Indigenous peoples and local communities around the world should be recognized and supported as leaders in global conservation efforts.
A recent study of spatial data in the journal Nature, reveals that indigenous peoples manage or have tenure rights over 38 million square kilometers of land in 87 countries. This land accounts for over a quarter of the terrestrial area of the globe, and interfaces with over 40 percent of the world’s existing conservation areas
Many indigenous peoples and local communities have developed a profound understanding of the natural world. “Indigenous peoples have mastered the art of living on the Earth without destroying it,” says Jon Waterhouse, National Geographic Education Fellow Emeritus and Explorer. A global assessment from the UN reports that indigenous peoples often manage lands and preserve intact ecosystems better than national governments.
Worldwide, indigenous peoples and local communities are more likely to be affected by the impacts of a changing climate. Loss of clean drinking water, the increase of powerful weather events, and prevalence of droughts disproportionately impact indigenous and subsistence lifestyles.
With a strong connection to the landscapes in which they live and sizable land rights to these areas indigenous peoples and local communities can have a significant effect on the success of global conservation objectives and the health of the planet generally.
The Campaign for Nature seeks to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean by 2030. Protecting the land and ocean allows natural systems to recover, thrive, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Indigenous-managed lands have an essential role to play in this challenging yet attainable goal.
Altering our current course toward global ecosystem collapse requires bold action by all global citizens. There are no easy solutions, but there is hope. By learning from and respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, we have the opportunity to protect our natural world and turn the tide toward success.