New climate change report highlights the important role of Indigenous forest defenders in Mexico and Colombia

Published by Brent Patterson on

PBI-Mexico says: “Defending forests and life implies a high risk for Defenders of the Environment and the Mexican Government has a duty to protect them.”

The Guardian reports: “Paris climate agreement goals will fail unless the rights of Indigenous people who protect rainforests are honoured, according to a new report.”

That report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Climate Focus says that forests stewarded by Indigenous peoples and communities in Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Peru sequester about twice as much carbon as other lands.

Juan-Carlos Altamirano, who co-authored the paper, says if the rights of forest communities are not protected the “most likely hypothesis” would be a failure to achieve the Paris climate goal of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5 Celsius.

The 22-page report can be read at Sink or swim: How Indigenous and community lands can make or break nationally determined contributions.

Excerpts from pages 13-15 of the report include:

– “Illegal actors are often linked to organized crime groups and frequently act in collusion with local officials and security forces to displace, intimidate, and criminalize local communities.”

– “All four countries [Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Peru] are among the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental defenders, many of them from IPLC [Indigenous peoples and local communities].”

– “Women leaders are often at particular risk of attack. In Colombia, women face significantly higher levels of threats, murders, and sexual violence than men. In Mexico, the Government has been implicated in 39 percent of attacks on environmental defenders, many of them members of IPLCs.”

– “Governments also frequently prosecute IPLCs for participating in protests or refusing to leave their lands: as of 2021, there are 32 [active cases against environmental defenders] in Colombia, and 22 in Mexico.”

– “Encroachment on IPLC land is facilitated by limited state presence in forest areas and the limited capabilities of law enforcement agencies. For instance, the failure to fill a power vacuum created by the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) resulted in other armed groups moving in, leading to a spike in land grabbing, deforestation, and murders of Indigenous and other environmental defenders.”

– “Both Mexico and Brazil have made drastic cuts to the budgets of environmental and forest agencies in recent years, despite rising (mostly illegal) deforestation.”

– “Violence against IPLCs also typically goes unpunished, with widespread corruption, together with limited training and resources, leading to only 8 percent of murders of environmental defenders in Colombia being successfully prosecuted.”

– “Threats to IPLCs’ land also arise out of governments issuing concessions that overlap with Indigenous territories. In Mexico, for instance, there is significant overlap between mining concessions and territories belonging to ejidos and Indigenous communities.”

– “All four countries have signed the Escazu Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, which includes provisions to protect the rights of environmental defenders. However, so far, only Mexico has ratified it.”

– “In Colombia, legislation proposed to ratify the [Escazu] convention failed to pass in June 2021 after being actively opposed, sabotaged, and blocked by conservative politicians.”

COP27 in November

Peace Brigades International is planning to again highlight the role of frontline environmental defenders in countering climate change at the time of the United Nations COP27 climate summit on November 7-18, 2022, in  Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

To watch the video of our webinar featuring environmental defenders at the time of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland last year, click here.

Hannah Matthews (PBI international communications coordinator based in Mexico) moderated this panel featuring David R. Boyd (UN Special Rapporteur), Juana Ramona Zuñiga (Honduras), Amaru Ruiz (Nicaragua), Nelly Madegwa (Kenya), Valeria Villalobos (Mexico), Sandra Calel (Guatemala) and Danilo Rueda (Colombia).


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