Forests are crucial to sustainable development in many ways, from local livelihoods to the global commons. Yet, for decades, indigenous peoples – the leading curators and ambassadors of forests – have suffered political exclusion. More recently, forests have been recognised as a key response to the global climate crisis, motivating an international engagement with new financial instruments, notably REDD+. At this juncture, some countries are starting to listen and embrace indigenous voices and knowledge in their quest for policy options and new partnerships to address the deforestation tragedy.
In June 2019, the UN-REDD Programme was invited to give an Earth Speakers talk at the Global Landscapes Forum, held in Bonn, Germany. Josep Garí, member of the UN-REDD management group, offered a personal account of the innovative efforts to combine indigenous knowledge with national policy to address the deforestation tragedy. He focused on two UN-REDD partner countries that have devoted significant efforts into stakeholder engagement: the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Colombia.
The talk – available both in video and through a lecture paper – illustrates how connecting indigenous knowledge with climate finance is drawing up innovative pathways for sustainability, including overdue reforms for the sustainable governance of lands and forests, and actions to recognise community rights. The two cases show how the practice of stakeholder engagement and the priority care for social inclusion have advanced a rights-based approach to development, not just in the sphere of climate policy, or REDD+, but also more broadly with respect to national development planning, structural land-use reforms and legislative work. As Josep Garí notes, "mobilising diverse stakeholders and their knowledge systems, particularly indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge, proves a catalyst of policy innovations and reforms", adding: "this is particularly valuable for the sustainable governance of lands and forests, to mobilise international climate finance and to generate solid partnerships for territorial sustainability."
Forests are a defining ecosystem to test and demonstrate the pact between people and the planet that is so urgently required in this century. Listening to indigenous voices, integrating indigenous knowledge and promoting indigenous rights are essential tasks to realise this pact around forests. In this vein, the UN-REDD partnership has helped countries advance inclusive and rights-oriented approaches to address chronic deforestation, as the cases of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Colombia illustrate. Attending, integrating and empowering the knowledge of indigenous peoples, and their associated rights, prove to be a catalyst of policy changes towards sustainability. As Josep Garí concludes his paper, "indigenous knowledge does not belong to the past; actually, it can drive nations to the future: to a future of sustainability, where forests are protected to sustain local livelihoods, to nurture biodiversity and to safeguard our global climate."