Ecuador’s highest court affirms Indigenous land rights: 3 stories you may have missed

© Robin Moore/iLCP

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Ecuador’s top court rules for stronger land rights for Indigenous communities

Indigenous groups in Ecuador secured a major victory against extractive industries.

The story: Ecuador’s Constitutional Court has ruled that mining and oil projects cannot advance on Indigenous lands without their consent, writes Kimberley Brown for Mongabay. The country’s 14 recognized Indigenous groups, which steward 70 percent of the Ecuadorian Amazon, may now veto industrial projects — except in so-called “exceptional cases.” 

The high court’s ruling comes at a critical time: Gold mining in the Amazon is rising alongside commodity prices, and Ecuador has suffered two major oil spills in as many years. The country’s president recently stated his intention to double oil production and substantially expand mining — an announcement met with Indigenous resistance.

The big picture: Strengthening Indigenous land tenure is not only an environmental justice issue — it’s an existential imperative. Researchers have found that, on average, Indigenous communities are better at managing natural resources and slowing biodiversity loss and deforestation on their lands. But despite possessing centuries of traditional environmental knowledge, these groups have long been sidelined by governments and conservation organizations.

“Many Indigenous groups live on lands that are governed not by formal laws, but by informal ‘customary’ agreements — their historical association with the land is the basis of their ‘right’ to manage it,” Johnson Cerda, an Indigenous Kichwa (Ecuador) and director of the DGM Global Executing Agency at Conservation International, told Conservation News. “Although Indigenous peoples have been protecting nature since time immemorial, this lack of land rights makes it easier for governments and conservation organizations to come in and make their own decisions on how to manage or protect the land.”

Read more here.

Scientists have long warned that runaway climate change will upend the global economy — and some industries are feeling the heat.

The story: Climate-induced inflation is already upon us, reports Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic. Production of key commodities has faltered amid extreme weather and natural disasters. Last year, record-breaking heat struck the American Great Plains, causing the price of corn to rise by 45 percent. Persistent drought in Brazil, followed by rare tropical frost, has doubled coffee prices since 2020. 

Lumber is perhaps the most glaring example of “greenflation.” During the housing boom of the mid-2000s, 1,000 board-feet of lumber averaged $450. Since then, the price of lumber has tripled even though construction has slowed by 40 percent. Climate is the culprit: Key lumber-producing areas of North America have been ravaged by migrating beetles, historic fires seasons and flooding that disrupted rail transport.

Even complex commodities, like semiconductors, are at risk. Last year, when high temperatures forced Taiwan to ration water, factories could no longer adequately cool their facilities. In turn, local manufacturers had to slow or halt production.

The big picture: The World Economic Forum’s latest Global Risk Report — a survey of 1,000 government, corporate and nonprofit leaders— found that the top-five long-term risks to the global economy are all environmental. Climate action failure, extreme weather and biodiversity loss ranked as the most severe.

“Barring sweeping action, extreme weather will disrupt production, halt transportation and upend supply chains. Carbon-intensive companies will become uninsurable. And commodity shortages will drive inflation, as they already are,” said John Buchanan, who leads Conservation International’s sustainable production strategy. “Corporations are starting to see climate change for the existential threat that it is — and recent private sector pledges on deforestation and decarbonization reflect this shift.”

Read more here.

Humanity can walk and chew gum at the same time, a new study shows.

The story: To decarbonize the global economy and prevent runaway climate change, humanity must rapidly scale up renewable energy projects. Though technical advances have made clean energy cheaper, wind and solar farms tend to require significant tracts of land for turbines and panel arrays, as well as access roads and other critical infrastructure. A new study finds that the expansion of renewables need not come at the expense of fragile ecosystems, writes John Timmer for Ars Technica.

Researchers mapped existing protected areas and the ranges of all threatened land vertebrates. After overlaying areas used for wind and solar farms, they found that only 15 percent of existing facilities are located within conservation zones — mainly in Europe. This figure is expected to remain low, since most priority habitats are poorly suited for wind and solar energy production. There are, however, two notable areas where energy expansion and ecosystems will likely collide: Brazil and parts of Southeast Asia, where species density complicates development. 

The big picture: Protected areas are crucial for biodiversity, communities’ livelihoods and climate — but legal protections are not always permanent. In recent years, Conservation International has documented the rollback or elimination of protected areas in more than 70 countries. Though fossil fuel exploration is a common cause of legal rollbacks, the Southampton team could not find any instances of clean energy expansion leading to the rollback of existing protected areas.

The study’s authors wrote: “While conflicts between renewables and protected areas inevitably do occur, renewables represent an important option for decarbonization of the energy sector that would not significantly affect area-based conservation targets if deployed with appropriate policy and regulatory controls.”

Read more here.

Matthew Ribel is the senior writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Sunset in Ecuador (© Robin Moore/iLCP)