an extremely important role in the overall achievement in ground-based activities to conserve and protect landscapes that are integral to their lives.
IUCN Director General Dr Bruno Oberle reflects upon this, saying, “As science shows, nature can – and must – play a significant role in tackling climate change, as a complement to rapid, deep and sustained emissions reductions to keep temperature rise within 1.5°C. The situation is critical, and the shortfall in ambition and urgency is very concerning. We must use all the tools at our disposal to stave off the climate catastrophe and therefore it is encouraging to see the potential of protecting, conserving and restoring both terrestrial and marine ecosystems formally recognized”.
Dr Oberle’s reflection hints at the changing attitude of most world leaders in shying away from destructive ‘developmental’ agendas that seek to make inroad into natural landscapes for profit without second thoughts for the long term negative impacts on land, forests, wildlife, biodiversity, and on the lives of thousands of IPLCs who directly depend upon these landscapes for their survival.
The Glasgow COP26 climate summit focused on the conservation, restoration and the sustainable management of forests, oceans and other ecosystems. Some of the significant steps resolved at the summit include commitments to combat deforestation and degradation by the year 2030, a significant increase of funding to directly support Indigenous peoples in the management of their lands and territories, and a major step towards conserving the Western Indian Ocean through the newly launched Great Blue Wall initiative.
The Glasgow summit, in all of its limitations and faults, did actually had some good tidings for the IPLCs wherein decisions to recognize the proactive role of local people and to support them in conservation efforts are being seen as prelude to global recognition of the age-old contributions of IPLCs in conserving natural landscapes against all odds.
Indigenous peoples across the globe have always been custodians of forests and other natural landscapes in the real sense of the word. This comes as a reason of their close knit association with their surroundings upon which they depend for their food, shelter, clothing, and all other basic needs. Sometimes, legends and myths associated with their lifestyles are closely connected with their surroundings and this form the basis of the integrated oneness between IPLCs and the landscapes upon which they thrive.
The summit wrapped up with the singular focus on pursuing Nature-based Solutions (NbS) to find effective measures for the rapid deployment of the work force at the grassroots, read as indigenous peoples and local communities, in gaining ground on achieving the targets set at Kyoto, Aichi and in Paris.
(The writer is a media professional working on environmental issues. He can be contacted at [email protected])Forest, indigenous people