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Indigenous Communities Gain Environmental Victory at COP23

Indigenous communities claimed a victory at COP23 in Bonn Wednesday, as governments acknowledged their leadership role in protecting forests and containing climate change.

Despite comprising 370 million of the world's population and having communal ownership of more than 20 percent of the world's tropical forest carbon, indigenous groups were sidelined at past international climate talks. Often forced to defend their land against the encroachment of agribusiness, loggers and oil corporations, indigenous peoples have long sought international recognition of their rights, autonomy and participation in negotiations.


Emphasizing their new, internationally enshrined role, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, met with indigenous representatives. The new international procedures working in their support oblige governments abiding by the framework to talk to indigenous communities when they go to the drawing board over carbon emissions. Experts are cautious, however, about the effectiveness that the new procedures bring in terms of including indigenous voices in mainstream debates.

"This is an important step forward but only if it really does mean that indigenous and local communities are listened to and their knowledge recognized," Clare Shakya of the International Institute for Environment and Development told the Guardian.

The 2015 Paris accord established a "platform for the exchange of experience and sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation in a holistic and integrated manner." The document approved in Bonn, however, goes beyond that, saying that countries "should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities."

Since 2015, 132 environmentalists have been killed in Brazil alone, most of whom were working against illegal logging in the Amazon. Many of the victims belonged to indigenous communities. An average of four environmental defenders are killed each week around the globe.

In 2016, a study by the Rights and Resources Initiative found that expanding tribal land rights is the most cost-effective measure to protect forests and sequester carbon. The paper also encouraged governments to recognize tribal land rights and bring tribal input into the fold of national action plans.

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