Conservation news

Forests and indigenous rights land $459M commitment

  • A group of 17 philanthropic foundations has committed nearly half a billion dollars in support of land-based solutions to climate change and the recognition of indigenous peoples’ and traditional communities’ collective land rights and resource management.
  • The announcement is notable because it brings together a range of philanthropies that have often taken a siloed approach to tackling the world’s social and environmental problems.
  • The pledge, which includes both previous commitments and new money, raises the profile of two often overlooked opportunities in climate change mitigation: forests, which could help meet up to a third of global emissions targets by 2030, and indigenous and local communities, whose lands comprise nearly a sixth of global forest cover.
  • The foundations signed an agreement stating five shared priorities, ranging from the rights of indigenous communities to transitioning toward more sustainable food systems.

A group of 17 philanthropic foundations has committed at least $459 million through 2022 in support of land-based solutions to climate change — including forest conservation and restoration — and the recognition of indigenous peoples’ and traditional communities’ collective land rights and resource management.

The announcement, which was made Tuesday at an event ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit being held in San Francisco, is notable because it brings together a range of philanthropies that have often taken a siloed approach to tackling the world’s problems. These foundations have the potential to mobilize resources more quickly — and take on bigger risks — than governments.

Maliau Falls in Sabah, Malaysia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

“While the world heats up, many of our governments have been slow — slow to act,” Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said at a press conference. “And so we in philanthropy must step up.”

“Today marks a major step forward for the philanthropy sector as we step up our collaborative efforts to address the crisis of climate change. Climate solutions rooted in forests and land use are critical to meeting today’s global climate goals–to protect and expand forests, promote sustainable land use, and secure the rights and livelihoods of indigenous and forest communities.”

The pledge, which includes both previous commitments and new money, raises the profile of two often overlooked opportunities in climate change mitigation: forests, which could help meet up to a third of global emissions targets by 2030, and indigenous and local communities, whose lands comprise nearly a sixth of global forest cover.

“Worldwide, lands belonging to indigenous and local communities hold nearly 300 billion metric tons of carbon—equivalent to over 30 times global energy emissions in 2017,” said Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in a statement. “If our rights as Indigenous Peoples are recognized, we can continue to protect these lands for generations to come.”

Representatives from the foundations who signed the commitment. Photo by Reny Preussker.

The foundations signed an agreement stating five shared priorities: “land use policies and finance that help achieve ambitious climate targets and contribute to sustainable development; policies that protect and recognize the role of forests and sustainable land use in supporting rural livelihoods and alleviating poverty; indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ land rights and management of forests, and an end to the violence against and criminalization of environmental defenders; expanded, protected, and restored national parks, conservation areas, and forests that respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and their right to free, prior, and informed consent; and agricultural production and investments that support a transition to sustainable food systems, do not cause deforestation or rural violence, preserve biodiversity, and improve soil health.”

The participating foundations include American World Jewish Services, the Arapyaú Foundation, the Christensen Fund, ClimateWorks Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Good Energies Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the Swift Foundation, Tamalpais Trust, Tata Trusts, The Rockefeller Foundation, Thousand Currents, and the United Nations Foundation. All the members of the Climate and Land Use Alliance (CLUA) — a coalition of foundations working on these issues in Indonesia, the Amazon, and parts of Mesoamerica — signed the commitment. At the event, the Norwegian government also said it would lend financial support CLUA’s strategy for protecting forests and strengthening rights of indigenous and traditional communities.

Dinamam tuxá from APIB (Articulation of the Indigenous People of Brazil) at a press conference announcing the funders’ commitment. Photo by Reny Preussker.

“We see countries reviving degraded lands, corporations pledging to stop deforestation, and indigenous communities with strong land rights leading the way on sustainable enterprises that support their livelihoods while keeping forests standing. Our goal is for the philanthropic sector to raise its ambitions so that these successes can be elevated and replicated,” said Charlotte Pera, president and CEO of the ClimateWorks Foundation.

“There isn’t a single solution to the climate problem–but protecting forests, land, and the people who defend them is an important part of the constellation,” added Carol Larson, President and CEO of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. “Philanthropy is in a unique position to act on climate because we have the flexibility to tolerate risk, think big, and invest for the long haul. Foundations must play their part, so we make progress with greater urgency and ambition.”

Disclosure: several of the foundations that signed this commitment fund Mongabay. These foundations have no editorial influence at Mongabay.