As 165 countries signed the highly controversial Paris climate change deal at U.N. headquarters on Friday, Diana Rios, a 23-year-old Indigenous Asheninka activist from the Peruvian Amazon, paddled down the East River to protest against the exclusion of Indigenous people from the international push to tackle global warming.
Rios expressed frustration at what she sees as inadequate recognition of the threats climate change poses to Indigenous communities.
“The communities have a key role in protecting tropical forests and slowing global climate change. We have the potential to help the world fight it, and adapt to its impacts,” she said.
Edwin Vasquez Campos of the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) said he and his colleagues were in New York to fight “for our territorial rights”. “We are the guardians of our rainforests,” he said.
“We expect that political leaders go back home after having signed the agreement bearing in mind that we help our countries to prevent cleaning, burning, illegal mining and logging and, therefore, preventing increases of carbon emissions,” said Campos.
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New findings by the Woods Hole Research Center, or WHRC, a conservation research institute based in the United States, warn that failure to curb deforestation would require eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use by 2035 to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius — a limit the Paris deal promises to better.
A previous study from the same center estimated that at least 20 percent of the above-ground carbon stored in the world’s tropical forests is found in territories claimed by the Indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, Amazonia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia.
“We find a very high proportion of carbon contained within Indigenously controlled territories,” said WHRC president Philip Duffy. “If you look historically, the Indigenous peoples have done a better job preserving the forest and its carbon.”
But a review presented by the Rights and Resources Initiative of the 161 national contributions for the Paris climate agreement, submitted on behalf of 188 countries, found that only 21 made a clear commitment to strengthen or expand land tenure and natural resource management rights.
“Countries should be encouraged to include specific, measurable and robust tenure and natural resources rights for Indigenous peoples and local communities in their national climate change mitigation by 2020,” they said.
Globally, Indigenous and local communities - an estimated 1.5 billion people - have formal legal ownership of 10 percent of land, and have some rights of control over an additional 8 percent, according to the RRI.