Indigenous leaders call for new global agreement to protect Amazon

Leaders of the Amazon's indigenous groups, alarmed by statements made by Jair Bolsonaro during his election campaign that he is in favour of weakening the protections afforded by existing international and regional treaties to the world's largest rainforest, have called for a new global agreement to forestall the further opening up of the Amazon for exploitation by agribusiness, miners, loggers and construction companies.

Rabiya Jaffery

LEADERS of the Amazon's indigenous groups are calling for a new global agreement to protect and restore at least half of the world's natural habitats.

The Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon River Basin (or COICA), an activist group, prepared a proposal that was presented to the secretariat, government bodies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) during the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP 14) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which was held in Egypt on 17-29 November.

COICA was founded in 1984 in Lima, Peru, and coordinates nine national Amazonian indigenous organisations in promoting and developing mechanisms to defend the self-determination of indigenous peoples and coordinate the actions of its members on an international level.

COICA's proposal invites more input and involvement of indigenous communities in conservation efforts and policy-making that address biodiversity loss, as the CBD parties negotiate on defining the terms of the post-2020 global framework on biodiversity that is to be adopted in Beijing, China, in two years.

The proposal resulted from a COICA summit held last August with indigenous leaders from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Surinam and Venezuela.

'Nearly 80% of the world's biodiversity is found on the lands of tribal peoples and the majority of the most biodiverse places on Earth are tribal peoples' territories,' said Juan Carlos Jintiach, a representative of COICA who was in Egypt.

'Tribal people have been contributing and sustainably using the resources on their lands for thousands of years and it's not possible to create policies that will be effective without their input.'

In their declaration, the indigenous delegations invite states and other entities to include ancestral knowledge in policies that address conservation.

COICA wants to work with other players behind a common goal to protect and restore half of the planet before 2050.

COICA is also pushing for a dialogue with the governments of the Amazon region to include the joint vision of the indigenous confederations through an 'alliance and commitment to protect the region, its biodiversity, its cultures, and sacredness' to protect the rainforest and its 'biological corridor'.

An agreement to protect a 'biological corridor' that spans 135 million hectares and is distributed between Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil is being promoted among the three countries. The corridor will cover zones from the Amazon, the Andes Cordillera and the Atlantic Ocean, and is one of the regions of major biodiversity in the world. Indigenous groups believe that their input and perspectives are important for the effectiveness of the agreement.

'65% of the world's lands are indigenous territories but only 10% are legalised. Guaranteeing indigenous territorial rights is an inexpensive and effective [way] of reducing carbon emissions and increasing natural areas,' stated Tuntiak Katan, Vice President of COICA.

Indigenous communities have expressed deep concern over statements on environmental policies and indigenous issues made by Brazil's president-elect Jair Bolsonaro during his campaign.

Bolsonaro will not assume office until January, but he has supported a weakening of protections for the Amazon. As a result, less land will be controlled by indigenous and forest communities and more will be open to agribusiness, miners, loggers and construction companies.

'His views are worrying, but the new government will also face a challenge in reversing policies that are already in line because they will lose their position as an international leader on environmental issues,' says Oscar Soria, senior campaigner of Avaaz, a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere.

'We wish to remind Bolsonaro that Brazil has national and international obligations to guarantee territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and to respect their free, prior and informed consent,' he adds.

'We hope the new government will respect international obligations and we will continue to stand by NGOs and Indigenous Peoples who are fighting to save the world - the world cannot protect biodiversity without Brazil but Brazil cannot destroy biodiversity alone.' IPS

*Third World Resurgence No. 333/334, 2018, pp 2-3