As I write this prologue, Latin America and the Caribbean due to COVID-19 faces one of the worst health, economic, and humanitarian crises of its history, due to COVID-19. Compared to that, the great climate change crisis may appear far off. Nevertheless, climate change threatens to be equally or even more dangerous than the pandemic. If the current situation has taught us anything, it is that we cannot afford to ignore scientists’ warnings about imminent threats, and that the cost of overcoming this kind of catastrophe can be much greater than avoiding or mitigating it.
Even so, with such a strong economic crisis, no country in the region has the financial capability to redirect funds allocated to address the pandemic’s devasting effects on health, welfare, and the economy, and channel them into efforts focusing exclusively on climate change. Collectively, we will have to be extremely creative and innovative to find the policies and investments that can help us to recover from the pandemic but also contribute to the inescapable tasks of mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Collaborating with the region’s indigenous and tribal peoples to protect the forests in their territories fits the bill. These peoples are rich when it comes to culture, knowledge, and natural resources, but some of the poorest when it comes to incomes and access to services, and among the most affected by the pandemic, healthwise and economically. Supporting them to protect and manage their forests could help to create or recover hundreds of thousands of jobs in forestry, agroforestry, tourism, education, and cultural activities, and to avoid new pandemics, as well as providing other social, environmental, and cultural benefits. It also has the potential to attract hundreds of millions of USD dollars per year from international sources, since there is strong evidence that taking care of these forests is one of the most cost-effective options for limiting carbon emissions, which is of vital interest to the entire planet.
Indigenous and tribal peoples and the forests in their ancestral territories play vital roles in global and regional climate action and in fighting poverty, hunger, and malnutrition on the continent. Their territories contain about one third of all the carbon stored in the forests of Latin America and the Caribbean and 14 percent of the carbon stored in tropical forests worldwide. Historically, these forests have suffered much less deforestation and degradation than other forests in the region, but that is changing rapidly, and there is an urgent need to take action to revert these new trends.
The report presented here, based on an exhaustive review of the recent scientific evidence, explains this situation, and presents a set of priority measures for governments and international agencies to implement, in close collaboration with the indigenous and tribal peoples. It shows how the cultural, geographic, economic, and political conditions and factors that have favored the preservation of the forests in the indigenous and tribal peoples’ territories and the millenary cultures of their inhabitants are changing drastically; and the consequences could be disastrous, both environmentally and financially.
To respond to these challenges, the report proposes a set of investments and policies that have great potential to reactivate the economies of the indigenous and tribal territories, mitigate climate change, preserve biological and cultural diversity, and reduce social and environmental conflicts. This innovative proposal is based on five pillars:
All within a framework of respect for indigenous and territorial peoples’ right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).
For each of these pillars the report presents solid evidence, based on previous experience, that the proposed activities can achieve results. It also presents an econometric analysis and a preliminary indicative financial analysis, which show that the proposed measures can by highly profitable.
For the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), promoting social inclusion and reducing the inequalities that disproportionately affect the indigenous and tribal peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean is central to our mandate. We are especially concerned with the eradication of hunger and promotion of rural development, using a gender-sensitive and inter-generational approach, which recognizes collective territorial rights. On behalf of FAO, and together with the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC), whose collaboration we are truly grateful for, we want to express our recognition for the indigenous and tribal peoples’ many contributions to the preservation of natural and cultural assets and we hope that this research can make its own modest contribution to improving equitable access to climate finance and to rural economic recovery.
FAO Assistant Director General and Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean