by Marlowe Hood
From Amazon rainforests to the Arctic Circle,
indigenous peoples are under siege.
Waiapi people cross the Feliz river by barge
in Amapa state, Brazil
From Amazon rainforests to the Arctic Circle, indigenous peoples are
leveraging ancestral knowhow to protect habitats that have sustained
them for hundreds and even thousands of years, according to a
UN assessment of biodiversity
But these "guardians of nature" are under siege, warns the first
major UN scientific report to fully consider indigenous knowledge
and management practices.
Whether it is logging, agribusiness and
cattle ranching in the tropics, or climate change
'warming' the poles twice as fast as the global average, an
unrelenting economic juggernaut fuelled by coal, oil and gas is
ravaging the natural world, the grim report found.
A million of Earth's estimated eight million species are at risk of
extinction, and an area of tropical forest five times the size of
England has been destroyed since 2014.
and local communities are facing growing resource extraction,
commodity production, along with mining, transport and energy
infrastructure," with dire impacts on livelihoods and health,
the report concluded.
Experts estimate that
there are some 300 million indigenous people living in mostly
undisturbed natural areas, and another 600 million in "local
communities" striding the natural and built worlds.
At least a quarter of global lands are traditionally owned, managed
or occupied by indigenous groups, the UN Intergovernmental
Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
Map showing forest cover since 2000,
in the five most affected countries
have truly been guardians of Nature for the rest of society,"
Eduardo Brondizio, co-chair of the UN report and a professor of
Anthropology at Indiana University Bloomington, told AFP.
Research has shown, for
example, that forests under indigenous management are more effective
carbon sinks and are less prone to wildfires than many so-called
"protected areas" controlled by business concessions.
"We have been
guardians of our lands for millennia and have deep interaction
with ecosystems where we live," said Lakpa Nuri Sherpa, a Sherpa
activist from eastern Nepal.
"Our lands are among the most biodiverse on the planet."
But nearly three-quarters
of regions worldwide under indigenous stewardship have seen a
decline in most measure of biodiversity and ecosystem health, the
"The pressures on
them continue to be enormous," said Brondizio.
Schoolchildren play on melting ice
at Yupik Eskimo village of Napakiak
on the Yukon Delta in Alaska,
where climate change threatens entire communities
"The global economy
keeps pushing the boundaries of resource extraction" deeper into
indigenous territory, he said.
"Indigenous peoples have been retreating from those economic
frontiers for 500 years, but get caught every time."
Globally, the pace of
deforestation is staggering.
Last year, the tropics lost an area almost the size of England, a
total of 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles).
Almost a third of that area, some 36,000 km2, was
pristine primary rainforest.
In Brazil - home to nearly half of the world's plant and animal
landowners fell multi-storied trees to make way for soya
rogue miners pollute rivers
steal valuable species...
Progression of deforestation
total area by state
"It is like using the
goose that lays golden eggs to make soup," said Brondizio.
The livestock industry is
a double climate threat:
it destroys forests
to make way for grazing land and soy crops to feed cattle
generates huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas
Extraction industries of
all kinds have found an ardent backer in far-right President
Jair Bolsonaro, who came into
office in January.
"I am worried," said
Brondizio, who is Brazilian, noting the weakening of
environmental protections and an increase in the vilification of
Everywhere in the
tropics, local populations that push back against big business and
their backers are at risk.
More than 200 environmental campaigners - half from indigenous
tribes in tropical forests - were murdered in 2017, according to
"Our global home is
under threat, and Nature is in decline, all driven by an
economic and political system that favors increasing consumption
and growth over living in harmony with Nature," said Aroha Te
Pareake Mead, a member of the
Ngati Awa and
Ngati Porou Maori tribes in New