- A report from funders of a $1.7 billion pledge to support Indigenous peoples and local communities’ land rights made at the 2021 U.N. climate conference found that 48% of the financing was distributed.
- The findings also show that only 2.1% of the funding went directly to Indigenous peoples and local communities, despite petitions to increase direct funding for their role in combating climate change and biodiversity loss.
- This is down from the 2.9% of direct funding that was disbursed in 2021.
- Both donors and representatives of Indigenous and community groups call for more direct funding to these organizations by reducing the obstacles they face, improving their capacity, and respecting traditional knowledge systems.
Funders of the historic $1.7 billion pledge announced at the 2021 U.N. climate conference say they have disbursed about 48% of the money meant to bolster the land rights of Indigenous and local communities, according to the group’s second annual report released Dec. 1.
The figure puts them on track to fulfill their five-year commitment, which ends in 2025. However, Indigenous groups and local communities directly received only 2.1%, or $8.1 million, of the total $494 million delivered in 2022. Many Indigenous rights advocates and leaders of these groups, including the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB) and the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), are calling for greater access to these funds.
The findings show “a clear problem with delivering direct funds to Indigenous peoples and local communities,” Torbjørn Gjefsen, senior forest finance advisor at Rainforest Foundation Norway, told Mongabay. The organization reported in 2021 that Indigenous and community organizations get less than 1% of climate-related aid.
“This needs to be addressed,” he said. “The Indigenous peoples and local communities are doing their share.”
The $1.7 billion commitment, which recognizes that Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) are some of the best protectors of tropical forests and other vital ecosystems, was signed by 22 governments and private funders in Glasgow, Scotland. It was the largest public-private commitment to support communities. Now, as this year’s U.N. climate conference, COP28, sets off in Dubai, the report provides a snapshot of the progress these donors made in 2022.
Studies have revealed that an estimated 36% of the world’s remaining intact forests and up to 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity are found within Indigenous territories. According to some reports, securing the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities in places like the Brazilian Amazon can help curb deforestation and restore previously deforested lands. In light of these findings, many Indigenous and community-led organizations say they should directly receive funds for their conservation and climate-related work instead of funds passing through intermediaries, such as NGOs, consultancies, and development banks.
However, the funders’ report reveals that only a small fraction of the funding went straight to Indigenous and community groups. While the total amount of funds dedicated to securing land rights increased from $321 million in 2021 to $494 million in 2022, the percentage of direct funds to IPLCs declined from 2.9% to 2.1%. Around 51% of the total funds went to international NGOs.
“We are still struggling to get money directly to Indigenous and local community organizations,” Kevin Currey, a program officer at the Ford Foundation, one of the funders and author of the new progress report, told Mongabay.
He said some of the barriers that block the path of funding directly to IPLC organizations include administrative hurdles, complex grant requirements implemented by donors and a perception that Indigenous and local communities cannot be trusted with the funds.
“We see that [IPLCs] are doing quite a lot to build their capacity,” said Currey. “But there are many cases where these organizations don’t have a legal identity and aren’t able to receive funds directly, so they partner with NGOs or other groups as a way of getting access to funds.”
Views on the need for IPLC organizations to build their capacity to receive funds are mixed. While some Indigenous leaders and funders call for a massive scale-up of their capacity, including the maneuvering of tax and auditing requirements and a standard accountable way of managing funds, others also say that it is overly emphasized as “an excuse” to maintain the paradigm in which donors control the money and how it’s spent.
“It positions Indigenous peoples and local communities as unknowledgeable instead of recognizing them as critically important experts of lands, water, and air,” Tamra Gilbertson, a program coordinator at the Indigenous Environmental Network, told Mongabay. “To believe that Indigenous people can’t handle money or can’t handle their lands or forests is insulting,” she said. “The funders are the ones in need of direction from Indigenous knowledge holders and leaders.”
A second report published on Dec. 3 by the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities (GATC) found that donors continue to use inadequate systems for documenting and delivering climate aid.
“Even when donors recognize our significance and allocate funds, they often lack awareness of the capacity of our organizations,” the authors wrote. “Direct funding is scarce, and we are frequently excluded from discussions about funding for our own territories and organizations.”
The GATC report, which represents the first bottom-up global assessment of climate funds developed by an IPLC organization, concluded that the funding allocated to IPLC groups is not enough. While very few operate with annual budgets above $200,000, local organizations like those in the Congo Basin have a yearly budget below $10,000 yet don’t receive enough funds despite their role in managing and protecting the world’s most biodiverse and carbon-rich tropical forests.
Juan Carlos Jintiach, executive secretary of the GATC, said the world’s leaders need to recognize the efforts and sacrifices IPLCs make to protect forests and biodiversity. Communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis have to deal with unprecedented heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfires that threaten the local resources they depend on to survive.
“The results of the research have taught us that the rules need to be changed,” Jintiach said.
The organizations behind the GATC report have developed the Shandia financing ecosystem to improve direct access to funds and to build a system that can work for both IPLCs and donors. Some of their recommendations include strengthening communication between donors and partners and ensuring accurate tracking of funds.
Indigenous rights advocates say that the current structure undermines the rights of communities and perpetuates a dynamic of exploitation and violence under the guise of helping Indigenous peoples.
“One promising development that I see is that a number of Indigenous and local community organizations are building their own funds, and this has lots of advantages because it allows Indigenous peoples in their communities to centralize the capacity to comply with the ridiculous bureaucratic requirements,” Currey said. “Rather than 100 communities having to develop that capacity, they can pull that into one community fund to be able to meet those requirements.”
Banner image: A traditional fishermen in an Indigenous territory on the Tapajós River, in the Brazilian Amazon. Photo credit: Marcio Isensee e Sá. Licensed via Adobe Photo Stock.
Related listening from Mongabay’s podcast: What would it cost to protect the Congo Rainforest? Listen here:
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