Indigenous peoples to get $1.7bn in recognition of role in protecting forests

Cop26 pledge cautiously welcomed as ‘first step’ in making indigenous rights central to climate crisis talks

At least $1.7bn of funding will be given directly to indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) in recognition of their key role in protecting the planet’s lands and forests, it will be announced at Cop26 today.

The governments of the UK, US, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands are leading the $1.7bn (£1.25bn) funding pledge, which is being announced as part of ambitious global efforts to reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, with campaigners cautiously hopeful that this conference of the parties (Cop) could be the first to properly champion indigenous peoples’ rights.

Tuntiak Katan, a leader of Ecuador’s indigenous Shuar people who serves as general coordinator of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, said: “We are happy with the financing announcement, but we will be watching for concrete measures that will reveal whether the intent is to transform a system that has directed less than 1% of climate funding to indigenous and local communities. What matters is what happens next.

“This Cop is interesting and unprecedented,” he added. “After attending these climate events for years, this one is different. The UK has put tremendous effort into raising our visibility at this Cop.

“But the UK is now at a crossroads: they can either use our presence as a photo op, or they can choose to become a global champion for indigenous peoples and local communities.”

As indigenous peoples have fought for their rights more publicly in recent years, they have faced increasing persecution. In 2020, a record number of people were killed for protecting their land, with more than a third from indigenous communities.

Despite the important role they play in protecting forests, only a small fraction of these communities have secure rights to their land. The funding is recognition that IPLCs are crucial to protecting tropical forests and preserving ecosystems. Leaders will be calling on other countries to respect and protect these rights in accordance with national legislation.

While the majority of the money in the fund will come from governments, charitable foundations including the Ford Foundation, Bezos Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Arcadia, Wyss Foundation and the Rainforest Trust are contributing more than $600m.

Indigenous activists on tackling the climate crisis: ‘We have done more than any government’ – video

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said the aim was to give IPLCs more of a voice in policymaking and discourse. It is hoped more funding will follow.

Walker said: “It’s a first step, it’s a down payment. We ignore these communities at our peril. We have to invest more, we have to support them more.

“I’m not asserting that this is the only solution,” he added, “but it’s a critical part of the puzzle of solving climate change and this part of the puzzle needs to be resourced properly.”

The money will support IPLCs’ capacity to govern themselves collectively, assist with mapping and registration work, back national land reform and help resolve conflict over territories. It will continue until 2025.

Walker said: “We have been wedded to technical, market-based solutions, and have ignored the communities right in front of us who are key to solving the challenge.

“This is an historic moment. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the paradigm and to at last give power and a seat at the table to the people who are critical to the solution. A new paradigm is emerging and we will hear it loud and clear in Glasgow.”

The announcement follows a number of studies that show securing indigenous rights and land tenure is an effective way of protecting the environment. A 2021 UN review of more than 300 studies found that deforestation rates in South America were up to 50% lower within areas under indigenous control than elsewhere.

It follows an emphasis on including indigenous voices at the International Union for Conservation of Nature conference in Marseille in September. For the first time in its seven-decade history, the IUCN included indigenous peoples as full voting members in their own right, rather than under the NGO category.

Paul Redman, founder of If Not Us Then Who?, a US charity that highlights the role indigenous and local peoples play in environmentalism, said: “I think it’s the first time in all the climate conferences I’ve been to since 2013 that leaders really seem to be genuinely engaged and wanting indigenous peoples to be at the table.

“The real key is follow-up: money going to indigenous communities and land titles being allocated to indigenous peoples post-Cop.”

2050: what happens if we ignore the climate crisis – video explainer

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Indigenous leaders to push for land tenure rights as climate solution at COP26

  • Indigenous leaders from around the world will join government officials, scientists, activists, and NGO representatives at the U.N. climate summit in Scotland to highlight the role of Indigenous peoples in providing climate mitigation and adaptation solutions.
  • New reports released ahead of the conference by the World Resources Institute and PRISMA Foundation emphasize the integral role of Indigenous land rights and access to climate funding in combating the climate crisis.
  • Indigenous communities on the ground receive only a small fraction of climate funding directed toward Indigenous land tenure and forest management, with international NGOs, development agencies and consulting firms receiving the lion’s share, the PRISMA report says.

Indigenous leaders from around the world are heading to the COP26 United Nations climate summit this weekend, where one of the main topics on their agenda will be highlighting community land tenure as an often-overlooked way to mitigate climate change.

Research demonstrating that granting Indigenous peoples and forest communities formal titles to their lands as a cost-effective approach to tacking climate change has been piling up for years. Two new reports released on Oct. 27 by the World Resources Institute and the PRISMA Foundation add to that growing body of work.

“No [climate] initiative can succeed if rights are not recognized,” said Mina Setra, deputy to the secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), an organization with more than 2,400 affiliated communities throughout Indonesia.

Indigenous leaders have planned demonstrations in Brazil’s capital, Brasília, from Aug. 22-28, 2021, in a mobilization meant to place pressure on the Supreme Federal Court to rule in favor of Indigenous land rights in a controversial landmark case currently under review. Image courtesy of the Indigenist Missionary Council (Cimi).

Setra and other Indigenous leaders will join government officials, scientists, activists, and NGO representatives at the 13-day summit in Glasgow, Scotland, that kicks off on Oct. 31.

While government officials will be the ones at the negotiating table, COP26 will feature a slew of parallel events, street protests, campaigns and proposals. The flurry of activity has already begun, with global events leading up to the summit.

Land rights to help mitigate climate change

In its newly released report, WRI, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C., presents insights from recent research illustrating how securing land and forest rights of Indigenous peoples and other local communities (IPLCs) prevents deforestation and destruction contributing to climate change.

“The science is now so far advanced, it’s pretty irrefutable,” Peter Veit, director of WRI’s Land and Resource Rights initiative and the lead author of the report, told Mongabay in an interview. “There’s no excuse for not securing IPLC lands in your country. The challenge now is that we need to act on the evidence that exists.”

Deforestation rates inside versus outside tenure-secure Indigenous forestlands. Image courtesy of World Resources Institute.

The report highlights that Indigenous lands alone hold more than a third of the planet’s large swaths of natural forests and an estimated 80% of the world’s biodiversity. Deforestation rates in Indigenous territories in the Amazon are two to three times lower than in similar non-Indigenous lands across several South American countries.

But although at least half the world’s land falls within IPLC territories and holds most of the world’s biodiversity, only 10% of IPLC land is recognized as such by national governments. Recent studies have shown that titling Indigenous and Afro-descendant lands in some regions of South America reduced deforestation by 30-75%. Securing land tenure is a cost-effective climate mitigation strategy, according to the report.

“Our hope is that the climate community recognizes the role of IPLCs and the critical role that tenure security plays,” Veit said.

Last September in Marseille, Indigenous rights organizations and activists who took part in the “Our Land, Our Nature” congress developed a manifesto calling for a total halt to new protected areas that displace IPLCs. Titled the “Marseille Manifesto: a people’s manifesto for the future of conservation”, 50 signatories seek to assert the role of Indigenous land tenure in environmental protection and criticize the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework target safeguarding 30% of land and ocean through exclusionary protected areas.

“[The manifesto] appears at a critical juncture, when the only solutions put forward to the climate and biodiversity crises are business as usual, in particular more protected areas and the commodification of nature,” said Fiore Longo, head of Survival International’s conservation campaign.

Annual avoided CO emissions through indigenous forestland-tenure security. Image courtesy of World Resources Institute.

Sara Omi, an Indigenous women’s alliance leader from an Emberá community in eastern Panama, will be pushing for Indigenous land and forest rights, as well as local community support, once again in Glasgow, her fifth U.N. climate summit. She told Mongabay she has seen gradual progress in Indigenous participation and recognition at the international conferences.

“I think that at each conference things have moved forward little by little,” Omi said. “Advocacy is more and more visible every summit, but it has not been an easy task.”

Emberá-Wounaan territory, the land of the Emberá and Wounaan peoples, is legally recognized in Panama. However, the government has yet to fulfill obligations to address invasions of Indigenous lands that undermine the legal rights the community has received. Deforestation is much more than a matter of carbon emissions to local communities.

“When we lose forest, we also lose traditional knowledge and medicine,” Omi said, adding she also wants to see more climate financing actually reach communities on the ground. “The resources do not make it to the territory.”

Getting climate funding to communities on the ground

Addressing the critical point of funding is the focus of another new report, this one from the PRISMA Foundation, a nonprofit regional environmental and development research organization based in El Salvador.

Indigenous and local community territories hold roughly a quarter of global carbon but receive only a tiny fraction of global climate financing, the PRISMA report says; the WRI report also highlights this issue. The $2.7 billion disbursed between 2011-2020 to IPLC land tenure and forest management represents less than 1% of official designated assistance for climate change, and less than 5% of official designated assistance for general environmental protection. Only a small share of this assistance likely went to IPLC communities on the ground.

Map of Panama
Map comparing forest loss in Panama between 2000-2020 in regions inside and outside Indigenous territories. Image courtesy of Rainforest Foundation US.

The PRISMA report calls for a “reimagining” of the global climate finance framework, arguing that programs and financing mechanisms have been largely top-down when they need to be bottom-up.

“The lion’s share of the money has been captured at higher levels, amongst international NGOs, consulting firms, technical experts, and government agencies: only 10% of total climate finance is committed to local levels,” noted the report authors.

The report lays out three case studies from Central America, reviewing success stories of an Indigenous Cabécar community women’s movement in Costa Rica, Indigenous Guna territorial governance in Panama, and community forest concessions in Guatemala. Only the latter has received significant international support and funds.

“Communities are already organizing,” Andrew Davis, one of the PRISMA Foundation researchers who co-authored the report, said in an interview with Mongabay. “Financing [needs] to be reaching the ground in a way that is aligned with local people’s priorities.”

The way donors manage risk and the lack of accountability in the system creates bottlenecks, he said, preventing resources from reaching communities that are both vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and in a critical position to help mitigate the phenomenon.

“There really needs to be a kind of fundamental change in the climate finance architecture,” Davis said.

When funding does make it through, donors often continuously cherry-pick the same projects instead of directing finance to Indigenous-managed regional initiatives that provide direct support to local community organizations setting new efforts up and running.

“The most important thing for international donors to do is to get to know the territories,” Davis said.

The focus of the PRISMA Foundation’s research is Mexico and Central America, and the WRI report mostly covers South America. There is more research on the links between land tenure and deforestation rates from Latin America than other parts of the world because work mapping the boundaries of recognized and customary Indigenous and community lands is more advanced in the region. However, work is still underway to map the boundaries of recognized and customary Indigenous and community lands in other parts of the world.

Map of Costa Rica comparing forest cover inside and outside Indigenous reserves and protected areas. Image courtesy of PRISMA Foundation.

Back in Indonesia, Mina Setra has seen the research out of South America and said she expects future research in Indonesia to help yield similar results. Indigenous communities in different regions also have local traditions that mandate sustainable agriculture and the seasonal closures of forests, fisheries and other natural resources to allow for regeneration, she said.

“We can develop actions based on our culture and our traditional knowledge,” Setra said, adding that with formal recognition of land and forest tenure, “we can do even more because communities will be able to scale up their actions.”

Setra is alarmed that the COP26 may view the carbon market as an inevitable solution. She said everyone starts off on the same page when talking about the climate emergency in discussions, but by the end it’s all about carbon prices.

“We see that everything is leading up to the carbon market. That really worries us,” she told Mongabay.

Indigenous peoples and organizations have diverse perspectives on carbon offset schemes, often under the umbrella of the U.N.’s reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation program, or REDD+. These schemes are centered around efforts to confer financial value on the carbon stored in forests. Some Indigenous groups are active participants, while others have mixed opinions of what they see as trying to offset harmful practices that contribute to climate change in the first place. Setra’s organization, AMAN, holds a position that ties securing Indigenous rights to approval of REDD+ programs: “No rights, no REDD+.” Setra said she expects the organization will maintain that stance when it comes to the carbon market through a need to cater to business interests.

Indigenous leaders have been trying to bring their contributions and rights to climate talks since the first World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979, and the first U.N. climate summit, or COP1, in Berlin in 1995. What began as a handful of Indigenous representatives protesting at conference doors to participate in negotiations has gained increased visibility and recognition over the years. The last five COPs saw the adoption of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (LCIPP) and a work plan to showcase to state parties and decision-makers the roles and contributions of Indigenous peoples, with a few shifting countries championing their proposals.

However, Indigenous advocacy at the global climate conferences still sometimes entails standing outside closed-door meetings, side events and restaurants to wait for official delegates to come out and get Indigenous proposals in their hands.

“Because we keep banging on the door, they have to listen,” Setra said. “That is our work: banging on the door.”

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Banks and investors pouring billions into Arctic oil & gas bonanza despite climate pledges – report

Paris, Thursday 23rd September 2021 – Oil and gas companies are set to ramp up production in the Arctic by 20% in the next five years (1), according to a new report from NGO Reclaim Finance (2). These Arctic ‘expansionists’ (3) – such as Gazprom, Total and ConocoPhillips (4) – have, it is revealed, been backed by hundreds of billions of dollars of support from banks and investors, despite many holding commitments to restrict fossil financing in the region.

The report details $314bn of loans and underwriting from commercial banks to Arctic oil and gas expansionists between 2016 and 2020. JPMorgan Chase was the biggest culprit ($18.6bn), with Barclays ($13.2bn), Citigroup ($12.2 bn) and BNP Paribas ($11.8bn) also featuring prominently. Investors are also facilitating the deadly oil and gas boom, holding around $272bn in Arctic fossil developers as of March 2021, with BlackRock ($28.5bn), Vanguard ($21.6bn) and Amundi ($12.9bn) leading the pack, all without Arctic exclusion policies.

The findings come just weeks after the International Panel on Climate Change warned of accelerating climate breakdown in the Arctic, with temperatures rising twice as quickly as elsewhere, while NASA is setto release its annual survey of Arctic sea ice loss in the coming days. Worryingly, the Arctic oil and gas ‘bonanza’ threatens to consume 22% of the world’s remaining 1.5°C carbon budget, while devastating local communities and biodiversity.

Commenting on the findings, campaigner at Reclaim Finance andreport author Alix Mazounie said: “The Arctic is a climate bomb, and our research shows that the oil and gas industry is hellbent on setting it off, thus blowing up our chances of avoiding runaway climate breakdown. But they are not the only culprits: financial institutions have bankrolled these companies, making a mockery of their own climate commitments. Since the oil & gas tigers won’t change their stripes,the likes of BNP Paribas, BlackRock and JPMorganChase must heed the instruction of the International Energy Agency and cut off the taps.”

Despite numerous commitments from financial institutions not to support oil and gas extraction in the Arctic, the report lays bare their fundamental design flaws. Thus while 20 of the top 30 banks fueling expansion in the Arctic region have so-called Arctic restriction policies, not a single one excludes support to companies developing new oil and gas projects in the region. Notably, HSBC and BNP Paribas were the top financiers of Arctic expansionists in 2020, despite adopting Arctic exclusion policies early on compared to their peers.

The report’s authors ascribe the fault to highly porous policies. Financial institutions such as AXA and Morgan Stanley have adopted highly limited definitions of the Arctic which permit ongoing expansion, while Goldman Sachs and Crédit Agricole are among several financial players restricting financing only to oil projects, there by permitting fossil gas, against the clear mandate of the IEA’s 1.5°C scenario. Crucially, policies often fail to effectively cover corporate financing, the major source of Arctic oil and gas financing.

The picture is even worse among investors, with only two out of the top 30 investors backing Arctic oil and gas expansion even possessing a policy, signifying a ‘blindspot’ in the sector. Meanwhile, amongst insurers, essential players for Arctic oil and gas extraction, only 13 out of the world’s top 46 companies have an Arctic sector underwriting policy – with even these policies failing to stop oil and gas expansion in the region.

Mazounie concluded: “As net-zero alliances proliferate, this report shines a harsh light on the realities of climate commitments in this precious region. The truth is thatfor most financial players, Arctic exclusion policies are mere fig leaves,failing to end support for oilandgas expansion. In this decisive hour for climate action in the run-up to COP26, financial institutions need to adopt the AMAP Arctic definition and end all support for oil & gas expansion in the Arctic, be it through projects or corporate financing. Passing the buck will no longer cut it.”

Notes:

The report is entitled Drill, Baby, Drill: How banks, investors and insurers are driving oil and gas expansion in the Arctic. Reclaim Finance has also produced an interactive map allowing users to view the scope and flaws of financial actors’Arctic exclusion policies, including in relation to oil and gas projects.

  1. According to Reclaim Finance calculations based on Rystad Energy data: production is set to increase from 11.5 million barrels of oil equivalent (mmboe) per day in 2020 to 13.7 mmboe per day in 2026 in the Arctic (as per the AMAP area).
  2. Figures are taken from the report. Data on oil and gas assets and companies comes from the Rystad Energy database. Financial data was collected by Profundo: it includes all financial transactions between commercial banks and the Arctic expansionists listed in the report from 2016 to 2020, as well as investments as of the filing date March 2021. See report methodology for more details.
  3. The report focuses on the top 20 oil and gas companies with direct participation in assets under development or field evaluation (according to Rystad Energy data collected in August 2021) in the Arctic (as per the AMAP area). They are referred to as ‘expansionists’.
  4. By 2030, Gazprom is slated to increase production by 14%, ConocoPhillips by 36%, and TotalEnergies by 28%. These figures could be higher if all their assets are exploited.

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Indigenous Leaders Speak Out About Criminalization and Silencing by Putin Administration

Indigenous organizations in Russia, allied organizations, and Cultural Survival have released an Open Letter to the Putin administration sounding an alarm about the growing intimidations and reprisals against Indigenous activists and rights defenders in Russia. 


These attacks are exemplified by the recent illegal detention of activist Andrei Danilov (Sámi) in the Murmansk region. Danilov, Director of the Sámi Heritage and Development Foundation, was detained on August 29, 2021. His belongings were illegally searched by the police without witnesses, in violation of Russia’s Administrative Code. The activist was detained for two days, then charged with “failure to comply with the lawful order of a police officer,” resulting in another five days of detention.


Danilov’s arrest is just one of the latest incidents in a series of acts of harassment against Indigenous activists and rights defenders in Russia in recent years. Days before, another Indigenous rights defender Stepan Petrov was declared a “foreign media acting as a foreign agent” in Yakutia on August 20, 2021. The 2012 Russian law on foreign agents, originally created to restrict international funding to Russian NGOs, is now being used to target individuals. Stepan Petrov (Yakut) is the first Indigenous person in Russia to receive the “foreign agent” label. Petrov chairs the nonprofit group Yakutia – Our Opinion, which is well-known in the region of Yakutia for their human rights work. The activist submitted numerous appeals to the United Nations calling on the Russian government to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and to support civil society in Russia.


On July 26, 2021, Indigenous activist Alexander Gabyshev (Yakut) was sentenced to compulsory treatment in a mental hospital in Yakutia. A well-known spiritual leader, Gabyshev has been detained numerous times since his spring 2019 march on Moscow. His detention in May 2020 resulted in his involuntary placement in a psychiatric program. The premier human rights group, Memorial, declared Gabyshev a political prisoner. After his release in July 2020, he was once again forced into hospitalization. In February 2021, Russia’s Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against Gabyshev under the pretense of violence against a government official, and the following month he was declared insane on the basis of a state psychiatric examination. In July 2021, a Yakutsk municipal court found him guilty of harming a police officer during an earlier arrest and sentenced him to compulsory treatment in a psychiatric clinic as a danger to others. Gabyshev will likely spend the next two years in a mental health institution as a tactic to silence his activism.
 

Other cases of reprisals and harassment of Indigenous activists, rights defenders, and organizations in Russia are listed below:

  • September 15, 2021: The authorities opened a criminal case against Sergei Kechimov (Khanty) in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug. The local shaman and elder campaigns to protect the sacred lake Imlor from oil extracting giant, Surgutneftegaz.  According to Kechimov, he was beaten by three company employees, yet he was the one charged by the police.
     
  • August 31, 2021: Eiko Serotetto (Nenets), a reindeer herder and Indigenous activist from the Yamal Peninsula in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, was sentenced to three months of personal restraint for fighting with another person in an Indigenous village. Despite the fact that Serotetto did not initiate the fight and that the brawlers subsequently reconciled, the police opened a criminal case against the activist. In 2019, Serotetto was investigated by police for organizing a meeting of Yamal reindeer herders where they discussed rights violations by oil companies.
     
  • August 24, 2020: Vyacheslav Krechetov (Shor), a well-known filmmaker from Kemerovo Oblast, was detained by police for organizing a public event during which the Indigenous community of Cheremza protested a new coal facility near the village. Krechetov was found guilty and fined 20,000 rubles (275 USD) for filming the event. The fine and charges were later dismissed by a local court. 
     
  • August 10, 2020: Arsenty Nikolaev (Evenk), deputy of the Yakutia Republic regional parliament and head of the Indigenous Tyanya community association, was arrested and placed under house arrest for speaking out in opposition to the activities of the Neryungri Metallik gold-mining company. After almost a year of house arrest, the regional court freed Nikolaev. However, the court did not close the criminal case against him despite the appeal court’s finding that business relations among stakeholders were legal.
     
  • November 2019: a Moscow city court ordered the closure of the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North/Russian Indigenous Training Center (CSIPN/RITC) on the grounds that its legal documentation was incomplete.  CSIPN was the most important independent Indigenous rights group in Russia. Human rights defenders consider the organization’s closure as the final act in a long campaign by the authorities to silence the organization. CSIPN’s leader Rodion Sulyandziga (Udege) was arrested in 2016, preventing his participation in a seminar on Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Moscow. Earlier in 2014, Russian border guards stopped Sulyandziga from participating in a UN conference on Indigenous peoples’ rights by damaging his passport at the airport. Several other Indigenous activists were also stopped from traveling to the same event under questionable circumstances. 


This list, though not exhaustive, shows the trend of government reprisal cases against Indigenous activists in Russia and an increasing pattern of intimidation and repression facing these activists and rights defenders. Cultural Survival and Batani Foundation also denounced this trend in a May 2021 report to the UN Commission for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, detailing cases of surveillance, censorship, arson, and the silencing of Indigenous women by obstructing their participation in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples in New York. 


The Open Letter, addressed to Putin as well as political representatives, UN officials, and human rights bodies across Russia, Europe, and the United States, demands an end to intimidation and harassment of Indigenous activists and Indigenous rights defenders in the Russian Federation.

Sign on to the Open Letter:

Open Letter in support of Mr. Andrei Danilov and other Indigenous activists in Russia affected by reprisals and harassment organized by police and governmental bodies

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Bolsonaro must be held criminally responsible for assault on the Amazon, say activists

In a petition to the international criminal court experts said the ‘mass deforestation’ poses a clear danger

The Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro must be held criminally responsible for a “ruthless” assault on the Amazon that has exacerbated the climate emergency and imperilled humanity’s very survival, activists have argued in a petition to the international criminal court.

In a submission to The Hague-based tribunal on Tuesday, legal and scientific experts said the “mass deforestation” unfolding under the rightwing nationalist posed a clear and present danger to Brazil, and to the world.

“There is a substantial body of evidence demonstrating the commission of ongoing crimes against humanity within Brazil which requires immediate investigation and prosecution,” the 284-page petition said, pointing to soaring Amazon devastation under Bolsonaro.

“However, the impact … extends far beyond the widespread, ongoing loss of life and deep suffering inflicted upon local communities. State-of-the-art climate science demonstrates that consequent fatalities, devastation and insecurity will occur on a far greater scale regionally and globally, long into the future, through the attributable links between the rapid acceleration in deforestation, its contribution to climate change, and the frequency and intensification of extreme weather events,” it went on.

“Given the multilateral breadth and depth of its impact, the nature of the attack … constitutes criminality of the very highest order,” the plaintiffs said, adding: “The ICC now has the opportunity – indeed the ICC has the duty – to act.”

Bolsonaro, a former paratrooper who has presided over what critics call a historic onslaught against the Amazon and its indigenous inhabitants, has been the subject of three previous ICC complaints since he took office in early 2019.

In August, campaigners asked the court to investigate Brazil’s president for the alleged genocide of its indigenous people, partly as a result of Bolsonaro’s anti-scientific response to the Covid pandemic. “He needs to pay for all the violence and destruction he is leading,” the indigenous leader Sônia Guajajara said at the time.

Johannes Wesemann, the founder of AllRise, the Vienna-based environmental litigation group behind the latest ICC complaint – the fourth against Brazil’s president – said it sought to add an international dimension to Bolsonaro’s alleged offences by exposing their impact on global heating.

Wesemann said: “The government under Bolsonaro directly and indirectly facilitates and thus accelerates the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon. This obviously in turn leads to deliberate and uncontrolled environmental destruction of the ecosystem with catastrophic consequences at a local level … but also with a serious consequence on a global scale.”

“Today, we know emissions attributed to the Bolsonaro administration will cause over 180,000 deaths globally until 2100,” Wesemann said, citing a submission from climatologists including Dr Friederike Otto, one of the lead authors of the recent IPCC report on the climate emergency.

“Our sole purpose … is to ensure that state, private sector and political actors such as Jair Bolsonaro, and past and present members of his government, who intentionally enable such destruction are held legally accountable,” Wesemann said, noting how mass deforestation had a “serious and scientifically proven impact on the global climate – and thus on our long-term survival.”

The Brazilian presidency did not respond to a request for comment on the accusations against Bolsonaro. In recent months Brazil’s government has launched a crackdown on environmental criminals in the Amazon, which critics suspect is designed to convince the international community it is cleaning up its environmental act ahead of the Cop26 climate summit.

Last week Bolsonaro’s recently appointed environment minister, Joaquim Leite, told reporters their country wanted to use the Glasgow meeting to show the world Brazil could be “part of the solution” to the climate crisis and was committed to cutting emissions.

But environmentalists are unconvinced by the pre-Cop rhetorical softening.

“What’s the solution?,” Suely Araújo, the former head of Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama, asked in a recent interview. “Change the president.”

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RECONCILIATION AGREEMENT BETWEEN GERMANY AND NAMIBIA:
A PATH TOWARDS REPARATION OF THE FIRST GENOCIDE OF THE 20TH CENTURY

The wounds inflicted by the great massacre of 60,000 Herero and 10,000 Namas in the former colony of Southwest Africa have yet to heal. Added to the concentration camps and slave labor, are the scars from the exhibition of human remains in museums and the manipulation for racist scientific theories. After a century of denial, the governments of both countries agreed to compensation of 1.1 billion euros over a period of 30 years. However, the descendants of the victims do not feel that their demands are heard.

On 28th May 2021 Germany issued an announcement that it had reached a Reconciliation Agreement with Namibia. This agreement acknowledged that it committed genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples in South West Africa (now Namibia) between 1904 and 1908. The agreement has yet to be confirmed by the German Bundestag (the German Federal Parliament) and the Namibian Parliament. The draft agreement represents one of the first times that a formal Reconciliation Agreement has been negotiated between a former colonial power and a former colony on a state-to-state level.

The genocide of the Herero and Nama began on 12th January 1904 after simmering tensions between German settlers and the residents of South West Africa with an attack by the Herero on German farmers and traders in Okahandja, Karibib, and Omaruru, with the primary aim of expelling the Germans from Ovahereroland. The Germans responded to this attack with massive brutality, murdering men, women and children.

An estimated 60,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama lost their lives at the hands of the German forces. It is not only about the number of lives lost, but also the social, economic and psychological impact.

The commander of the German forces, General Lothar von Trotha, issued an order on 2 October 1904 that amounted to an extermination declaration. Herero homesteads and cattle posts were attacked, and their residents annihilated. An estimated 60,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama lost their lives at the hands of the German forces. But as some of the victims of the genocide note, it is not only about the numbers of people lost but the social, economic, and psychological impacts that need to be considered.

The German forces attacked Herero who were gathered and seeking to negotiate a peace agreement at Omahakari (Waterberg) in central Namibia on 11 August 1904. Hundreds of Herero were killed outright, and many of those who escaped into the Omaheke Region to the east were hunted down and killed. An unknown number of Herero lost their lives due to thirst in their efforts to cross the Omaheke and flee into the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana).

Herero prisoners transported to concentration camps. Photo: Ullstein Bild
Annihilation, slave labor and destruction of their livelihoods

Outright massacres and murders of Namibia’s people by the Germans between 1904 and 1908 included not only Herero and Nama but also San and Damara. Thousands of Herero and Nama were confined to concentration camps where they experienced horrific living conditions, including lack of food, water, and medical attention. Others were forced into slave labor, building roads and railways, and working in mines and on German farms and ranches.

The genocide against the Herero and Nama had several phases. The first of these involved massacres of both combatants and non-combatants. The second phase consisted of the establishment of a cordon in the Omaheke region and hunting down and dispatching Herero refugees from the Battle of Omahakari. The third phase was the implementation of a scorched-earth policy aimed at destroying the livelihoods of the Herero and Nama; not only destroying homes, corrals, and sacred sites, but also capturing or destroying Herero and Nama cattle, goats and sheep and burning their crops.

The period between the cessation of formal war and the closing of the concentration camps in 1907-1908 did not see the cessation of hostilities, as the slaughter of Herero, Nama, and others continued until South African forces took over South West Africa and replaced the German colonial state in 1915. Although there was an overt effort by the German State to cleanse the archival records of evidence of genocide and massive human rights violations, efforts were made by victim groups to keep the knowledge of the first genocide of the 20th century alive and to commemorate the losses of Herero, Nama, San, Damara, and others.

Thousands of Herero and Nama were confined to concentration camps where they experienced horrific living conditions, including lack of food, water and medical attention.

One of the bitter reminders of the genocide was the presence of human remains of Herero, Nama and San in German museums, medical schools, and hospitals. Skulls, bones, and whole bodies were experimented on by German scholars over the next century. Some of the experiments were aimed at attempting to justify the racist scientific theories which underpinned German physical anthropological perspectives on race until the end of the Second World War and beyond.

In some cases, Herero and Nama human remains were put on public display in museums. There was a general outcry in the early part of the 21st century when the treatment of Herero and Nama remains became public, especially when stories were told of Herero women in the concentration camps at Luderitz and Swakopmund being forced to prepare the skulls of people who died in the camps for transport to German institutions.

There were some small measures of success, however, with, for example, Germany’s decision at the beginning of the 21st century to repatriate Herero and Nama skulls and other human and cultural remains to Namibia. The repatriation of these remains took place between 2011 and 2018 from German hospitals, museums, and other institutions. There were no formal apologies, however, for the ways in which the Herero and Nama human remains were dealt with while they were in German hands.

As of 2011, the human remains of the Herero and Namas began to be repatriated. Photo: Christian Mang / Reuters
Seeking forgiveness without listening to descendants

On 14 August 2004, the German Minister for Development and Economic Cooperation, Heidemariee Wieczorek-Zeul, officially apologized at Omahakari, Namibia, for the atrocities that had been committed by German forces against the Herero and the Nama. Subsequently, other German government officials referred to the atrocities as a ‘genocide’ and sought forgiveness for their transgressions against the peoples of Namibia.

Germany negotiated only with the Namibian government in a series of meetings between 2015 and 2021 regarding how to handle the consequences of the genocide. There were virtually no negotiations with descendants of victim groups (the Herero and the Nama). Neither the Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA) nor the Nama Traditional Leaders Association (NTLA) were allowed to take part in the negotiations involving the reconciliation agreement.

Germany and Namibia provisionally signed an agreement that includes the payment of €1.1 billion over 30 years for development projects.

In May 2021, Germany and Namibia tentatively signed an agreement that includes the payment of €1.1 billion (US$1.3 bn) over 30 years for development projects in Namibia. The payment would be a kind of reconciliation fund that would provide financial, cultural, and other assistance to Namibia. The Herero and Nama rejected the financial offer as inadequate in public statements, but the Namibian government is considering accepting the offer.

The tentative plans of the Namibian government are to provide development assistance in 7 of the country’s 14 regions where the Herero and Nama represent a majority of the residents. There would be no payouts to individuals or communities, unlike, for example the recent reconciliation agreement of Australia, which has agreed to pay 75,000 Australian dollars (US $55,000) to some members of its Aboriginal population who were forcibly removed from their families as children.

Memorial at the Swakopmund Concentration Camp. The descendants of the victims claim to participate in the negotiations for the agreement. Photo: Christian Ender

The draft Reconciliation Agreement stresses that Germany recognises the genocide in the moral and political sense. However, Germany’s position is that it has ruled out financial reparations to individuals for the genocide. What this means is that Germany does not want to set a legal precedent for paying reparations that might require the German government to provide financial compensation to victims of its colonial and post-colonial policies. Likewise, the agreement with Namibia can be a test case for future negotiations with the former French, British and Portuguese colonies in Africa.

One of the critical areas not mentioned in the Reconciliation Agreement was that of land, some of which is still in the hands of German Namibians. The Herero and Nama feel that land restitution should be considered in the Reconciliation Agreement, though the Namibian government has chosen not to support these requests. In 2020, Namibia issued a report on Ancestral Land Claims in the country in which it was argued that land could not be taken away from individuals who owned it without a ‘willing-seller-willing buyer’ agreement.

It remains unclear when Germany and Namibia will finalize the Reconciliation Agreement. What is clear is that the Herero and Nama and the San and Damara believe that the agreement does not contain the full range of what they feel they should receive in the form of reparations and compensation for the human rights offenses that they suffered –and continue to suffer– at the hands of the German colonial state. They feel strongly that the only way that reconciliation can be achieved is to have the descendants of victim groups participate fully in decision-making about how the gross human rights violations and their impacts should be addressed.

Robert K. Hitchcock is a professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico.

Melinda C. Kelly works at the Kalahari Peoples Fund.

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Indigenous Peoples and Climate Technologies

Acknowledging indigenous peoples’ technologies and identifying linkages with Technology Needs Assessments

This guidebook is produced as part of the GEF-Funded Global Technology Needs Assessment (TNA) Project, which is implemented by UNEP and UNEP DTU Partnership. Since 2009, close to one hundred countries have joined the Global TNA Project.

Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of climate resilience and their global contribution to a sustainable management of our shared natural resources are critical to combating climate change and its impacts. Yet, their contribution often remains unacknowledged, and too often indigenous peoples have little access to the financial resources or forums for decision-making concerning the environment, which severely undermines opportunities for significant influence in climate policy, planning and action.

This guidebook provides information about how to identify and integrate relevant considerations on indigenous peoples and technologies into the TNA process, while ensuring that their free, prior and informed consent is obtained.

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UN Human Rights Council adopts historic resolutions on the right to a Safe Environment, Climate Change and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Geneva, Switzerland, October 12, 2021:  At the close of the UN Human Rights Council’s forty-eighth session on Friday, October 8, three resolutions in which the IITC had actively engaged were adopted. The right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is now formally recognized at the global level through a resolution endorsed by over 1000 Indigenous Peoples, civil society organizations and UN Experts. This resolution affirms the right already recognized in Article 29 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The unbreakable link between human rights and a safe environment was further underscored by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in its recommendations for the country review Mexico from 2015. The CRC asserted at that time that “Environmental Health” is a protected right under Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in response to IITC’s submission addressing the devastating and deadly health impacts of toxic and banned pesticides on Yaqui Indigenous children in that county.  As a result of the Human Rights Council’s landmark resolution, this is now recognized as a universal right.

Click here for a copy of the resolution as adopted.  

In a second historic resolution, the Council created a new Special Rapporteur’s Office on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change. The urgent need for the creation of this new Special Rapporteur to gather information and report on human rights violations created by the causes, impacts and, in some cases, false market-based solutions to climate change generated broad support from Indigenous Peoples, small island States, civil society organizations, and other human rights mandate holders, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. IITC played an active role in the work of this broad coalition over the past year as a focal point for Indigenous Peoples in a number of webinars and educational fora, stressing its vital importance as the climate crisis continues to worsen.  

Click here for a copy of the resolution as adopted.  

Andrea Carmen, Executive Director of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) and member of the Facilitative Working Group for the UNFCCC Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, warmly welcomed these historic advances, which affirm the understanding of Indigenous Peoples around the world that human health and well-being cannot be separated from a clean and healthy environment:  “The adoption of these resolutions as a result of a broad collective effort  will enhance the ability of Indigenous Peoples to present rights-based solutions for environmental recovery and restoration, and to protect the integrity of their natural ecosystems from environmental contamination and climate change, in line with their human rights.  Too often throughout the UN system we have seen some so-called solutions promoted to address environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, deforestation and climate change that ignore, or even further violate the rights of Indigenous Peoples to protect their homelands and continue their ways of life.  We hope that these decisions by UN Human Rights Council will help us chart a stronger rights-based course to ensure environmental protection and reverse climate change”.

In addition to these historic and long-awaited advances, the Human Rights Council’s resolution on Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples was also adopted on the last day of the session. This resolution also affirms the essential role of Indigenous Peoples in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss, and it addresses other closely-related concerns, including ending impunity for the repression of human rights defenders. IITC is also gratified that the resolution recognizes the importance of recent and upcoming studies by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also provides a way forward to advance enhanced participation of Indigenous representative institutions, affirms a process for international repatriation of sacred items and human remains, and denounces violence against Indigenous women and girls, among many other important provisions.

Click here for a copy of the resolution as adopted.  

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Snorri Baldursson passed away – Iceland and the Arctic lost its leading Ambassador for Conservation of Flora and Fauna

Snorri Baldursson passed away on September 29. We lost our member and close friend at the much too early age of 67. And Iceland and the Arctic lost its leading Ambassador for Conservation of Flora and Fauna. We remember him with his inspirational and motivating spirit from his time as head of the Arctic Council program on the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), or when we were meeting with him and colleagues from all over the Arctic in the Siberian Lena Delta discussing the future development of the Arctic Protected Area Network, or from his strong engagement for the protection of the Icelandic Highlands. His death is a major loss for the Icelandic and Arctic nature conservation movement, but his name will be closely related to the legacy he left us with the World Heritage Site Vatnajökull national park. And the best gift Iceland could provide in his honor would be if his dream of protecting the entire Icelandic Highland as a national park would be implemented in the near future.

Peter Prokosch

Graphic from a presentation Snorri Baldursson gave at the LT&C workshop in Iceland in 2016

Let’s have a look at Snorri’s impressive life history provided by Arni Finnsson und Ólafur S. Andrésson:

Snorri Baldursson in memoriam

The Icelandic biologist, Dr. Snorri Baldursson, passed away at home in the early hours of 29th September. The cause of death was brain cancer.

Snorri was born 17th May 1954 at Akureyri Hospital in northern Iceland. He was raised at the farm Ytri-Tjörn in Eyjafjörður together with his siblings. In 1974 he finished High School in Akureyri and then finished undergraduate studies in biology in 1979 from the University of Iceland. He studied plant ecology and plant genetics for Masters Degree at the University of Colorado and finished his PhD degree at the University of Copenhagen in 1993.

After finishing his studies abroad Snorri became involved in research on land reclamation and conservation, focusing intensely on these subjects during the last 20 years. He was also active in nature conservation and wrote influential articles and books as well serving on the boards of NGOs and public institutions.

Snorri was director of CAFF from 1997 – 2002, then took a management position at the Institute of Natural History 2002 – 2008, and was the head ranger at the Vatnajökull Glacier Park and chairman of Landvernd, the Icelandic Environmental Association, 2015 – 2017. Finally, he served as director of the Department of Resources and Environment at the Agricultural University of Iceland from 2018.

THE book on Icelands Biosphere – the Ecology of its land and sea

In 2014 Snorri published the book on the Flora and Fauna of Iceland for which he received the Icelandic Litterature Award in the category science and general interests. Then, last month Snorri published a book on Vatnajökull Glacier Park: World Treasure. The book was based on his work leading and editing Iceland‘s successful application for a UNESCO World Heritage Status for the Park, granted in 2019. For this Icelanders and the global conservation community are greatly indebted to Snorri and his excellent work.

Icelandic Highlands. Photo: Snorri Baldursson

Last summer Snorri established Skrauta, an NGO which campaigns for the protection of Vonarskarð, a very precious wilderness area at the centre of the Icelandic Highlands; an essential and successful undertaking, indeed.

In Iceland Snorri will be remembered for his legacy in nature conservation and communication, his cosmopolitan view on environmental issues, his inspiring books and teaching.

Snorri had four sons, Heimir born in 1974, Narfi Þorsteinn born 1982, Baldur Helgi born in 1986 and Snorri Eldjárn born in 1988. His surviving wife is Elsa Friðrika Eðvarðsdóttir.

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A Problem of Moscow’s Own Making: Who is an Indigenous People in the Russian North?

Paul Goble

Staunton, Sept. 27 – The Russian government has defined as indigenous peoples in the North those who are members of one of 40 numerically small peoples (under 50,000 each) who receive benefits from the government which allow them to continue to practice their traditional hunting and fishing.

            That approach has given rise to two sets of issues, one of which threatens to become explosive. The first involves those who are members of these numerically small peoples but who live in cities and do not live in a traditional manner. Some of them want to claim that status, but Moscow has been working hard to deny them such an opportunity and the money it involves (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/10/moscow-sets-up-registry-of-northern.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/11/saami-activist-appeals-to-supreme-court.html).

            While this is a problem for some individuals and for the defense of national identities of these groups, it does not present serious difficulties for large numbers of people or Moscow as such. But the second issue does. The indigenous peoples in the Russian North are proud of that status and want to distinguish themselves from everyone else, including ethnic Russians.

            On the one hand, that has prompted some Russian nationalists to demand that the numerically small peoples of the north not be allowed to make a distinction that exists in Russian law. And on the other, it has led some Russian nationalists to demand the Russians living in the North be named an indigenous people as well and get benefits too (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/12/to-protect-national-security-moscow.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/09/russian-nationalist-outraged-russians.html).

            Moscow-appointed officials in the North not surprisingly are on the side of the Russians, although they face problems with the fact that Russian law itself defines indigenous peoples for the purpose of promoting the survival of these traditional communities and thus cannot oppose that without putting themselves in opposition to Moscow.

            But they may now have found a way to take action against the numerically small indigenous nationalities of the Russian North. Some of them are suggesting that foreign countries want to mobilize these communities by using the indigenous-non-indigenous divide and that Moscow must block that by ending this arrangement (regnum.ru/news/society/3381878.html).

            This debate appears set to escalate with the non-Russians who benefit playing defense and the ethnic Russians and their corporate allies in the North playing offense and hoping to use the national security card to get Moscow’s attention and support for ending what has been one of the few defenses the indigenous peoples have.

            If the Russian side wins this debate, however, anger among the numerically small indigenous nations of the North will escalate; and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Russian government by its willingness to cater to Russian nationalists on this question may be putting itself at far greater risk than it likely understands.

            The traditional peoples are armed, and many of them work as prospectors for natural resources and even have dynamite to search for rare minerals. Angering people with guns and explosives is far from the cleverest thing to do when they are located in critical regions with long and unguarded pipelines and highways.  

           But if the indigenous peoples of the North succeed, they will become a model for other non-Russians who are likely to see playing up the difference between their own nations and ethnic Russians who arrived during imperial expansion as politically useful. That could create an even more serious problem for Moscow as well. 

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