To halt the climate breakdown and feed the planet’s ever-growing population, the world has to change the way it manages its land — immediately, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published this week.
To achieve this, countries must recognize the outsize role indigenous peoples — particularly women — play in conservation.
“Indigenous women are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis — and they are powerful agents in the fight to halt it,” said President of Conservation International Jennifer Morris. “A critical step to protecting nature — to protecting the planet — is elevating the rights and roles of the world’s indigenous peoples, especially women."
The statistics to support this are overwhelming: Though they account for only 5 percent of the world’s population, indigenous peoples use or manage more than a quarter of Earth’s surface and protect 80 percent of global biodiversity. They manage 35 percent of intact forests and at least a quarter of above-ground carbon in tropical forests. Overall, indigenous-managed lands show less species decline and pollution, and more well-managed natural resources.
Unfortunately, this fundamental relationship with the natural world also makes indigenous peoples acutely vulnerable to deforestation and the impacts of climate change.
“Indigenous peoples have always faced the changing of the environment,” said Minnie Degawan, director of the indigenous and traditional peoples program at Conservation International. “Climate change is different. It happens at a much faster rate and has a greater impact, making it very difficult for indigenous peoples to adapt.”
In Amazonia, Conservation International is working with the Women’s Council of COICA — an organization dedicated to protecting the land and human rights of indigenous communities in the region — to empower indigenous women in the region to embrace their crucial role as conservationists.
Meet three of these climate warriors in the videos below.
Clemencia Herrera Nemerayema, one of Conservation International’s Indigenous Women fellows, explains how her work — and the conservation work of other women — is informed and strengthened by traditional knowledge.
Elvia Dagua, a Kichwa indigenous woman from the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorean, shares how she became an indigenous woman leader and what drives her fight to defend her territory, while empowering and supporting other indigenous women.
Claudette Labonte from the Kamuyeneh community of the Palikur peoples in French Guiana speaks about fighting for the rights of indigenous peoples — despite the struggles of discrimination — and encourages women to recognize their strengths and join the fight.
Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International.
Cover image: Indigenous women in Brazil. (© Luana Luna)