Indigenous Leaders are Calling for New Global Agreement to Protect Amazon

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Photo by Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT), CC 2.0/Flickr

(IPS) – Leaders of Amazon’s indigenous groups are calling for a new global agreement to protect and restore at least half of the world’s natural habitats.

The Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (or COICA), an activist group, has prepared a proposal that will be presented to the secretariat, government bodies, and NGOs during the ongoing 14th Conference of the Parties (COP-14) UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Egypt.

COICA was founded in 1984 in Lima, Peru, and coordinates nine national Amazonian indigenous organizations in promoting and developing mechanism to defend the self-determination of Indigenous peoples and coordinate the actions of its members on an international level.

COICA’s proposal invites more input and involvement of indigenous communities in conservation efforts and policy-making that addresses biodiversity loss, as the parties negotiate on defining the terms of the post 2020 global framework on biodiversity that is to be adopted in Beijing, China in two years.

The proposal resulted from a COICA summit held last August with indigenous leaders from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Peru, Surinam, and Venezuela.

“Nearly 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity is found on the lands of tribal peoples and that the majority of the most biodiverse places on Earth are tribal peoples’ territories,” said Juan Carlos Jintiach, a representative of COICA, currently in Egypt.

“Tribal people have been contributing and sustainably using the resources on their lands for thousands of years and it’s not possible to create policies that will be effective without their input.”

In the declaration, the indigenous delegations invite States and other entities to include ancestral knowledge in policies that address conservation, and is planning to start bilateral negotiations with different actors in an effort to create a fair ambitious agreement for 2020.

COICA wants to work with other players behind a common goal to protect and restore half of the planet before 2050.

COICA is also pushing for a dialogue with the governments of the Amazon region to include the joint vision of the indigenous confederations through an “alliance and commitment to protect the region, its biodiversity, its cultures, and sacredness” to protect the rainforest and its “biological corridor”.

An agreement to protect a “biological corridor” that possesses over 135 million hectares of areas and is distributed between Colombia, Venezuela, and Bolivia is being promoted among the three countries.

The corridor will cover zones from the Amazon, the Andes Cordillera, and the Atlantic Ocean and is one of the regions of major biodiversity in the world and indigenous groups believe that their input and perspectives are important for the effectiveness of the agreement.

“65% of the world’s lands are indigenous territories but only 10% are legalized. Guaranteeing indigenous territorial rights is an inexpensive and effective of reducing carbon emissions and increasing natural areas,” stated Tuntiak Katan, Vice President of COICA.

In 2015, former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed Brazil’s input in the ongoing talks on the Amazon-Andres-Atlantic (AAA) agreement which, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s former president, considered analyzing in a statement during the Summit of the Americas talks in Panama.

Indigenous communities are also expressing deep concerns about statements on environmental policies and indigenous issues made by Brazil’s President-Elect, Jair Bolsonaro, during his campaigns.

Bolsonaro will not assume office until January, but he has supported a weakening of protections for the Amazon. As a result, less land will controlled by indigenous and forest communities and more will be open to agribusiness, miners, loggers and construction companies.

“His views are worrying, but the new government will also face a challenge in reversing policies that are already in line because they will lose their position as an international leader on environmental issues,” says Oscar Soria, senior campaigner, of Avaaz– a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere.

“We wish to remind Bolsonaro that Brazil has national and international obligations to guarantee territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and to respect their free, prior, and informed consent,” he adds.

“We hope the new government will respect international obligations and we will continue to stand by NGOs and Indigenous Peoples who are fighting to save the world – the world cannot protect biodiversity without Brazil but Brazil cannot destroy biodiversity alone.”