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  • Indigenous youth participate in a protest encampment ahead of the impeachment process vote of Brazil

    Indigenous youth participate in a protest encampment ahead of the impeachment process vote of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, April 15, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

According to the Global Forest Coalition, respect for Indigenous rights should be a cornerstone of ecological protection efforts.

Indigenous communities and other groups already committed to local environmental conservation must be brought to the table if governments are serious about protecting biodiversity, the Global Forest Coalition argued in a report released Friday for Earth Day.

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“There are countless examples of customary practices through which communities conserve biodiversity,” said Mrinalini Rai, advisor on Indigenous Peoples and Gender for GFC, pointing to traditional agricultural and fishing techniques as key examples. “Their rights over their territories need to be ensured so they can strengthen their resilience.”

The report, titled Mainstreaming Biodiversity and the Resilience of Community Conservation, suggests that biodiversity can become central to societies and economies, or “mainstream,” through prioritizing respect for human and environmental rights and guaranteeing access to traditional livelihoods for Indigenous people and other communities.

Such an approach requires calling into question industrial food systems based on large-scale agricultural monocultures and fisheries that can decimate local traditional economies and threaten the environment’s natural ecology.

GFC called for an overhaul of the system that subsidizes unsustainable agriculture, forestry, and fishing industries.

“We often hear about the ‘business case’ for biodiversity, but we should instead focus on the ‘livelihood case’ for biodiversity,” said GFC’s Mary Lou Malig in a statement.

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The “livelihood case” would mean governments have to recognize the role of Indigenous communities in leading environmental protection through their traditional practices and customary legal systems and enshrine Indigenous and environmental rights in strong public policies.

The GFC report comes as world leaders signed the COP21 climate agreement on Friday in New York. Despite being heralded as a historic deal for the climate, the text underlines the need for additional local measure to tackle climate change and protect biodiversity.

Not only does the COP21 deal scarcely mention Indigenous peoples, giving no substantial attention to their rights as some of the most vulnerable to climate change, but it also fails to mention intergenerational equity and biodiversity in the core of the text. By doing so, the world’s cornerstone agreement on climate change throws by the wayside any global commitment to protecting future generations and complex ecosystems from climate crisis.

The call for action also comes ahead of next week’s United nations Convention on Biological Diversity to be held from April 25 to May 6 in Montreal, Canada.   

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