By Kimberly Todd, Global Technical Advisor, UNDP Climate & Forests
On Monday, 14 November, a notable group of women - Indigenous leaders, donors, and civil society – gathered for a conversation in the UNDP Pavilion at the UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt. The purpose of the discussion was to identify concrete solutions and mechanisms to accelerate and materialize funding for the protection of Indigenous territories within high-integrity, or intact, forests. The event, organized by UNDP Climate & Forests, featured the Forests for Life (FFL) Partnership, of which UNDP is a member, alongside Re:Wild and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Rainforest Foundation Norway, and World Resources Institute. The FFL Partnership has a mission to work with governments, Indigenous Peoples, civil society, and the private sector to place ecological integrity at the heart of strategies for managing and conserving the world’s forests.
Stephanie Wang, Associate Director, Conservation Science and Solutions, WCS, co-facilitated the session and shared an overview of the current state of climate finance for high-integrity forests. As she explained, forests with high ecological integrity currently make up roughly a quarter of the world’s remaining forests, with over 35% of those inhabited by Indigenous Peoples. Stephanie emphasized the well-established fact that while forests under Indigenous stewardship are notably better protected than those under other land uses while, thus far, Indigenous Peoples have only been able to access less than 1% of additional development assistance for climate adaptation and mitigation in the past 10 years. She then laid out a clear contrast: according to the IPCC, high-integrity forests are highly responsible for keeping the world half a degree cooler by removing billions of tons of greenhouse gases and have saved the global economy in the tens of trillions of dollars – and yet there is a glaring gap in climate finance towards Indigenous Peoples’ high-integrity forests.
To speak to this issue of access to climate finance, Lolita Piyahuaje, Vice President of CONFENIAE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuadorian Amazon) was asked to reflect on the critical gaps in jurisdictional REDD+ finance. She explained that the principal barrier for Indigenous Peoples to access much-needed climate finance is the need for intermediaries, stemming from the continued misperception of the limited capacity of Indigenous-led organizations and communities. According to her, not only is this not true, but it has also proven to be an impediment to the flow of finance. As she stated, “The funds need to reach the territories directly. We have the plans for implementation ready, we just need the funds. We have life plans for the territories; there’s no longer a need for consultations or paying experts in these fields." Additionally, Lolita shared that often, governments and allies pursue agendas and objectives that don’t come from the Indigenous territories. According to her, “they don’t actually understand the realities of these territories; this is where we clash when there isn’t proper and effective coordination or participation.”
The discussion then shifted from these key challenges to financing solutions, with Lolita turning to Penny Langhammer, Executive Vice-President of Re:Wild, to ask the question of how these gaps in climate finance will be addressed. Penny shared the example that Re:Wild is currently in the process of launching a regranting fund for high-integrity forests and carbon markets. The core purpose of the fund is to ensure emissions reduction programs meet high-integrity standards, including robust social and environmental safeguards, particularly with respect to Indigenous Peoples' rights and participation while providing targeted support for technical assistance and stakeholder engagement. Penny emphasized the need for clear and transparent communication across a wide range of stakeholders when the time comes to share the results of the fund, which she believes will prove replicable across other geographies.
Penny then passed the mic to Pasang Dolma Sherpa, Executive Director, Center for Indigenous Peoples' Research and Development (CIPRED), Nepal; Co-Chair of IUCN CEESP-SPICEH and Member of the Facilitative Working Group of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform of the UNFCCC, asking if she could share her experience on how Indigenous Peoples’ can be fully recognized within climate finance solutions. In response, Pasang stated clearly: “The rights of Indigenous Peoples should be seen as an opportunity, not a threat.” Dedicating funds to the protection of high-integrity forests stewarded by Indigenous Peoples should be seen as an opening for collaboration amongst partners of equal standing, not as a roadblock. Pasang then elaborated on what specific elements of the financial architecture for results-based finance (including REDD+) need to be implemented for finance to flow, stating the need to legalize Indigenous Peoples’ customary systems. “In the absence of legalization, it is just an illusion,” Pasang said. She also pointed out that protecting Indigenous Peoples’ way of life is essentially a matter of supporting nature-based solutions, an already established approach that is recognized as legitimate.
Turning to her fellow panelist, Pasang asked Aissatou Oumarou Ibrahim, Coordinatrice Adjointe -Trésorière Générale de L’Association des Femmes peules et Peuples Autochtones du Tchad (AFPAT), to share more on what Indigenous Peoples have been doing to create their own financial mechanisms to receive direct funding. Aissatou responded that Indigenous Peoples have created a global platform to facilitate territorial finance known as the Shandia Platform. The objective of the Platform is to facilitate direct access to funds – and guarantee the durability and speed of this direct financing - for Indigenous Peoples to realize actions to address climate change and protect biodiversity. Shandia connects Indigenous peoples organizations across the Congo and Amazon basins, Indonesia, Central America, and other forest landscapes; supports direct discussions with governments on land and forest tenure; and enables implementation of actions that protect biodiversity, address soil degradation, and reinforce local economies. The platform is based on ten principles, including, for example, securing Free, Prior, and Informed Consent ; full and effective participation of women and youth, especially in planning and implementation ; and respect for traditional knowledge.
Finally, Aissatou turned to Lauren Baker, Senior Policy Analyst, Inclusive Development and Environment Advisor, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Recalling the USD $1.7 billion pledge for Indigenous Peoples’ climate and forest solutions announced at COP26, she requested Lauren’s perspective on what key elements would need to be in place for finance to be channeled directly to Indigenous communities to protect high-integrity forests. Lauren reiterated the recognition of Indigenous Peoples as guardians of the forests and emphasized the role of the funds associated with the pledge to renew commitment, expand direct financing, and learn from Indigenous Peoples how to do just that. While a more extensive report-back on the first-year progress of these funds by the different donors of the pledge group had been released at COP27, one of the most notable signs of impact has been the partnerships that have already been strengthened as a result. In the case of USAID, she highlighted the Amazon Indigenous Rights and Resources program working with different Indigenous federations in the Amazon, including COICA and OPIAC, to protect lands and territories through a variety of approaches such as capacity building and strengthening legal titling mechanisms.
The discussion put a spotlight on the critical need for innovative climate finance solutions for high-integrity forests that ensure a recognized need for direct access for Indigenous Peoples and local communities to be at the center. While key challenges remain, it is clear that there is movement on solutions and new financing opportunities and platforms emerging. Accelerating Indigenous Peoples’ funding access and implementation to conserve high-integrity forests is critical to responding to the urgency of the climate crisis. High-integrity forests offer natural solutions that can help address the climate crisis and extinction crisis, and these forests are irreplaceable – we need to act fast.