Indigenous peoples said on Thursday that a United Nations report on climate change had for the first time recognized their land rights as important for curbing global warming.
The special report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), written by more than 100 scientists, called for big changes to land use, farming and eating habits to help cut emissions that are heating up the Earth.
“Finally, the world’s top scientists recognize what we have always known,” said Indigenous leaders from 42 countries in a statement co-ordinated by the Rights and Resources Initiative, a U.S. based coalition promoting community-based forest ownership.
“Failure to legally recognize our rights leaves our forests vulnerable to environmentally destructive projects that devastate forests and release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.”
The IPCC met this week in Geneva, Switzerland, to finalize the report, intended to guide governments tasked with implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit climate change.
Last year, the IPCC’s first special report said keeping the Earth’s temperature rise to the lowest target of 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial times set in the Paris accord required rapid shifts across society.
Thursday’s IPCC report called for wiser land use, including protecting forests from being cut down for crops and grazing, and ecofriendly farming that uses fewer chemicals, such as fertilizer that emits planet-warming nitrous oxide.
Indigenous people customarily own more than 50 per cent of the world’s lands, yet governments only recognize their ownership rights to 10 per cent, they said.
“This gap between our legal and customary rights renders us and our lands vulnerable to the growing threats of agro-industrial production, destructive mining and logging practices, and large-scale infrastructure developments,” they said.
“And we face increasing criminalization and violence for our efforts to protect Mother Earth. At least 365 land rights defenders were killed since the Paris Agreement was signed.”
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation there had been “a betrayal” and lack of political will to protect Indigenous people’s land rights.
“As everyone is scrambling to make sense of the climate crisis, strengthening Indigenous and community rights is a solution that can be implemented right now,” she said.
She cited how Indigenous people in the central Mexican town of Cheran had declared autonomous control over their land, risen up against the loggers and drug cartels that had damaged their forest and replanted it.
The IPCC also called for more support for poor farmers, particularly women, to limit the effects of extreme weather and creeping deserts and enable them to feed their families.
About 500 million people live in areas that experienced desertification between the 1980s and 2000s, the report said.
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, president of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad, said women in her largely desert country were not allowed to own land and were confined to growing vegetables near the house.
She urged governments to give women a bigger role in decision-making about how land is used, and help them access more land and markets to boost their incomes.
“They know that if this land is not well-managed, it will be destroyed,” she said.
IPCC scientist Valérie Masson-Delmotte called for the scale-up of practices such as organic farming and harvesting rainwater for irrigation that could help farmers deal with climate change.
South Africa’s Debra Roberts, another IPCC co-chair, said the report flagged the need to provide farmers in vulnerable countries with better access to finance to make them more resilient to climate change.
“Any investment in poverty eradication is an important option globally which underpins the ability to improve land management,” she said in Geneva.
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