There are approximately 476 million people who self-identify as indigenous worldwide. Although the indigenous population makes up less than 5% of the world’s total population, they own, occupy or use up to 22% of the global land area, which includes 80% of the world’s biodiversity. For thousands of years indigenous communities have been caretakers of the environment, protecting land from degradation and respecting wildlife; a role which is often overlooked.
However, as the mounting pressure exerted by human activity grows, global discourse and actions are shifting toward a greater acknowledgement of the role of indigenous communities in biodiversity conservation and climate change resilience.
Across the world 40% of all terrestrial protected areas overlap with indigenous controlled land, suggesting that two-thirds of all indigenous land is ecologically intact. Furthermore, the decline in biodiversity that is being observed in ecosystems globally is less pronounced on indigenous land than in protected areas, such as parks and wildlife reserves. These findings highlight the importance of incorporating local knowledge in conservation planning, due to their deeper and historical understanding of local ecosystems and their dynamics.
The symbiotic relationship that indigenous communities have with their land, provides a mechanism needed to achieve effective conservation in future years. In some countries key lessons have been learnt from the human-inclusive and holistic ways in which indigenous communities are conserving and managing their land. For example, the Australian government now recognise the importance of ancient fire-management practices in successful wild-fire prevention.
Despite the proven importance of indigenous communities in the protection of ecosystems and their biodiversity, governments continue to uproot indigenous communities to create protected areas, in turn restricting their traditional activities. It has been estimated that 10 million people in developing nations have been displaced in the name of conservation. Route2’s research suggests the global cost associated with the loss of indigenous and local community land is £0.7 trillion a year, in terms of wellbeing loss and displacement costs e.g. cost of housing, livelihood, education and healthcare.
As humanity battles with widespread ecological degradation, biodiversity loss and escalating climate change this decade must be the turning point where we recognise the value of nature, aid its recovery and transform our world to one where people, economies and nature thrive together. We must become ‘Nature Positive’. This commitment calls for governments and corporations to make measurable change to put nature on a path to recovery – indigenous communities should be part of the solution.
The global increase in conservation should be seen as an opportunity to change the paradigm to one where the huge contributions of indigenous communities are recognised. This means the widespread provision of formal and secure land rights for indigenous communities which will provide not only a highly effective way of advancing conservation, but also a way of improving the local wellbeing and livelihoods of indigenous people.