Indigenous forest stewardship has protected the Earth’s climate and is perhaps the only reason why we have not yet experienced the worst of the climate crisis.
Indigenous communities in the Amazon own 210 million hectares of land and are highly skilled in forest conservation: the deforestation rate in indigenous territories is only 0.8%, less than that of protected areas (1.1%) and significantly lower than that of the Amazon as a whole.
However, under the rules of the game as set forth in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, specifically under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) approach, the governments of the Amazon region have limited their focus only to rewarding those in a position to reduce deforestation and mitigate emissions. They have not considered those who have historically protected their forests. Under a classic REDD+ mechanism, these territories have nothing to offer in terms of reduction or mitigation. Hence, many of these forests and communities have been excluded.
This exclusion reflects a “free ride” mentality: why pay an indigenous community for a service that they will continue providing anyway? Why pay for something they have been doing since time immemorial and for free?
There is a need to acknowledge these Territories with Minimal or No Deforestation, which encompass millions of hectares and contain tons of stored carbon dioxide. Failing to do so will contribute to the cycle of threats and deforestation drivers they are facing. Indigenous people are on the frontlines of deforestation, often risk their lives to defend their homelands, and have scant resources to continue protecting their forests.
This issue is at the center of a recent paper launched by Forest Trends’ Communities and Territorial Governance Initiative, Chris Van Dam who leads the initiative’s Territorial Governance strategies, authored the paper and compiled four years of research and discussions with key actors in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru and presented his work during the 2019 Conference of the Parties in Madrid (COP25). In his study, Van Dam argues that REDD+ is inequitable (and to a certain extent perverse, as it “punishes” those who did their homework well and rewards those who didn’t) and that in the long run, REDD+ has a high social, economic, and cultural cost that will prevent it from achieving its central goal: mitigating climate change. His proposed solution is to focus on supporting territorial governance, livelihoods, and cultural patrimony on indigenous lands.
Read the full publication in English, Spanish, or Portuguese: The Economics of Climate Change Mitigation in Indigenous Territories
 RAISG. Amazonia, Areas Protegidas – Territorios Indigenas (deforestacion 2000 – 2015). RAISG, 2016. https://ecociencia.org/publicaciones-raisg/.