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Land rights crucial to save tropical forests – UNDP

Researchers highlight importance of carbon-sucking forests alongside New York climate deal signing ceremony

Damar Forests of Indonesia (UN Photos)

Damar Forests of Indonesia (UN Photos)

By Alex Kirby

The world’s tropical forests are a key part of slowing climate change, and ensuring indigenous peoples have land rights is essential to protecting them, US-based researchers say.

A campaign group, Global Witness, puts the number of land and environment activists killed since the end of 2009 at around 650. It says most died fighting to protect remote land from development which had been approved by governments.

Speaking in New York as world leaders gathered there to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change, the administrator of the UN Development Programme, Helen Clark, said: If we want to protect the worlds forests, we must safeguard the rights of the indigenous peoples and forest communities who have sustainably managed their forests for generations.

Clarifying local land rights and tenure security will be a crucial determinant of success for the new global frameworks on climate change and sustainable development.

She was speaking at an event organised jointly by the UNDP and the Ford Foundation to mark the signing of the Agreement.

Balancing emissions

Another speaker, Frances Seymour, of the Center for Global Development (CGD), said protecting the tropical forests of South America, Asia and Africa was one of the most cost-effective climate solutions available today: Stopping deforestation and allowing damaged forests to grow back could mitigate up to 30% of current global emissions.

A new analysis by the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) spells out what the forests do for the climate. If the world fails to protect them, it says, it will have to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use by 2035 in order to limit warming to 2C, the goal identified as vital for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change (though the Paris Agreement is aiming for a 1.5C limit).

Properly managed, the analysis says, the forests could provide 10-15 more years to end fossil fuel use while keeping global warming under 2C. It uses the 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment produced by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in reaching its conclusions.

It is clear that it will be impossible to limit global warming to 2C at this point if we try to do it entirely by reducing fossil fuel use, said Dr. Phillip Duffy, WHRC’s executive director.

The Woods Hole analysis suggests that to keep global warming under 2C, while retaining the current level of land-based carbon emissions, fossil fuel use would have to be eliminated by 2035. But stopping tropical deforestation and expanding forest area by 500 million hectares could extend the deadline for reaching zero carbon emissions to 2049.

Money disappears, but the forests do not. The forests will be here for this generation; for our children’s generation and for all the generations to come. We will make sure of that1

The organisers of the New York event say indigenous environmental leaders are under growing threat for their opposition to projects that threaten their communities and their forests. A Cambodian activist, Phon Sopheak, remains in hospital after being attacked on 26 March by illegal loggers with axes during a patrol of the forest.

Earlier that month a well-known Honduran activist, Berta Cáceres, was murdered. In 2014 Edwin Chota, Jorge Ríos Pérez, and two other Ashaninka leaders in Peru were murdered, all, the organisers say,emblematic of the violence being perpetrated by industrial interests in the indigenous areas whose preservation is crucial to helping the world to achieve carbon neutrality.

Diana Rios, of Peru, whose father was one of the four Ashaninka leaders shot, said:Money disappears, but the forests do not. The forests will be here for this generation; for our children’s generation and for all the generations to come. We will make sure of that.

Little commitment

The WHRC analysis says there is significant evidence that forest peoples, if given land rights, are the best managers of tropical forests in retaining old growth and storing carbon. For example, it says, community and indigenous forests in Brazil store 36% more carbon per hectare and emit 27 times less CO2 from deforestation than forests not under community control.

Yet very few countries, with just 13% of the world’s tropical and subtropical forest area, are clearly committed to implementing community-based land tenure or natural resource management strategies, says the Rights and Resources Initiative. The world’s largest forest countries, including DRC, Brazil and Indonesia have not committed themselves.

The Woods Hole findings reinforce our dependence on the tropical forests, which hold a safe, natural, and proven technology to capture and store carbon, said Frances Seymour of CGD. It is called photosynthesis, and it needs to be part of the solution.

This article was produced by Climate News Network

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Danika Billie Littlechild appointed for 2nd term as Vice-President of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO

Tribal Link Foundation pauses in its work to recognize and congratulate Project Access Alumni, Danika Billie Littlechild who was appointed for a second term as Vice-President of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

Danika Littlechild (photo : Kelly Bell)

Danika Littlechild (Photo : Kelly Bell)

See the story of her original appointment in 2014 here:

See more on Tribal Link Foundation’s Project Access training program here:

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Victor Lopez Carmen receives two prestigious scholarships

Tribal Link Foundation pauses in its work to recognize and congratulate Project Access AlumniVictor Anthony Lopes-Carmen who recently received two prestigious scholarships, neither of which has been awarded to an Ithaca College student before.


See the full story at:

See more on Tribal Link Foundation’s Project Access training program here:

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An urgent plea for governments to stem the murder of forest guardians

Berta Vive

In early March, Indigenous Honduran activist Berta Caceres was gunned down in her own home in response to her protests against a dam that threatens to displace hundreds of her people. A few weeks later, another member of her community, , was murdered for the same reason.

Berta received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 in recognition of her efforts, and was an inspiration to Indigenous Peoples around the world. During my official visit to Honduras last November, she facilitated my meeting with her people, who told me troubling stories of violence and intimidation in response to their protests.

Despite numerous death threats and emergency protection measures granted by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the Honduran government failed to protect Berta, and continues to fail her community. Her family and her community remain in danger, and it is urgent that the government – who has thus far maintained that Berta’s murder was a botched robbery – act immediately to protect her family and stem the flow of indigenous blood.

Sadly, Berta and Nelson’s story is far from unique. On my recent trip to Brazil, numerous Indigenous Peoples told me of the intimidation, threats, and outright violence they have faced for standing up for their land rights. According to Global Witness, 29 of the environmental activists murdered in 2014 were from Brazil, more deaths than were reported in any other country. At least 454 persons have been killed for environmental activism and assertion of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Brazil since 2002. And, judging by many metrics, Brazil is a “leader” on Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

In Mato Grosso do Sol, indigenous Guarani Kaoiwa communities face constant attacks and evictions from landlords seeking to develop industrial-scale farms and cattle ranches. Indigenous Peoples I visited showed me the scars on their bodies caused by rubber bullets and the graves of their murdered leaders. No perpetrators of these crimes have been brought to justice. The local judges and police are complicit in attempts to drive the Guarani from their homes. Tekoha Taquara, an indigenous land I visited in Juti, has been served an eviction notice that was to be implemented the day I left Brazil. The first community I visited was attacked only three hours after I left. In the past few years, over 300 Guarani have been killed in land conflicts in Mato Grosso do Sul, not to speak of the high level of suicide rates because of desperation and hopelessness.

This failure is not only in direct contradiction to Brazil’s obligations to protect its Indigenous Peoples under international law; it also contradicts the country’s promises under the climate change treaty agreed upon in Paris. Brazil’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution outlines a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, and to achieve zero illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by 2030.

Meeting these commitments will require Brazil to protect its Indigenous Peoples’ land rights, as they are the proven best stewards of the world’s largest rainforest. To date, Brazil has been the most successful country in decreasing its greenhouse gas emissions, largely as a result of titling indigenous lands. In the Amazon, deforestation rates are 11 times lower in community forests than outside. Brazil contains nearly half the world’s remaining rainforest and sequesters 63 billion tons of carbon, much of it in legally recognized community forests.

The global aspiration of keeping warming below two degrees and protecting the earth for our children and grandchildren cannot succeed without forests, yet the very people we depend on to protect those forests are being murdered in droves. Illegal logging on indigenous lands persists, as do efforts to deprive Indigenous Peoples of their ancestral homes.

As mentioned, Brazil was an early leader in recognizing indigenous land rights, including protections for indigenous rights in its constitution and ratifying International Labour Organization Convention No. 169. But now the country has turned to large scale developments on indigenous lands as a means of buoying its economy, despite evidence that these strategies rarely result in sustainable development. Brazil’s government is merely standing by, and have not done much to bring those who murder and maim the guardians of the forest to justice.

The impunity with which indigenous activists have been murdered must end. It is urgent that governments around the world – Honduras and Brazil included – take immediate action to protect indigenous rights activists peacefully protesting for legal rights to their own lands and territories. Global Witness recently released data showing that at least 109 environmental activists were killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2015; the murders are linked to a surge of destructive agriculture, mining, and dam projects that threaten the food sources, traditional livelihoods, and cultures of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the forests that we all rely on to mitigate climate change.

116 environmental activists were reported murdered globally in 2014; 40 percent of those killed were indigenous persons. I plead with governments around the world: do not allow Berta Caceres and hundreds of other indigenous leaders to have died in vain. Berta spent her life fighting for the rights of Indigenous Peoples to legally own the lands they have long called home, and to be free from destructive dams and other industrial projects. I am inspired and humbled by her courage and steadfastness. Let Berta and Nelson be the last in a long list of those who have given their lives in order to protect their homes and to protect the forests we all depend on.

Author: Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

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Signing Ceremony of the Paris Climate Change Agreement at United Nations Headquarters


Civil Society speaker selected for the opening session in New York 22 April 2016

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited all world leaders to a signing ceremony on 22 April for the historic climate agreement that was reached in Paris in December last year. The signing event will take place at UN Headquarters in New York on the first day the agreement will be open for signature, which coincides with the UN observance of International Mother Earth Day. At the request of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, UN-NGLS facilitated an open, transparent and participatory process for civil society to apply for a speaking role in the opening session of the signing ceremony.

For this key speaking role, the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General has now selected:

Ms. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim,
Association des Femmes Peules Autochtones du Tchad (AFPAT)

Ms. Ibrahim’s bio is available here.
More information about the process is available here.

For information about the Paris Agreement signing ceremony, please visit:

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IITC Publishes North American Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Consultation Report

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Indigenous Caucus Statement at Closing Plenary of UNFCCC COP21 Paris, France December 12, 2015,
presented by Frank Ettawageshik, supported by Chief Bill Erasmus, Hindou Ourmou Ibrahim, and Saoudata Aboubacrine
The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took take place November 30th – December 11th, 2015 to finalize a legally binding international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, curb the pace of climate change and define programs to help the most vulnerable States and Peoples, including Indigenous Peoples, to mitigate and adapt to the impacts. IITC conducted seven pre-conference consultations on Climate Change in the U.S. and Canada to get input into this process from Tribal Nations. The report provides an overview of the consultations, work and gains at COP21. It also contains the compiled responses to the Climate Change Questionnaire representing the voices of over 318,000 indigenous individuals.

Download the Climate Change Consultation Report: Click Here

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Another Environmentalist Was Murdered In Honduras And Activists Are Enraged

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/FERNANDO ANTONIO: People embrace as they wait for the arrival of the body of slain Honduran indigenous leader and environmentalist Berta Cáceres, outside the coroners office in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, earlier this month. Not two weeks after, another member of Cáceres’ organization was shot and killed.

A member of the same indigenous organization as slain environmentalist Berta Cáceres was shot dead Tuesday in Honduras, incensing activists and convincing a European development bank to stop financing a controversial dam project.

Nelson García, 39, was killed outside his house after police evicted 150 families from lands in the northern village of Rio Chiquito, Honduran authorities said in a statement, noting the incident had nothing to do with the eviction. “The tragic death of Mr. Nelson García took place when two unknown assailants attacked him as he left his house some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from where the eviction took place,” the statement reads.

García, a father of five children, was the leader of the community that was occupying a portion of Rio Chiquito, claiming property rights. His murder comes less than two weeks after the shooting death of renowned award-winning environmentalist Berta Cáceres, another vocal leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous organizations of Honduras, or COPINH. She was also ambushed in her house.

Telesur reports that local sources dispute police accounts of the early morning eviction that ended a two-year-long occupation. “[Authorities] said that they would be peaceful and they were not going to throw anyone out of their houses, but at midday they started to tear down the houses, they destroyed the maize, the banana trees, and the yuca plantations,” said Tomas Gomez, a COPINH coordinator.

Since Tuesday, activists and organizations, including the United Nations, have denounced the attacks via Twitter, adding pressure to a government that’s so far captured one person suspected of Cáceres’ killing.

And on Wednesday, the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO) said it would suspend all activities in Honduras, and halt its funding for the Agua Zarca project, a proposed hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River that Cáceres and the COPINH opposed.

“FMO is shocked by the news that Nelson García, another COPINH member, has been murdered in Honduras,” the agency said in a statement. “We will not engage in new projects or commitments … no disbursements will be made, including the Agua Zarca project.”

Meanwhile, at least one activist in Washington reportedly burst into an Americas Society and Council of the Americas meeting to protest. ASCOA is a forum dedicated to education, debate, and dialogue in the Americas.

Long before her murder, Cáceres reported threats against her life and the assassination of colleagues as they battled the Agua Zarca and other development. “In my organization alone,” she told CNN en Español in 2015, “we have 10 people who’ve been killed with total impunity.”

Environmentalists have for years faced threats of retaliation worldwide, but Global Witness — which keeps a tally of environmentalist killed — says attacks have worsened, particularly in Latin America. The region has seen a surge in investments in recent times, feeding encroachment and growth in previously undeveloped areas. At least 116 environmental activists were murdered in 2014, according to Global Witness’ latest figures. These deaths are almost double the number of journalists killed in that same period, and fatalities have been increasing since 2002. Moreover, 40 percent of those killed are from indigenous communities.

“By no means is the problem getting better,” Billy Kyte, senior campaigner at Global Witness, told ThinkProgress earlier this month. Global Witness will release an updated report in the next couple of months, though officials told ThinkProgress they expect 2015 to be deadlier than 2014. “The increase in demand of natural resources is fueling ever more violence,” Kyte said.

Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. It’s also the fourth most dangerous for environmental activists with 12 recorded deaths in 2014, according to Global Witness.


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