Indigenous leaders from forests of Latin America, Indonesia and Africa respond to announcements of heads of state at COP

Indigenous leaders from forests of Latin America, Indonesia and Africa respond to announcements of heads of state at COP

As indigenous leaders of territories that cover major forests in Africa, Asia and Latin America, we welcome governments’ affirmation of our significant contributions, but we call on national leaders to take strong and immediate action in support of our efforts, without which their goals will not be met.


30 NOVEMBER 2015.

New evidence released today, and illustrated with a detailed map of tropical forest regions, demonstrates conclusively that indigenous forest peoples are the guardians of a huge, rigorously quantified store of carbon and are therefore global players in climate change mitigation.

This and other recent research suggests is not enough to “recognize the contributions of indigenous peoples.” Without securing our rights to our ancestral forests, national governments will be difficult to make progress towards the goals laid out in the statement they released today.

The new research quantifies, for the first time, the carbon stored in indigenous territories across the world’s largest expanses of remaining tropical forest. Using remote sensing data and analysis by the Woods Hole Research Center, based on territorial boundaries provided by Indigenous Peoples, the new findings suggest that indigenous-managed forests in Africa, Asia and Latin America contain, conservatively, at least 20 percent of the carbon stored in the world’s tropical forests, thus preventing more than three times all the world’s carbon pollution last year from entering the atmosphere.

We welcome as well the acknowledgement by a few donor nations of our contributions to protecting forests and slowing climate change. We call on donor nations to make public and transparent the grant finance they directly allocate in support of our management and rights over forests, lands and resources, and to distinguish those commitments from finance to business and government.

Indigenous communities practicing traditional ways of life have a far lower impact on tropical forests than Westernized cultures. But our ability to prevent illegal development and protect our territories from high-impact uses is often limited by a lack of legal and financial support, including a lack of title to our lands.

The Woods Hole findings reveal that the carbon contained in tropical forests in indigenous territories of the Amazon Basin, Mesoamerica, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Indonesia is equivalent to 168.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2)—more than three times the climate-changing gases emitted globally (52.7 GtCO2) in 2014.

If we are to continue conserving tropical forests—essential for reaching the goals of this COP, as well as for maintaining ecosystem integrity and our cultural identity—our communities need:

  • Titling of our territories, as well as recognition of our rights to the resources of those territories and to the environmental services they provide.
  • An end to all criminalization, violence and murder of our leaders who speak out in defense of indigenous rights and territories.
  • Recognition of the contributions of Indigenous Peoples to climate change mitigation and adaptation and inclusion of those contributions in governments’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.
  • Implementation of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) for development activities in indigenous territories.
  • Direct access to climate financing for Indigenous Peoples.

We who live on the front lines of the changing climate have contributed least to the global crisis, yet we stand to lose the most.

The fires that are consuming Indonesia—and the 16 percent jump in deforestation in Brazil—are examples of what happens when governments fail to include indigenous peoples in their efforts to protect the forests that are so critical to addressing the rapidly changing climate.

We are in Paris to offer help—a cure, in essence, and the most affordable pathway for climate negotiators struggling to come up with solutions. Nature has blessed humanity, but it must be respected, and we know how to do this. It is the nature of peat ecosystems of Indonesia to be wet, for example. To dry them out for the planting of oil palm is to invite disaster. We have always known this, but our voices have not been heeded.


Abdon Nabadon, Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).
Levi Sucre Romero, Coordinator of the Executive Board of the Mesoamerican Alliance for Peoples and Forests (AMPB).
Jorge Furagaro, Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Peoples Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA)
Joseph Itwongo, Peoples for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (REPALEAC/DRC).

Quotes from indigenous leaders

  • “Tropical forests in indigenous territories are critical for reducing climate change, but it is important to note that we also provide other essential environmental services,” said Abdon Nabadon, Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), Indonesia. “We are not putting our carbon up for sale. All we want is recognition for the job we are doing, and reinforcement of the rights to our territories, which Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has already recognized. We are calling for an end to an economic model that is entirely dependent on destroying our forests and waterways, depriving future generations of a treasure that has no price.”
  • “In order for us to continue to conserve the tropical forests located on our traditional territories, we need to have strong rights to those forests, and an end to the criminalization that greets our efforts to protect our lands,” said Jorge Furagaro of COICA. “Death should not be the price we pay for doing our part in preventing the emissions that fuel climate change.”
  • “We are not opposed to development, but we are opposed to a development model that destroys life for us and our children and grandchildren—and yours,” said Levi Sucre Romero, Coordinator of the Executive Board of the Mesoamerican Alliance for Peoples and Forests (AMPB). “If our national leaders are serious about the goal of saving forests, they will stop criminalizing us and allowing violence and even murder against our peoples for trying to defend our forests from an ever-growing global hunger for soy, palm oil, timber, fuel, water and mineral wealth. The world has narrowed the discussion of climate change down to a question of how much carbon there is in the forests.”
  • “We are calling on global negotiators to invest in a solution that exists already. Invest in forest peoples if you are serious about making sure the forest remains standing,” said Joseph Itwongo, of Peoples for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems (REPALEAC/DRC).

Download Carbon Maps of Tropical Forest Regions:

Tropical Forest Carbon in Indigenous Territories: A Global Analysis

Le carbone forestier tropical dans les territoires autochtones: une analyse globale

Las Reservas de Carbono Forestal Tropical en Los Territorios Indígenas: un Análisis Global

Tropical Forest Carbon in Indigenous Territories: A Global Analysis
A report prepared for UNFCCC COP21
December 2015



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