Selected category: Indigenous peoples

What the Paris Agreement's references to indigenous peoples mean

By: Chris Meyer, Environmental Defense Fund, and Estebancio Castro, Independent Indigenous Leader


The Paris Agreement makes five explicit references to indigenous peoples, their rights, and their traditional knowledge. Above: A report launched at a December 2015 press conference in Paris found indigenous territories hold one-fifth of the world’s tropical forest carbon. Credit: Environmental Defense Fund

Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but they can also play a crucial role in stabilizing the climate. Though the 1997 Kyoto Protocol didn’t include a single reference to indigenous peoples, the Paris Agreement– though not perfect – made some great strides.

The Paris Agreement and implementing decisions include:

  • five explicit references to indigenous peoples, their rights, and their traditional knowledge. These appear in the preambles of both the Paris Agreement and the Decision text, and in specific topic areas of the exchange of experiences and adaptation.
  • a reference to a topic important to indigenous peoples, non-carbon benefits in relation to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+).

Importantly, the references to indigenous peoples in the preamble to the Paris Agreement, and repeated in the preamble to the Decision text, say that countries need to respect indigenous peoples’ rights when taking action to address climate change. It’s significant that this rights language is included in the preambles, as it ensures these rights will be part of the framing of the whole agreement and implementing decisions.

The Paris Agreement and its Decision texts contain important references to indigenous peoples' rights that can help drive change at the country levels, where it is most needed.

The other references to indigenous peoples discuss the need to include them in the exchange of knowledge, especially considering the topic of adaptation. As they are one of the more vulnerable groups, they will need access to more western knowledge to support their own indigenous knowledge about how to adapt to climate change and protect their livelihoods. Additionally, the Paris Agreement recognizes indigenous peoples' “traditional knowledge” as an asset for helping themselves – and their neighbors – adapt.

Indigenous peoples for many years advocated strongly for the consideration of non-carbon benefits as a part of REDD+, including through a number of formal submissions to the process. The inclusion of explicit language in the REDD+ article to promote non-carbon benefits reflects their efforts and the importance of the topic.

The Paris Agreement and its Decision text aren’t perfect, and though some may have wished to see a greater number of specific references to these rights in the text, the Paris outcome was kept intentionally broad so it could be applicable to nearly 200 countries.

Regardless, we see important references to indigenous peoples' rights in the Paris Agreement and its Decision texts that, together with other international human rights instruments, can now be leveraged to drive change at the country levels, where it is most needed. That is the challenge in the years to come – to ensure indigenous peoples and their rights are adequately represented and respected in countries’ policies and actions they take to implement the Paris Agreement.

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Amazon states, global leaders in emissions reductions

Two states in the Brazilian Amazon — Mato Grosso and Pará emitted more greenhouse gases in 2004 than all but six nations in the world. More climate pollution than Japan. By 2012 they had cut emissions so dramatically, they dropped beneath 37 other countries.

This progress, achieved through reduced deforestation, is a major reason for the 80%  decline in Amazon deforestation between 2005 and 2014.

At the Paris climate conference, these two states rolled out plans for even more ambitious action.


(source: Observatório de Clima SEEG)

Ambitious forest policy is key to climate progress

Slowing Amazon deforestation has kept over 4 billion tons of CO₂ out of the atmosphere since 2005, several times more than the EU’s emissions reductions from 2005 – 2011. Major causes of the decline include better remote sensing monitoring, ramped-up law enforcement, credit limitations, company commitments to zero-deforestation commodity supply chains, large-scale creation of protected areas and recognition of indigenous territories.

The bad news is that plans positive incentives – payments from polluters to preserve forests — have not materialized.  Consequently, while deforestation dropped to a historic low of 4,500 km² in 2012 (from a peak of 27,000 km² in 2004), it has crept back up to around 5,000 km² in recent years.

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3 reasons why the land sector is key to a Paris climate agreement

Trees in a forest

The Paris climate agreement should incorporate the land sector, which includes agriculture and deforestation, in a way that makes best use of its potential for mitigation, adaptation and development. Credit: flickr/final gather

Land use—such as agriculture and forests—accounts for almost a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.

It’s obvious that land use will play a major role in curbing the impact of climate change—and  here are three big reasons why the land sector will be key to an agreement made in Paris:

1) The land sector has huge mitigation potential:

The land sector accounts for about 24% of net global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. However, it has huge potential to reduce emissions, as well. Forests alone could absorb up to 11% of emissions. The IPCC also estimates that the land sector could provide 20-60% of cumulative mitigation by 2030. Without significant efforts to reduce emissions and enhance sequestration, it will be very difficult to stabilize warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

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Putting Indigenous Producers on the Map

Juanita crop

Cacao grown by indigenous and community cooperatives has supported the growth of the organic ultra-premium chocolate industry.  Photo Credit: Flickr/USAID Development Credit Authority

Across the Amazon, indigenous peoples have long harvested well-known commodities like cacao, coffee, Brazil nuts, and hearts of palm. Indigenous communities rely on such “non-timber” forest products—which also include traditional crops and less well-known natural products such as sacha inchi and camu camu—for the communities’ own consumption and for sale.

Responsible trade in these products can make a significant contribution to indigenous communities working to conserve their forests and generate alternative sources of income. Because indigenous management of Amazon forests is critical to controlling and reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere, responsible trade also aligns with the growing body of corporate commitments to deforestation-free sourcing.

Indigenous products and community enterprises, however, face practical, commercial and organizational challenges in getting to market, particularly at scale. Overcoming these obstacles requires a combination of financial expertise, technical assistance and strategic commercial relationships. Read More »

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8 reasons for hope: Our top take-aways from Climate Week

My forecast had been for a Climate Week “on steroids” and that’s exactly what we got.


(Image: Jane Kratochvil)

We saw the largest climate rally in history draw 400,000 people – up from the 250,000 we had initially hoped for – and then the United Nations Climate Summit, where 125 heads of state joined business and civic leaders to discuss ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Another highlight for the week was the growing momentum for putting a price on carbon. More than 1,000 businesses and investors, nearly 100 national, state, province and city governments, and more than 30 non-profit organizations called for expanding emissions trading and other policies that create market incentives for cutting pollution.

Could it be that we’re finally reaching the point of meaningful action on climate change? To find out, I asked colleagues at Environmental Defense Fund who participated in the Climate Summit for their key take-aways from the week.

Here’s their report:


Eric Pooley, Sr. Vice President, Strategy and Communications: This march shot down, once and for all, the old canard that Americans “don't care” about climate change. And it reminded me what an extremely big tent the coalition for climate action really is — with plenty of room for groups with vastly different views.

More than 1,000 EDF members and staff, plus 300 members of the Moms Clean Air Force, were proud to be marching alongside all kinds of people from all kinds of groups from all over the country. To win on climate, we need a strong outside game and a strong inside game. EDF is helping to build both.


Mark Brownstein, Associate Vice President, U.S. Climate and EnergyMethane is becoming a top priority in the fight against climate change. Last week, EDF helped to launch the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil & Gas Methane Partnership, which creates a framework for oil and gas companies to measure and reduce methane emissions and report their progress.

At the summit, I watched the chief executive of Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, turn to Fred Krupp to say that his company was interested in joining the six companies that already agreed to sign on. While the ultimate test of the partnership will be the reductions that it achieves, it has gotten off to a promising start.


Stephan Schwartzman, Senior Director, Tropical Forest Policy: One of the high points of the week, no doubt, came when 35 national and state governments, more than 60 non-profits and indigenous organizations, and 34 major corporations pledged to halve deforestation by 2020 – and to completely end the clearing of natural forests by 2030. EDF was proud to be part of the coalition that put the New York Declaration on Forests together.


Christopher Meyer, Amazon Basin Outreach Manager: Indigenous groups from the major rain forest basins pledged to continue to conserve 400 million hectares under their control. Those 400 million hectares are important for cultural and biodiversity purposes globally, but they also hold an estimated 71 gigatons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 11 years of emissions from the United States.

I was honored to accompany Edwin Vasquez Campos of the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, and to watch him deliver a stirring speech to a room that included the leaders of Norway and Indonesia. It was the first time an indigenous leader was given such an opportunity at the U.N.


Fred Krupp, EDF President: On September 23, EDF hosted a meeting with Chinese government officials, who reiterated their plans for a national carbon market in China, and said they’re interested in working with the United States to combat climate change. Later that day, I heard President Obama speak at the United Nations General Assembly.

I was encouraged and inspired to hear him say that the U.S. and China, “as the two largest economies and emitters in the world … have a special responsibility to lead.”


Richie Ahuja, Regional Director, Asia: After a three-year global effort involving a large number of diverse stakeholders, we finally launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. Its purpose: To help the world figure out how to feed a growing population on a warming planet.

The alliance will use the latest technology and draw on the experience of farmers to improve livelihoods and build resilience – while at the same time cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. This is climate action that truly counts.


Ruben Lubowski, Chief Natural Resource Economist: One thing that made the Climate Summit unique was that it included corporate leaders, not just heads of state. In addition to signing the New York Declaration on Forests, chief executives of major global companies that buy and trade palm oil and other tropical commodities that drive deforestation – companies like Cargill, Unilever, and Wilmar – spoke strongly about their plans to change sourcing practices.

Already, companies accounting for about 60 percent of the world’s palm oil trade have made commitments to eliminate deforestation from their products.


Derek Walker, Associate Vice President, U.S. Climate and Energy: California has served as a proving ground for climate change policies that can be adapted by other jurisdictions, whether in the U.S. and abroad – and there’s more to come. My highlight for the week: when Gov. Jerry Brown said that California will set a post-2020 emissions limit and ratchet up its 33-percent renewable standard – already the nation’s top target.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols also told us that the state is preparing to develop rules on how to incorporate forest carbon credits into its carbon market – a key step toward reducing deforestation.

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices on Sept. 29.

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How one Brazilian state is reducing deforestation while growing its economy

By Chris MeyerAmazon Basin Outreach Manager; Alisha Staggs, Corporate Partnership Project Manager; and Dana Miller, Terrestrial Carbon Policy Fellow. This post, which originally appeared on the EDF+Business blog, is our second in a series on how companies can reduce deforestation from their supply chains. Read the first post here.

What do companies, governments, civil society organizations and indigenous peoples have in common? Despite their differences, they share a common interest in reducing deforestation, which accounts for 12% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

On September 23rd, leaders from all of these groups will meet at the UN Climate Summit in New York City to spark action on climate change issues including deforestation. The Climate Summit hopes to rally action around two forest efforts, creating incentives to reduce deforestation in tropical countries through REDD+ policies (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and eliminating deforestation from the supply chains of commodities such as palm, beef, soy and paper.

The Board of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF)—a group of 400 companies with combined sales of around $3.5 trillion—has committed to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. However, CGF has also recognized that they cannot solve deforestation on their own, and have called on governments to make REDD+ a priority in a legally binding UN climate agreement in 2015

At EDF, we believe that REDD+ is the best way to reduce deforestation and promote sustainable economic development and that consumer goods companies are in a prime position to support REDD+ in the countries they source from.

Acre: REDD+ in practice


Acre, Brazil. Image: Wikipedia

The state of Acre, Brazil provides an example of how REDD+ can bring governments, companies and local communities together to reduce deforestation and increase economic development. Acre has committed to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020 compared to a historical baseline from 1996-2005, which would prevent 182 to 221 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions using REDD+ policies. Also, Acre installed a robust monitoring system of its forests, including satellite imaging to track deforestation.

To reduce deforestation, Acre has created various incentives programs, including:

  • Supporting timber certification through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and investing in manufacturing plants to produce more valuable wood products;
  • Designing strategies for zero deforestation beef growth to produce more cattle on already cleared land; and
  • Rewarding indigenous peoples for protecting forests. Indigenous peoples have already received $2.9 million to restore degraded lands using traditional land use practices, to protect habitats and watersheds, and to preserve their cultures.

As a result of its efforts, Acre reduced deforestation by 60 percent in 2010 compared to a 1996-2005 baseline, while increasing its real GDP by 62% since 2002nearly doubling the national average GDP growth.

acre chart

In Acre, Brazil, deforestation decreased by 60 percent compared to a 1996-2005 baseline, while GDP per capital increased by 70 percent and cattle size increased by 14% since 2005. Source: Acre Government

Scale and international recognition

In contrast to smaller REDD+ projects, Acre’s REDD+ program covers the whole state, and aligns all policies and land-use planning around the joint objectives of reducing deforestation, increasing agricultural productivity, and improving livelihoods. Acre has also harmonized its reduction target, reference level, and monitoring system with Brazil’s National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) so the state can link up to the national REDD+ program.

Acre will become the first pilot project for Jurisdictional and Nested REDD+ (JNR) programs by the Verified Carbon Standard, an offset standard setter, and will become the first jurisdiction to supply compliance grade REDD+ credits. Acre signed a Memorandum of Understanding with California (along with Chiapas, Mexico) and agreements with the Brazilian states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) to develop guidelines for including REDD+ in  the states’ existing or projected carbon markets. Acre has also received an initial payment of $20 million from the German Development Bank.

Lessons from Acre

Acre holds valuable lessons for governments and businesses on how to reduce deforestation across a whole jurisdiction while increasing sustainable economic development.

To meet their deforestation-free commitments, companies should source commodities from jurisdictions like Acre and encourage countries and states that they source from to adopt REDD+ programs so that companies can benefit from the strong policy framework, robust monitoring systems and incentives that these programs provide.

Chris Meyer and Alisha Staggs will present on how to eliminate deforestation from company supply chains using REDD+ at The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) Member Summit in Berlin from September 30th to October 2nd.

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